Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

May 19, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

RED LIGHT CAMERAS....Although red light cameras have never been one of my big hot buttons, there's a fair amount of evidence that they're routinely misused, set up to maximize revenue collection rather than safety. Today, the LA Times adds some fuel to the fire:

One of the most powerful selling points for photo enforcement systems, which now monitor 175 intersections in Los Angeles County and hundreds more across the United States, has been the promise of reducing collisions caused by drivers barreling through red lights.

But it is the right-turn infraction — a frequently misunderstood and less pressing safety concern — that drives tickets and revenue in the nation's second-biggest city and at least half a dozen others across the county.

....The city of Los Angeles issued more than 30,000 photo tickets last year at 32 camera-equipped intersections. About eight in 10 involved right turns, said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Matthew MacWillie, the program's co-coordinator.

The infraction, of course, is not coming to a full and complete stop before rolling into a right turn. This turns out to be a relatively modest safety issue, but it's often the difference that allows an intersection to produce enough revenue to justify a red light camera in the first place. In the city of Walnut, the assistant city manager admitted as much:

Right-turn enforcement was included, records and interviews show, after camera vendor Redflex Traffic Systems surveyed several intersections and set a "threshold" of violations needed to make the cameras financially feasible.

"It had to meet that," [Chuck] Robinson said, and right-turn violations helped.

Moral of the story: if you get a right turn ticket, you're helping to fund a system that catches other people who really are driving unsafely. You should feel proud of your contribution to society.

Kevin Drum 11:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Where I grow up in Oregon we always refered to rolling through a stop sign or a right hand turn on a red light as a "California stop".

Posted by: fafner1 on May 19, 2008 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting, fafner, because down here we call it "only an idiot from someplace like Oregon would come to a full stop."

Posted by: C.S. on May 19, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Coming to a full and complete stop wastes gas and is questionably useful in preventing accidents in right-turn-on-red situations. If it's a safe enough intersection that a right-turn-on-red is safe to begin with it's likely safe enough to slowly roll then go.

Posted by: Curt M on May 19, 2008 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, there are public safety issues. That has never made me feel comfortable with these cameras. I think turning over law enforcement to automated systems is a massively bad precedent and danger to civil liberties.

Posted by: Wm. on May 19, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Only ticket I ever got was for a right turn -- and I swear it was yellow.

In my town, though, regular red light running could pay for the cameras. It would easily rank as the top revenue-generating industry.

What's more, if we aggressively enforced the noise ordinance, the crackdown on boom cars could finance our own space program.

Posted by: Grumpy on May 19, 2008 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

@fafner1 In Northern California, it's called the "California stop" as well. Full and complete stops (and in fact eliminating right turn on red period) is a major step to creating pedestrian and bike-friendly cities, thus eliminating automobile traffic, which then benefits placemaking, community building, compact development and street-level retail, which are goals that we should all be moving toward.

Posted by: Christopher on May 19, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

What Wm. said.

Also, when the decision to deploy some form of law enforcement is made based on whether or not it makes money, or can be made to pay for itself, that's just plain wrong.


Posted by: thersites on May 19, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

As someone who has lost three very close friends because of someone running a red light, I support these cameras wholeheartedly. I remember someone maintaining that running a red light is harmless. It's not harmless if you kill someone.

Posted by: Mazurka on May 19, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

That certainly can't be true in New York City as right turns on red are illegal. I make that point with the hope that someone from new jersey will finally realize that fact.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 19, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

Two things in my life have been constants: 1) Every organization exists primarily to expand its authority and resources, 2) Pterodactyls lived mainly in the Cretaceous Period.

Posted by: absent observer on May 19, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

A red light camera can prove you ran a red light going straight through, but how can the red light camera prove that you didn't stop before turning right on red? By timer?

Posted by: Paul in NC on May 19, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, before everybody gets all bent out of shape on the idea that rolling through a right on red isn't a serious safety violation, you should ask somebody who rides a bike regularly if they think this is important. Red or green light, you need to look before you turn!!!! Rolling through a right turn isn't a serious violation until you kill someone in a crosswalk or bike lane - then all of a sudden it seems pretty serious.

