More turns on red

A new city policy will remove many of the ‘No Turn on Red' signs that frustrate drivers - and, apparently, don't improve safety that much

Minneapolis has more than 500 No Turn on Red signs throughout the city - and many of them should be coming down in the future.

It turns out they don't make the streets safer in many cases, but they do slow traffic, a city research review said.

Minneapolis has inconsistently approved No Turn on Red signs, according to an Oct. 25 memo by Jon Wertjes, director of traffic and parking services. It resulted in, &#8220overuse, disregard by the traveling public and, in numerous cases, no safety improvement,” the memo said. &#8220In addition, there are numerous locations where [No Turn on Red] signs delay transit buses thus increasing their travel time.”

Minneapolis traffic engineers are embarking on a five-year review of the more than 800 intersections with traffic signals. The review will look at light timing, intersection design and the need for No Turn on Red signs.

Fred Abadi, Public Works' deputy director for transportation, said the city gets 50-60 requests a year to install or remove No Turn on Red signs, and staff decided to take a more systematic look.

Ask a handful of people at Gigi's Caf, 822 W. 36th St., and you get a mix of reactions to No Turn on Red signs. In the grand scheme of things, the signs are no big deal. They join a long list of traffic issues that can inch up a driver's blood pressure.

Kevin Wallace of Powderhorn Park gave an invisible shrug when asked about No Turn on Red signs. &#8220Probably the fewer the better,” he said, adding that he did have an opinion about the new photo cop cameras that catch cars running red lights - because he got a ticket.

Treana Mungovan of Uptown said she agreed with reducing the number of No Turn on Red signs. &#8220It seems futile,” she said. &#8220People tend to ignore them. I've done it.”

Katherine Slakieu of CARAG said she thinks the city overuses the No Turn on Red signs, but she follows them. &#8220I notice other people don't - it is irritating,” she said.

Peter Podulke calls the No Turn on Red signs &#8220a big nuisance.” He likes Minnesota's pedestrian right-of-way laws and doesn't mind waiting for pedestrians who cross mid-block, he said. However, Podulke - who lives in St. Paul and teaches creative movement at the Volunteers of America Senior Center, 3612 Bryant Ave. S. - said it seems like Minneapolis bureaucrats got carried away banning rights on red. &#8220They have fewer [signs] in St. Paul,” he said. &#8220It seems like, ‘Minneapolis: The city that hates you.'”

Ellen Arnold of East Harriet is worried about bad drivers. She recalled going through the intersection at 36th & Bryant on a yellow light and watched in her rear view mirror as four cars followed her through.

She likes the No Turn on Red signs. &#8220I think anything that prevents people from running red lights is a good thing,” she said, adding she thought the signs would help people pay attention to the lights.

City staff reviewed 16 studies investigating right-turn-on-red safety issues. Several said that right-on-red crashes accounted for fewer than 0.6 percent of all intersection crashes, and others said that the probability of vehicle-pedestrian conflicts and crashes are greater with right turn on green than right turn on red.

Two studies suggested that allowing right turns on red increased road capacity, with approximately 26-39 percent of all right turns getting made on red lights.

Minneapolis data says that between 0.5 percent and 1.9 percent of city crashes from 2002 to 2005 happened when a car made a right turn. The city does not compile data on how many crashes happened when a driver made a right turn on red. (The Public Works report encourages the Police Department to begin documenting right-turn-on-red crashes and contributing factors.)

Under the new policy, the city will keep or add No Turn on Red signs in five key situations:

– Approaches with limited or obstructed sight lines that cannot be corrected.

– Intersections with unique designs, such as five-way intersections.

– Any intersection wherein crash analysis data shows a right turn on red results in at least one crash per year on average.

– Signalized intersections with designated school crosswalks or crossing guards.

– Unusual circumstances, such as light-rail transit tracks, unusual pedestrian movements or protected turning movements.

It doesn't appear to differ significantly from the city's past practice, which was to install No Turn on Red signs at all signalized school crossings and signalized intersections with more than four approach legs.

In addition, city often approved No Turn on Red signs at other intersections, including those with fast-moving traffic (freeway exit ramps crossing city streets); locations with high volumes of senior citizen pedestrians; intersections adjacent to parks or hospitals; specialty areas, such as activity centers for persons with disabilities; other locations with high pedestrian volumes; and intersections with multiple vehicle directions, such as one-way to two-way traffic flow.

Over time, however, the city &#8220liberally” interpreted the guidelines and approved most new sign requests.

Under the new review, the city expects to remove many of the existing No Turn on Red signs, the city report said. Once the review is done, requests made for new signs will be examined on a case-by-case basis.

When residents request new No Turn on Red signs, the city should first try stepped-up enforcement of pedestrian laws in the area, including details of plain-clothes police officers posing as pedestrians.

&#8220Improved compliance and driver understanding in this area would likely reduce public demand for [No Turn on Red] signs,” the city report said.

Abadi said traffic and pedestrian patterns vary with time of day and days of the week. Staff has to consider sight lines when evaluating signage, and do pedestrian counts at each of the 800-plus intersections with signals.

&#8220It is an involved process,” he said. &#8220The decision to install one or remove one is not as easy as one thinks.”

The city has used three different types of No Turn on Red signs, and research says that the old-style sign with the red dot and the words &#8220No Turn on Red” is more effective than either the text-only signs, or the sign with a right turn arrow with a slash through it. The report recommends the city uniformly use the red dot signs.

The city report also recommends using signs with time-limited bans for right turns on red, such as signs near schools that have large number of kids crossing the street in the mornings and afternoons, but less pedestrian traffic during other times.

Other ideas to improve walkers' safety included: adding pedestrian crossing signs, enhanced crosswalk striping, better lighting, adding bump outs and adding pedestrian count-down timers, as the city has already begun.

Reducing right-on-red prohibitions isn't a new phenomenon, and one reason resonates even today: the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo spurred national interest in allowing right turns at red lights to conserve energy.