Monday, April 17, 2017

Mellow Yellow

I see 'em a lot more than I used to -- the flashing yellow left-turn signal at an intersection. And apparently the signals are confusing people:
By the looks of things, drivers in Plymouth — and probably other places, too — could use a crash course on how to navigate intersections governed by flashing yellow turn arrows.

This comes after an analysis by Plymouth police found that nearly 50 percent of crashes at the intersection of Rockford Road and Fernbrook Lane were the result of drivers not yielding to oncoming traffic when flashing yellow arrows were operating.

Between March 10, 2016 and Feb. 22, officer Scott Kirchner said there were 34 crashes at the busy intersection, and 16 were attributed to motorists failing to yield. The intersection handles 21,000 vehicles a day, according to a 2013 traffic count by the Hennepin County Transportation Department. Of those drivers, 4,093 make left turns. Keep in mind those counts were taken four years ago so the numbers are probably higher.
I don't go through that area much, if ever -- it's probably been a good ten years since I have, but it's easy to understand why there's a problem. It's often difficult to gauge the speed of oncoming traffic in the suburbs, because the posted speed limits often don't have much to do with reality. You don't necessarily know whether the oncoming traffic is coming at you at 35 MPH or 45 MPH. In my area, County Road D/37th Avenue NE tends to have a lot of traffic, but it's often coming more slowly than you think (sometimes less than 30 MPH), while the speeds on Old Highway 8 tend to be faster (often closer to 50 MPH). It's especially tough to make a left turn from Foss Road onto Old Highway 8, which gets a lot of overflow traffic from 35W. That intersection, a T-style intersection, does not have any traffic control other than a stop sign and you can end up waiting as long as 4-5 minutes to make that turn during rush hour. You also have several apartment buildings on Old Highway 8 with people impatiently trying to get out of their parking lots, so making that left-hand turn has been a white knuckle affair for the 20 years I've lived in the area.

The idea of a flashing yellow is to stop the backups at intersections, but it doesn't necessarily work. The linked Star Tribune article suggests one reason:
Impatience might be a factor, too. [Plymouth police officer Scott Kirchner] said drivers waiting to turn at the intersection have had motorists behind them honk.

“They hear that horn and think it’s my turn and go without thinking,” Kirchner said. “There is the pressure and they think maybe I can make this gap.”
We have more need for traffic control than ever before. We don't spend as much money on roads as we could, because we spend a lot of transportation money on other things. I don't have time to rehearse those arguments this morning, but we need to think more about how we move people and goods through our communities.


jerrye92002 said...

One thing that would help would be to get the stupid people off the roads... :-/

I mean, if you drive into oncoming traffic, how bright can you be?

R.A. Crankbait said...

When I was fresh out of college and living in Phoenix I had a woman in the oncoming lane pull a left turn right in front of me. I was able to swerve enough to just graze the right front corner of my bumper against the right rear corner of her bumper. She was turning into a gas station, and I pulled in as well. She gets out of her car, screaming at me - "Why were you driving so fast!" I replied, "You mean you saw how fast I was going and decided to turn in front of me?" She was making fish faces at me when an attendant at the station stepped up and said, "I saw it all if you need a witness; she turned right in front of you, and I don't think she had her signal on." I had a scuff on my bumper, she had a ball-peen sized ding in hers - we all decided to just go about our business.

Bike Bubba said...

Down where I live, there's a ghost bike (for a rider killed) where somebody forgot (?) that yellow means "proceed with caution." Started seeing the flashing yellow lights about a year back and it seemed very intuitive to me, but was quickly told by a coworker that not everybody was getting how it worked.

That noted, it seems to me that the biggest issue we've got, as Crankbait notes, is that way too many people are in too much of a hurry to take reasonable precautions. A good portion of the blame goes to the government for their "scared straight" ads--which work only as long as someone is scared. It's long past time to engage minds on why things like speed limits and safe following distance are good ideas, IMO.

R.A. Crankbait said...

Sunday I drove over to South Minneapolis to pick up a Hungarian family to bring them back to our house for Easter dinner. I cruised up Hiawatha most of the way and then took 17th Ave for 7 blocks to get to their house. In that stretch I went through 3 round-abouts on a street with hardly any traffic. I mentioned this to my Hungarian friend as I was driving them home later. He said that round-abouts are very efficient in Europe, and safer. That may be, but initially they aren't very safe in the U.S. To prove my point, we were just coasting up to the roundabout in my neighborhood as I eyed an old woman in a big Buick negotiating the circle. She saw me and slowed to let me merge into the round-about - a cardinal sin second only to coming to a complete stop. Fortunately, no one was behind her. Folks around here still tend to approach these round-abouts much like a calf at a new gate.

Nathan Bissonette said...

Part of the problem is attributable to 'traffic calming' where a 4-lane is converted back into a 2-lane, with wide shoulders and turns lanes and lined-out zones. Half the lanes doubles the traffic density. People trying to merge into traffic or turn across it, have a longer wait or take more chances.