Posted by: Blake on May 19, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I've gotten so accustomed to yielding to bikes/pedestrians when making turns that I often ascribe to them sundry curse words, intending to hasten their progress.

Posted by: absent observer on May 19, 2008 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin must have gotten some nookie on the weekend. His first post up Monday morning is about red lights.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 19, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

I would agree with those who note that making right turns is a lot more dangerous than it seems, especially in urban areas where there are lots of pedestrians and bicyclists. It's not just the parallel crossing walk on your right that you have to worry about, but also the perpendicular crosswalk right in front of you, especially if you have an SUV/truck/bus on your left and cannot clearly see if someone is crossing in front of you from left to right.

Posted by: mfw13 on May 19, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

These things are total crap, and I'm pleased my state legislature (Virginia) outlawed them. I still regularly get nailed in Washington, D.C., though, which has them for red lights AND speeding. For D.C. it is solely about revenue, regardless of all the "public safety" happy talk officials spout. If D.C. gave half the attention to its schools, public safety, and attracting business investment as it gives to screwing visitors and suburban based workers with parking tickets / towing / booting / enforcement, people might actually choose to live in the city past the age of 25. Instead, of course, people prattle on about how D.C. has to do it because it has no revenue because those meanies in Congress won't give it representation.

Posted by: Pat on May 19, 2008 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Y'know, I was going to say something about red lights, maybe work in an Amsterdam joke, but opted for common decency.

Ahem.

Posted by: thersites on May 19, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK
Full and complete stops (and in fact eliminating right turn on red period) is a major step to creating pedestrian and bike-friendly cities

Christopher, this makes no sense to me anecdotally, because right-on-red requires that the driver yield to pedestrians, and it's the cyclist's responsibility to go straight or turn right safely, and not get in the way of a car that's following the law. I've biked through thousands of intersections where right-on-red is legal, and never had a conflict.

That said, if you have some stats that show right-on-red increasing pedestrian or bike accidents, I'd like to hear them.

And Mazurka, I've never seen anyone say that running a red light is harmless. That's a "some say" statement that so amazingly stupid, I don't buy that anyone's said that seriously. Got a link?

Posted by: zadig on May 19, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

The infraction, of course, is not coming to a full and complete stop before rolling into a right turn. This turns out to be a relatively modest safety issue

How does that turn out to be a "modest" safety issue? The number of collisions between cars might be low, but what about the number of times a car hits something else?

As a pedestrian, I'd say that some of the biggest threats to my safety are those drivers who cruise right through the crosswalk and the stop sign before making a right turn. They don't look for children or pedestrians or strollers or bicycles, they just look to the left for oncoming cars and they keep going if they don't see any. It's a huge safety issue and I'm absolutely delighted if red light cameras are catching those fools.

Posted by: Oregonian on May 19, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Zadig,

2 of the first 3 comments pish posh "rolling' right turns as a safety issue. Got reading glasses?

Posted by: dick tuck on May 19, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

zadig: "Christopher, this makes no sense to me anecdotally, because right-on-red requires that the driver yield to pedestrians..."

Actually, Christopher's comment reminded me of something I saw the other day. Truck in front of me made a right turn on green, and I was about to follow -- before I saw a pedestrian crossing. The truck had gone before the pedestrian, leading me to think the crosswalk was clear. As I saw it, the truck had a responsibility to wait for the pedestrian to cross the whole way, especially since the truck initially blocked my view of the pedestrian.

I imagine that's why right-turn-on-red is illegal in NYC, as Randy Paul informs us.

Posted by: Grumpy on May 19, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone remember the Columbo episode where Dabney Coleman tried to use a red light camera to establish an alibi for a murder? Lt. Columbo didn't seem to be aware that the technology existed at first, though he eventually spotted the tell-tale lack of shadow under what was supposed to be Coleman's nose, and deduced that what appeared to be Coleman's face was not a three-dimensional face, but a photograph worn over the face of a co-conspirator who had been sent to run the red light while Coleman was committing the murder.
So how come Columbo never made captain?

Posted by: CJColucci on May 19, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

I imagine that's why right-turn-on-red is illegal in NYC, as Randy Paul informs us.

Precisely.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 19, 2008 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

So how come Columbo never made captain?

