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Give Me A Green!

How traffic could be made better without spending half a million dollars.

It happens every time. I pull into the left-turn lane just as the green arrow has turned red and yet somehow I’m still stuck at the back of the lane. As more cars stack up behind me in the regular lane waiting to turn left, the cars in front of me aren’t moving—despite a green light in our direction and no oncoming traffic.

Several key intersections on Dale Boulevard—specifically the intersection at Benita Fitzgerald Drive and the one at Minnieville Road—are known for stacking traffic up for what seems like miles waiting for a left turn. They're also known for crashes when people plow through the left turn light after it's turned red because they don't want to get stuck there.

The county is spending over half a million dollars to extend the left turn lanes onto Benita Fitzgerald Drive from Dale Boulevard, but isn’t there a simpler, more cost-effective solution that would actually improve the flow of traffic rather than just giving it a better place to stack up?

I’m talking about traffic signals. At Benita Fitzgerald and Minnieville, as well as several other intersections, the left-turn signal is either a green arrow, for a protected left turn, or red, meaning no turning under any circumstances. But plenty of intersections have a signal with a “permissive phase” that allows vehicles to make a left turn on a solid green light, provided there is no traffic coming from the other direction.

Sitting in the left turn lane with a green light in my direction and no oncoming traffic tends to make me irritated and impatient, and I’m not the only one. Why do the last several cars always fly through the intersection after the left-turn signal has turned red? Because they’ve already waited through an entire light cycle and they don’t want to sit through another one. This leads to too much frustration and too many crashes. 

Installing left-turn signals with a permissive turn phase would allow traffic to move more efficiently through the worst intersections and make the intersections safer by reducing the number of people speeding through red lights.

There’s certainly an opposing viewpoint. In addition to crashes caused by people speeding through red lights, I’ve seen crashes caused by people making a left turn on a “permissive phase” signal and failing to yield to oncoming cars. But I tend to think there will be fewer of those crashes if people know they can afford to wait for the next break in traffic.

 Next time you’re sitting at a red light waiting to make a left turn while no traffic is coming, ask yourself if there’s a better way.

Vinny Darby June 21, 2011 at 11:36 AM
I agree that the county needs more permissive green lights but they would not be possible at Benita Fitzgerald Drive or Minnieville because there are two left turn lanes. A permissive green light can only be installed in single left turn lanes, otherwise you would have two cars making two different judgements about whether to go at the same time. The real problem with the intersection of Benita & Dale is the configuration of Benita & Cardinal. Even people wanting to head towards southbound Route 1 from Benita need to travel in the right lane as they travel Benita Fitzgerald so the can be in the proper left turn lane for Cardinal. It is because of this that people stack up in the right side of the left turn lane on Dale Blvd and end up blocking the through lanes. The cheapest solution would have been to restripe the intersection of Benita & Cardinal so that all the cars don't need the right lane as they drive up Benita Fitzgerald Drive.
Nathan Curby June 21, 2011 at 12:40 PM
That's a good point, Vinny, especially regarding Benita Fitzgerald. However, it seems like you could have a permissive left turn for the far left lane only, similar to what is done for multiple right turn lanes with a red light. I don't know if this is actually done anywhere, though. At Minnieville, only one of the four directions has dual turn lanes. Couldn't the other three have a permissive left turn? Thanks for your input. Anybody else have ideas?
Katie June 21, 2011 at 01:28 PM
I'm from California, where every light has sensors that actually work efficiently. I get very frustrated in this area because of the poorly timed lights here. Instead of spending money on making longer turn lanes (to make waiting longer? more frustrating?) spend money on hiring people to install sensored lights that change when traffic needs it the most. I would be a MUCH happier, tax-paying citizen if the city/county planners took a note and worked from this angle. California has it's share of problems, but their traffic solutions are something to be followed.

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