They would have made him buy a new trenchcoat.

Posted by: thersites on May 19, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

I also don't understand how the technology differentiates between someone who stops completely before their right-on-red turn, and one who rolls through.

The running-a-red-light camera just catches anything in the intersection coming from a certain direction, when there shouldn't be anything there. And I have seen these cameras malfunction and capture a right-on-red person who DID stop first.

I'm in favor of the technology being implemented if it works. I live in pedestrian-heavy San Francisco, and people are hit in crosswalks fairly regularly.

Posted by: flubber on May 19, 2008 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK
2 of the first 3 comments pish posh "rolling' right turns as a safety issue. Got reading glasses?

dicktuck, pish-poshing "rolling right turns" is not the same as what Christopher said: "I remember someone maintaining that running a red light is harmless."

Rolling through a right-on-red is much safer than "running a red light" which is completely different.

And, if Christopher was referring to the top two-of-three comments, he wouldn't have said "I remember someone" saying it at some point. I still maintain that nobody at this site, or maybe any site, has seriously said "Hey, running red lights is a great idea! Anarchy for all!"

Relying on "Some have said" is no way to have a discussion.

So you can keep the reading glasses -- thanks anyway.

Posted by: zadig on May 19, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK
I imagine that's why right-turn-on-red is illegal in NYC, as Randy Paul informs us.

Grumpy, you told an anecdote about a right-turn on green that failed to yield to pedestrians and posit that this is why right-on-red is outlawed in NYC? I don't see the connection.

Getting rid of the right-on-red laws would have no effect on the anecdote you provided. Furthermore, right-on-green without yielding to a pedestrian is just as illegal as right-on-red without yielding to pedestrians.

So I'll ask again: anyone know whether there are statistics indicating that right-on-red increases accidents?

Posted by: zadig on May 19, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, running red lights is a great idea! Anarchy for all!

;-o

Posted by: optical weenie on May 19, 2008 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

D'oh!

Posted by: zadig on May 19, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, right on red is not the only way municipalities get extra revenue from the cameras - they also do it through the magic of shortening the duration of the yellow light so more people get caught running the red.

This has the side effect of people standing on the brakes when the light goes yellow and actually increasing rear end accidents at the light.

To wit: http://www.autoblog.com/2008/04/14/six-ities-busted-for-shortening-yellow-light/#comments

(yes, the URL has a typo, but it is the right one)

Posted by: tom on May 19, 2008 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Right-on-red w/o stopping, I am not sure is that big a deal. I'd be happier if instead they were draconian at enforcing:

1) turning at intersection (read or green) without signalling the turn.

2) failure to yield to pedestrian in a crosswalk.

#1 nails cyclists and makes their life much less pleasant. #2 doesn't produce that many accidents, because the pedestrians are just stuck waiting for someone who isn't an asshole.

Posted by: dr2chase on May 19, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Zadig,

It's an ongoing problem in New York for cars turning right on green not yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Right turns on red would also give them an opportunity to not yield to pedestrians crossing with a green light in front of stopped cars. There are too many pedestrians in NYC to give a preference to automobiles.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 19, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

There should be a distinction made between:
1. Running red lights is bad; in fact, it is illegal;
and
2. Traffic cameras reduce the incidence of people breaking the law.

"I don't like traffic cameras" != "Running red lights is cool with me."

Same with right-turn-on-red. It is safe if done according to the law; therefore emphasis should be on having people obey the law, however that is done.

Posted by: steverino on May 19, 2008 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I wasn't clear. Do traffic cameras reduce the incidence of breaking the law, in my mind, should be the question. I do not know if they do. I am too lazy to look for links.

I once had to take a road test to get a Florida license, on a closed course. I had been driving for years. I failed. Four stop signs, four "rolling stops." Point made.

Posted by: steverino on May 19, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

I was gonna mention what Tom said. Some studies have show red light cameras increase accidents, as some driver slam on the brakes on yellow, to avoid the possibility of a ticket. Having to make a snap go/stop decision when a light I'm approaching turns yellow, is one of the things I like least about urban driving.

Posted by: bigTom on May 19, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you for clarifying, Randy. It sounds as if rather than passing a new law (right on red, legal in all of NYS, is illegal in NYC), NYC should have enforced its existing laws better. Although I think cops, and not red light cameras, are the most reliable way to do that.

In the town I live in, motorists respect crosswalks because the local police are pretty zealous about slapping motorists with fines if they don't stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

And my town did consider red light cameras, but they decided against them because they appear to be set up for revenue generation rather than safety improvement.

Posted by: zadig on May 19, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

zadig: "Getting rid of the right-on-red laws would have no effect on the anecdote you provided."

Fair enough. I suppose my anecdote was not as relevant as I thought.

Now that I think of it, we could eliminate a lot of these problems if pedestrians and vehicles were not forced to occupy the same 2-dimensional plane. So we either need flying cars or some way for pedestrians to leap over traffic.

Posted by: Grumpy on May 19, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with those who point out that impeding a pedestrian is illegal whether the turn is made on a red or green light. And to the bikers out there, isn't a fact that you're supposed to adhere to motor vehicle laws? Full stop on red, etc. Why the lumping in with pedestrians? We all know why, don't we?

Posted by: Nixon Did It on May 19, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

"California Stop?" People, please...it's called the "California Roll!"

People rolling a right turn thru a red light is a damn serious safety issue when you are a pedestrian. I experience it pretty much on a daily basis. The driver inevitably is looking in the other direction, trying to see if they are going to smash into traffic. They completely ignore pedestrians in the walkway. Yes, I know, it's illegal. So is rolling thru a red light. Many drivers only think it's wrong if they get caught.

This business about shorting yellow lights is BS too, considering it is ILLEGAL to enter an intersection on a yellow light. Period. If people are slamming on their brakes, it's because they decided to sneek thru then suddenly changed their mind. That's not the camera's problem.

Posted by: danno on May 19, 2008 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

And all yu folks wondering just how the camera knows whether someone stopped...go the LA Tims site and read the article please!

It's not a still camera, it's a video camera. The footage gets reviewed, then it is either tossed or processed.

As someone who has to deal with a commute from the East SFV to West LA every day, I can say quite confidently that our traffic nightmares here are made all the worse by people trying to fudge these right-of-way laws.

Posted by: danno on May 19, 2008 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

I am told that in some locales (Miami?) there is a problem with people "jumping green" -- i.e. anticipating the change to a green light and venturing out into an intersection a bit early. It seems to me unlikely that running red lights would be a problem where jumping green lights is common...

A mild diversion: it is possible that I'd be dead, killed by an SUV barreling through a red light 5 seconds after it changed, if I hadn't engaged in the other unsafe-driver-behavior-de-jour: I was tardy pulling through the intersection because I was fiddling with a cell phone.

Posted by: idlemind on May 19, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

@zadig: "It sounds as if rather than passing a new law (right on red, legal in all of NYS, is illegal in NYC), NYC should have enforced its existing laws better."

IIRC, NYC did not pass a new law. In fact, right on red is itself a relatively new law in NYS, and the only way the suburbanites got it to pass through the state legislature was by allowing NYC to be exempted.

@Nixon: the reason that right-on-red is a threat to cyclists is not because the cyclists are breaking any laws. It's because when you're clipping along on a bike and you have a green light and you're doing 20-30 mph downhill along some arterial, you really don't need some dimwit rolling out in front of you making a 4 mph right-on-red because he "didn't see you". I am constantly amazed at the things that motorists don't see -- like city buses, for instance.


Posted by: Lyle on May 19, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Of course you ignore cameras going up all around us.... They seem so innocuous. They keep us safe! And if you're not speeding or running redlights they don't affect you. Who could possibly object? Only nuts.

Posted by: jerry on May 19, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

"The infraction, of course, is not coming to a full and complete stop before rolling into a right turn. This turns out to be a relatively modest safety issue, "

Unless you're a pedestrian or a bike rider. Then right hand turn infractions are the biggest cause of injuries because the driver is looking to his left while turning to his right, through both bike lanes and crosswalks.

Posted by: Tlaloc on May 19, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Are all these bike riders, pedestrians, etc. not looking before they cross the street? I think I learned that when I was three. I hate to use a right wing canard, but what happened to taking a little personal responsibility for taking care of one's own life?

That doesn't excuse automobile drivers who plow through an intersection, but living in a college town I have had more than a few encounters with college students wearing their ear buds walk right out in traffic at random locations along the street without looking up at all.

Is it too much to ask, if they are physically capable, for pedestrians, bikers, etc to look before entering a intersection too and decide if any traffic looks like it might be a danger.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on May 19, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

I got screwed on a right-on-red infraction. Generally I'm in favor of catching more red-light runners because it's incredibly dangerous to blow through intersections, but I say I got screwed for two reasons: 1) Both I and my passenger believe I stopped. We discussed at the time we saw the flashing lights. But there was video that showed I didn't and I didn't think a judge would take my word over the video. I have no way of explaining why it didn't show a stop. Eventually I decided that it was possible my alleged stop was probably too short and/or I rolled more than I thought, so I accepted this as a lesson. 2) Regardless, I don't think a right on red should be fined the same as running through an intersection. That ticket was $384!!! Honestly, does anyone think that is a reasonable fine?

Posted by: filosofickle on May 19, 2008 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin thinks it's a reasonable fine.

I think it's a fine that should literally bring incensed citizens with shotguns and torches to the steps of City Hall.

Posted by: jerry on May 19, 2008 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

It is never legal to turn right at a traffic light that has turned red unless there is a green arrow. Otherwise, the driver is obligated to come to a full stop before turning. Now then, put a cell phone in that driver's hand, and you have a recipe for an accident.

Posted by: Houston Bridges on May 19, 2008 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

danno said:

If people are slamming on their brakes, it's because they decided to sneek thru then suddenly changed their mind. That's not the camera's problem.

Well, you're right, and you're wrong. In an ideal world, people should drive more safely, and not follow too closely, and so on. It's easy to say "if cameras cause more people to stop suddenly and get rear-ended, that's just the fault of the car behind them, and they get what they deserve."

But if the camera is intended to make our streets safer, and a very real effect of the camera is to cause more people to get rear-ended, we need to rethink the cameras, right? It does no good to say "well, reality just shouldn't be like that."

Posted by: zadig on May 19, 2008 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

It's certainly not the taser's problem that the police are using them against the old, bedridden, or people with heart problems that didn't tell the police they had a heart problem.

Posted by: jerry on May 19, 2008 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

The smug dismissal of right-turn tickets is, unfortunately, what I'd expect from you.

Do you mean ticketing, gasp, the drivers who make life hell for pedestrians like myself? The drivers who keep turning and turning and turning, one after the other, without making a stop, each and every one of them ignoring the fact that I'm a pedestrian and I'm standing there and I'm just trying to walk across the street at an intersection, with a stop sign for them there or a green light in my favor?

THOSE right-turn drivers?

Try thinking about pedestrians for once as you sit there in your smug little world of privilege.

Posted by: Anon on May 19, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Tbigger problem is how traffic laws are created and enforced. Right now, it is clearly driven by revenue creation, so much so that cops around me regularly give out more tickets at certain times of the month in order to meet their quota. They also stake out places that produce the most speeding, not the most dangerous traffic conditions.

So the emphasis is not on what is safe or what is reasonable, but by what will result in a gotcha ticket. It also means that cops will often spend their time catching relatively safe speeders rather than go after the chronic weavers or irratic cellphone + 3 kids in the back drivers.

This is bad law not only because it's inequitable, but also because it breeds contempt and disrepect for the law.

Posted by: anon on May 19, 2008 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

Right turn? Why the hell would anybody ever turn right? I just don't understand it. Of course I drive a stock car for a living.

Posted by: Dave Brown on May 19, 2008 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

The "right to keep and bear arms" was made for this particular problem. It's time to stop tyranny by taking out the cameras using your 2nd Amendment right.

Posted by: POed Lib on May 19, 2008 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

POed Lib, in the UK, many of these cameras have been "necklaced", had burning tires flung around them (just as was done is South Africa to humans.)

I am surprised more of these cameras in the US haven't been similarly attacked. Remember though, many still cameras are actually collecting video all the time.

I've often thought about how fun it would be to figure out how to turn my car into a directional EMP weapon.

Posted by: jerry on May 19, 2008 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Is it too much to ask, if they are physically capable, for pedestrians, bikers, etc to look before entering a intersection too and decide if any traffic looks like it might be a danger.

Why should the pedestrian crossing on green have to yield to a car that is required to stop for him???? This happens all the time and pedestrians generally make the common sense decision to not cross the street on their green because a_holes in cars don't yield to them the way they're supposed to do. That means they're forced to wait until no cars are coming from behind them.

Posted by: on May 19, 2008 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK

Is it too much to ask, if they are physically capable, for pedestrians, bikers, etc to look before entering a intersection too and decide if any traffic looks like it might be a danger.

Why should the pedestrian crossing on green have to yield to a car that is required to stop for him???? This happens all the time and pedestrians generally make the common sense decision to not cross the street on their green because a_holes in cars don't yield to them the way they're supposed to do. That means they're forced to wait until no cars are coming from behind them.

Posted by: sj on May 19, 2008 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK

Lyle: point taken. What you're talking about is the bike rider coming in with the green light to the right turner's left. Got 'ya. What I was talking about was the vast number of bike riders who like to use sidewalks and then cross with pedestrians. Don't deny it. There are tons of 'em.

IOTM that some posters here may not know the background. I first got a driver's license in California in the 60s. California always allowed right turn on red. Most states did not. It all changed in 1974, with the first federal mandate about saving oil. All states had to do it if they wanted federal bucks for highways. Most did it begrudgingly. They still do it begrudgingly, plastering no turn on red signs anywhere they think they can get away with it. Curiously, many drivers still seem to have an aversion to turning on that red light. Even younger drivers. I can only imagine that they were taught to drive by older folks hard-wired with the old no right-turn stuff.

Rolling stop or not, there is usually no safety reason why the turn on red should not be permitted. It's the driver's responsibility to make the turn when it's safe to do so. This includes watching for pedestrians and other traffic flowing from the left with the green light, including bicycles. Also includes left-turners who've got a green arrow, something that I haven't seen mentioned.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on May 19, 2008 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

This business about shorting yellow lights is BS too, considering it is ILLEGAL to enter an intersection on a yellow light. Period. -danno

You can enter the intersection legally if it is yellow (at least in CA)
http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/pgs16thru17.htm
Solid Yellow- A yellow signal light means "CAUTION." The red signal is about to appear. When you see the yellow light, stop if you can do so safely. If you can’t stop safely, enter the intersection cautiously."

I believe in order to be ticketed for running a red light, the light has to be red before you enter the intersection. I couldn't find a link, but I believe there was an important court case many years back that established that. Someone had been ticketed who entered the intersection on a yellow, but before his car was completely through the intersection the light went red.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 19, 2008 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

I'm guessing most of the commenters here are generally nice people...until they get behind the wheel of their car. Then they suddenly become people who believe that obeying the rules is for idiots.

If you think the traffic laws are so wrong, why not write your legislator, or go to the city council meeting?

As far as I'm concerned, a person who tries to change the rules by working in our representative system is being a good citizen. Someone who tries to change the rules by buying the biggest truck they can find, and mounting an ice-breaker bumper on it, is just a bully.

This is a load of crap. I regularly have school buses pass me doing 5-10 miles over the limit. The school district doesn't care enough about safety or economy to put recorders on these buses? Right- their idea of safety is to drug test the employee, to see if they've smoked pot in the past 30 days.

And if you're safe driver you pay for all of this when your insurance rates don't reflect the conservative way you drive, and you get pooled with the idiots.

I have no problem at all with using cameras to produce revenue. If you don't have the self-control to obey the law at places like stoplights, you're not really old enough to drive.

Incidentally, Washington state has always had right-on-red, even during the 70s. It works fine if people actually stop and yield to oncoming traffic.

The next time you're about to roll a stop, just think to yourself "Boy, I sure would feel dumb if I ran into someone on my right while I was looking to my left". Do us all a favor and actually look in the direction you are steering your two tons of metal. We will all thank you for it.

Posted by: serial catowner on May 19, 2008 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

A bigger problem I think is drivers who make the right on GREEN without noticing if there's a cyclist in the bike lane going straight. It has happened many times during rush hour conditions when I am travelling faster than car traffic, and a car attempts to right-hook me. Nobody's got me yet, but in the space of a month last fall, two cyclists were killed and one seriously injured by right-hooks.

Drivers: It is YOUR responsibility to yield to all traffic in the bike lane, even if it means turning your head to look behind you, or - god forbid - checking your mirrors! You're not the fastest one on the road, regardless of the horsepower under your hood, since you can only go as fast as the car in front of you.

Now, I don't always trust that you'll do the right thing, so I often get into the car lane, where you can't not see me, and I keep my U-lock within easy reach just in case someone needs a friendly reminder.

Oh, and that stupid law in California where a right-turning car can block the bike lane prior to turning: it doesn't reduce crashes, and it's disruptive to bike traffic. You try that shit in Oregon, and you'll lose your side mirror!

Posted by: peejay on May 19, 2008 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

I meant: "in the space of a month last fall, two cyclists were killed and one seriously injured by right-hooks IN MY CITY."

The police department's failure to cite the drivers led to public outcry, and eventually, "bike boxes" were painted in the most dangerous intersections. We also got the head of the traffic division in the police department "reassigned" out of traffic.

Here's a good link to the rally we had after these tragic incidents. I'm the dude with the "Fire Kruger" sign.


Posted by: peejay on May 19, 2008 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

The cameras work, in Dallas... unfortunately?

Dallas' red light cameras may face changes as revenue estimate drops

I found that while looking for this joke. Better to link to it than type it out, and I am proud of myself: I lasted all day before finally giving in to the urge to repeat it.

Posted by: steverino on May 19, 2008 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

I believe in order to be ticketed for running a red light, the light has to be red before you enter the intersection.

That's true nowadays. There was an older rule that yellow meant "don't enter the intersection unless you can't stop safely." That rule gave way in the early 1960s to the rule that yellow simply was a warning that the light would be changing to red soon. There's a Maryland case that discusses the history -- unfortunately, I don't have the cite at home.

Posted by: sj on May 19, 2008 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

I have a hard time believing the damn things are that expensive.

Posted by: Paul Camp on May 19, 2008 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Red-light cams actually INCREASE accidents unless you lengthen the tie of the yellow. And, Steverino, a suburban city councilman in the part of Dallas where my newspaper company's coverage is at is the person who got the Lege to pass the law on 50-50 revenue and the warning signs.

Also, Steverino, if you're from the Metromess, you'll note that -- SURPRISE -- Angela Hunt got this right well in advance.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 19, 2008 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

If they really wanted to make intersections more safe for everyone who uses one, there's some technology that could be used instead of cameras and tickets: displays on the traffic lights that count down the number of seconds until the light turns red. There's no need for a yellow light with that system. Drivers will quickly acquire the skill of judgment required to decide whether to speed up, just roll, or slow down and stop.

These displays could replace the yellow lights on the signal.

Posted by: slanted tom on May 19, 2008 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

Peejay: "Drivers: It is YOUR responsibility to yield to all traffic in the bike lane, even if it means turning your head to look behind you, or - god forbid - checking your mirrors! You're not the fastest one on the road, regardless of the horsepower under your hood, since you can only go as fast as the car in front of you."

Peejay, you're absolutely correct in everything you've posted. Even in the preceding paragraph where you mentioned whizzing by slower car traffic in the bike lane and almost getting hit. But I have to ask you if having the right of way is any consolation if you're dead. When I was about 14-years-old, I was hit by a car coming out of a side street while I was riding a bike along the main route. I clearly had the right of way, but Mr. Suburbanite screwed up. My Dad used this as a teaching point: "hey, kid, you ain't got any protection and those cars weigh 4K pounds. Never trust 'em."

The National Safety Council used to have a little thing about vehicular safety. Wasn't oriented towards bikes, but it addressed the importance of prudence while driving. Defensive driving, in other words. Went something like: "don't insist on the right of way. You may be right. Dead right." ISTM too many bike riders nowadays kind of tend to forget this common sense advice.

FWIW, I question having separate bike lanes on busy city streets just because of what you mentioned. I would play it just the way you do, i.e., get out into the car lane in slow-moving traffic. I don't think those lanes should be there. They give bikers a false sense of security. And no one should ever feel secure when out on the road.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on May 19, 2008 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

I had the weird idea that the cost was offset by not having to hire additional police officers, and that law enforcement costs generally were offset by having less crime/accidents (which is way more expensive than a police budget).

In San Francisco we supposedly have a cop shortage, which has the delightful effect of making our cops respond only to major legal infractions. It's wonderful. In Cupertino I got pulled over all the time -- and I've never had a ticket or a moving violation. I've never been pulled over in SF.

I always hoped that Cupertino would ditch most of its cops and put up machines instead. Far less intrusive, much cheaper overall.

Posted by: Saam Barrager on May 19, 2008 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

A bigger problem I think is drivers who make the right on GREEN without noticing if there's a cyclist in the bike lane going straight.-peejay

I remember back in the mid '80s, I was a pedestrian waiting for the "WALK" sign to come on to cross the street and stepped out about two or three paces after it came on and heard an intense screeching nearly immediately, and a motorcycle cop nearly laid down his bike trying not to run over me. He was all adrenalized and started cussing me out for a few seconds, but when I pointed at the crossing signal (WTF!), and he shut up and drove off.

If they really wanted to make intersections more safe for everyone who uses one, there's some technology that could be used instead of cameras and tickets: displays on the traffic lights that count down the number of seconds until the light turns red.-slanted tom

There is a town I know of that has those.. Joplin, MO. Pretty nifty. That's the first place I saw those. It makes timing accelerator and brake a whole lot better.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 19, 2008 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

I would be a lot happier with red light camera if every cop deliberately running a red light - when not on a run - was fired. Cops ought to be setting a standard for the rest of us. Instead they're the worst when it comes to running red lights.

Posted by: beb on May 19, 2008 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

Nixon:

The "dead wrong" line of thinking is what leads to irresponsible drivers taking advantage of cyclists. You just have to assert your right to be where you belong, and give the business to anyone who tries to take your space.

That said, the best way to make bikes safer is to have more of them on the roads, and the only way to do that is if there are bike lanes. I ride in any part of the road, but I'm a minority, and will always be so. The occasional rider is going to want dedicated infrastructure, and is mostly going to be well served by it (these cyclists are not going very fast, and won't pass any cars for a while). Once the presence of bikes is ubiquitous, then people in cars will see them better.

In Portland, we're up to 6% ridership, which still sucks compared to Europe, but is way better than any other big American city. People ignore bikes at their peril. I once saw a gang of cyclists surround and beat on a car because it failed to yield to one of them. That driver won't do it again!

Posted by: peejay on May 20, 2008 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

Nixon:

The "dead wrong" line of thinking is what leads to irresponsible drivers taking advantage of cyclists. You just have to assert your right to be where you belong, and give the business to anyone who tries to take your space.

That said, the best way to make bikes safer is to have more of them on the roads, and the only way to do that is if there are bike lanes. I ride in any part of the road, but I'm a minority, and will always be so. The occasional rider is going to want dedicated infrastructure, and is mostly going to be well served by it (these cyclists are not going very fast, and won't pass any cars for a while). Once the presence of bikes is ubiquitous, then people in cars will see them better.

In Portland, we're up to 6% ridership, which still sucks compared to Europe, but is way better than any other big American city. People ignore bikes at their peril. I once saw a gang of cyclists surround and beat on a car because it failed to yield to one of them. That driver won't do it again!

Posted by: peejay on May 20, 2008 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

"I once saw a gang of cyclists surround and beat on a car because it failed to yield to one of them. That driver won't do it again!"

Spare us the militant bullshit. I live in a state where drivers can legally carry a rod in the car. A bike rider tries beating on a car, he might run into the Forrest Gump school of philosophy: "life is like a box of chocolates....."

It's guys like you that harden drivers' attitudes towards bikers. And who also get run over because they insist on the right-of-way. Why in the hell do you think it's OK to damage someone's property because he screwed up? You never screwed up?

Biking is good. Bikers are supposed to be mellow. What is with some of you guys?

Posted by: Nixon Did It on May 20, 2008 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you for the intriguing read! Alright playtime is over and back to my work, time to say goodbye to The Washington Monthly.

Posted by: Como Recuperar a tu Pareja on January 31, 2011 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly