Does compressing down the change interval (time between opposing greens, usually yellow plus an all-red component, but not always an all-red per latest codes) actually result in an increase in capacity? I think not. Why? Drivers make go/no go decisions essentially independent of the yellow duration. The decision is mainly driven by actual reaction time ability, speed and proximity to the intersection when the yellow first shows, intersection geometry, vehicle type/capability and other more unpredictable random circumstances, often in combination with each other, at the intersection. I see in many articles that both driver instructors and the police now routinely advise cross street traffic to wait a few seconds before starting forward when they get the green. That's a workaround to the dismal results that are being generated by the shorter yellows and sometimes very little to no all-red for the mainline seen moreso nowadays. I have listed a few short entries from the articles below which are chron arranged. These entries provide hints as to the problems and the solutions:
"I hit the gas but not before the light turned red. In the instantaneous white flash of the photo radar camera, I had become a lawbreaker." [Arizona]
"I now caution anyone who is driving too closely behind me that I always brake for yellow lights." [Arizona]
"The Virginia Department of Transportation found when it increased the yellow time at one of the state's red light camera intersections, red light running dropped to almost nothing. " [Virginia]
"The light changes and, bing, the cars still go," [RE: NYC with three second yellow standard]
"They go through the light here all the time," said Maria Femia of Flushing. She said she was almost hit by a driver who breezed through a red light at that spot recently." [RE: NYC with three second yellow standard]
"Hevesi's staff found an average of 28 cars an hour ran the red light at the intersection." [RE: NYC with three second yellow standard]
"A Daily News reporter and photographer saw eight cars run the light in a 15-minute midafternoon period yesterday, including a cement truck that lumbered through well after the light had changed to red" [RE: NYC with three second yellow standard]
"Minutes later, a police van and a second vehicle ignored the light." [RE: NYC with three second yellow standard]
"Lockheed Martin IMS, the company operating the cameras, has been losing money on five of the city's 17 cameras and is asking the city to disconnect them, Mesa police Cmdr. Richard Clore said." [Mesa Arizona]
"In some cases, it's only catching one person a day. Clore said that may be because the city recently lengthened its yellow lights by a second." [Mesa, Arizona]
"The Stevenses are used to greeting shocked and bleeding visitors on their doorstep. As a matter of course, they offer water, blankets and use of their telephone. They simply ask that if you take out their fence, you cough up the repair bill." "It wasn't always this way. In the 1970s, when the Stevens home was surrounded by open space, traffic accidents did not punctuate their daily routine." [Arizona] (different national standards for signal timings too)
"Signal timing may not leave enough seconds for cars to clear red lights." [Arizona]
"Police across the East Valley say the majority of crashes at intersections are rear-end collisions that occur under clear skies during daylight hours" [Arizona]
"Realizing that just because the light is green, it isn't always safe to go." [Arizona - police recommendation to drivers]
"Rear-end collisions will happen, no matter what." [Arizona]
"......four to six collisions per day..." [Arizona - Chandler]
".......the top time for collisions is during the rush hours....." [Arizona - Chandler]
"And signals in much of the city go all-red for a second between light changes, to help clear intersections." [Arizona]
"These short-cycling lights are causing crashes on the nation´s roadways, according to highway engineers like Peter S. Parsonson, professor of transportation at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He says municipalities need to be held to a national standard." [TWT article]
"Accident reconstructionists doing a scientific analysis of a crash often find that yellow lights have been timed impossibly short, he said." [TWT article]
The entries above suggest that Arizona has short yellows plus very short all-reds, the prescription for a red light running epidemic and accidents. I do not know the signal timing policies there but the excerpts provide some clues. The accidents that can result from inadequate yellow time (mainly rear end type) plus drivers on cross streets delaying their own movements as a workaround can negate all the theoretical gains in capacity that one might claim by compressing the change period. The young lady who says in the first article that she will now brake on yellow (implied to the exclusion of all else) may not realize just what a danger she will be to herself and others if she does so.
On the assumption that the yellow will be increased at some point at GWMP and Slaters Lane in Alexandria, that would be another great opportunity to gauge short and long term effect of lengthening the yellow at a signal with a known "entry on red" problem. To do so, a controlled "before" data set for entries on red should be developed, then multiple "after" data sets. Doing this would add greatly to the body of knowledge surrounding the issue, which would be of great value to others across the country I would think. VDOT is tracking short and long term effect at US50 and Fair Ridge (where yellow was increased 1.5 seconds and red light running dropped to almost nothing) and that is good. The same should be done at GWMP and Slaters and at other intersections where increases to the yellow are being considered and/or are contemplated.
Notice that the "Controller" in New York wants 150 more cameras. Isn't the Controller the money person? If 30 or so cameras yielded 400,000 citations last year, 150 more (180 + total) would yield 2,400,000 citations. At just $50.00 each, that extends to a whopping $120,000,000.00 a year operation! Bean counters should not even be part of the discussion but yet they are. Maybe this should tell us something?
Congressional Report: http://freedom.gov/auto/rlcdocs/finalreport.pdf
"I hit the gas but not before the light turned red. In the instantaneous white flash of the photo radar camera, I had become a lawbreaker."
"I now caution anyone who is driving too closely behind me that I always brake for yellow lights."
'Back off, Jack - I brake for yellow lights'
By Rachael Rivera
alt. teen editor
May 11, 2001
I became a lawbreaker at the age of 15. Along with losing my first tooth at the age of 5 and purchasing my first bra at the age of 11, I received my first driving ticket before I was even licensed to drive.
Not only did I acquire the ticket on a learner's permit, it happened on my first day of behind-the-wheel training - with my driver's education teacher by my side.
Until that ill-fated day, my only driving experience had consisted of a few turns in a nearby parking lot. My father, mother and sister had piled into the car, turning this rite of passage into a family outing. My younger sister, sensing the portent of mishaps to come, had entered the car in full protective regalia - helmet, knee and elbow pads. With this degree of preparation behind me, I was turned loose to the tutelage of my unsuspecting driver's education teacher. Raul, of the long, gray hair and wrap-around sunglasses, was the antithesis of my parents' anxious fear. Perpetually mellow, Raul crunched on sunflower seeds throughout the instruction, spitting the pulpy shells out the window.
After first assessing my novice driving skills in a church parking lot, he announced, "OK, I think you're ready to go on the real road."
The speedometer rose to a dizzying 35 mph, an outrageous speed. Suddenly, as I approached the intersection, the green light changed to yellow. I turned helplessly to Raul, who was placidly munching sunflower seeds.
"What should I do?"
"Go! Hit the gas!" he screamed, clutching the seeds to his chest.
I hit the gas but not before the light turned red. In the instantaneous white flash of the photo radar camera, I had become a lawbreaker.
The opportunity to appeal the ticket in court was offered; Raul even volunteered to testify in my behalf. But I decided to attend traffic school. So, on a Saturday morning, I joined 50 others to face our obligations. I was the only one who had to be driven to the site by my parents.
We emerged from the eight-hour class transformed. I now caution anyone who is driving too closely behind me that I always brake for yellow lights.
Congressional Report: http://freedom.gov/auto/rlcdocs/finalreport.pdf
"The Virginia Department of Transportation found when it increased the yellow time at one of the state's red light camera intersections, red light running dropped to almost nothing. "
Forced To Run The Red?
Elaine Murphy, KOIN 6 News
BEAVERTON, Ore., 6:36 p.m. PDT May 16, 2001 -- Is the yellow light so short, it forces you to run the red?
After timing a light in Beaverton where the red-light running camera is located, KOIN 6 News' Elaine Murphy turned to an expert for answers.
Yellow Lights Timed By An Expert
The City of Beaverton says the red light running cameras here have been a huge success, nabbing 12 red light runners a day. But a traffic expert says the The Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway and Griffith Drive intersection's design makes it so you many can't stop in time.
Last February, we timed the lights and discovered the yellow is shorter at this intersection than it is at the next four intersections to the east along Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.
There's a three-and-a-half second yellow light at any intersection in Beaverton with a 30 mile per hour speed.
But is that enough time to let you stop safely?
Dr. Kent Lall of Portland State University has won national awards, and written a book on transportation engineering. We went to him with the problem, and he showed us the mind-numbing equations engineers use to set the yellow time. As we approach a yellow light, if we are far enough back we know we can't go through the light in time. If we are too close to the light as it turns yellow, we know we can't stop -- we have to gun it through.
What happens if the yellow light is too short? The point at which you can't go, and can't stop overlap. That's what engineers call the dilemma zone.
We carefully measured the intersection according to Lall's instructions. From the stop bar at the back of the crosswalk to the front line of the opposing crosswalk measures 100 feet.
As he works the equation, he plugs in the posted speed at 30 miles per hour, the average car length of 20 feet. For reaction time we used one second, although it can be as high as six seconds. The rate of deceleration is figured in and it turns out that the yellow should be six seconds long.
The city says this intersection is set according to the state standard for a road with a posted speed of 30. But the next intersection has a longer yellow.
The Virginia Department of Transportation found when it increased the yellow time at one of the state's red light camera intersections, red light running dropped to almost nothing.
From: News and Views | City Beat |
Monday, May 21, 2001
Traffic Lights Ignored
1.2 million drivers
go on red daily — study
By RALPH R. ORTEGA and LISA L. COLANGELO
Daily News Staff Writers
ew York City drivers don't hesitate to run red lights. In fact, they do it about 1.2 million times a day, according to a study released yesterday by Controller Alan Hevesi.
"For some New Yorkers, red means go," said Hevesi, who believes the city should purchase 150 additional red light cameras to help drivers curb the urge.
State approval — and $9 million — would be needed to install that many cameras, which photograph the license plates of drivers who run red lights so that they can be mailed summonses.
"It's not a lot of money," Hevesi said of the $9 million cost. "It's an investment."
From May 8 to last Monday, Hevesi's staff staked out 106 of the 7,340 red light intersections deemed "high risk" by the city's Department of Transportation.
Pedestrians are imperiled by cars running red light at Broadway and Spring St. in SoHo, an intersection which has one of the 10 worst red light violation rates.
An intersection is high risk, the agency says, if it has been the scene of 15 or more accidents over a three-year period.
At the 106 intersections they studied, Hevesi staffers observed an average of 14 motor vehicles running red lights each hour. Extrapolating that to 7,340 intersections and multiplying by a 12-hour period, the survey determined that citywide, 28 red light violations occur each second, 1,712 every minute, and 1.2million every workday.
Hevesi released the report while standing at Park Ave. and 30th St., the intersection with the second-most red lights run in the city. He was quick to praise Mayor Giuliani for increasing the number of red light cameras on city streets.
The city currently has 32 red light cameras operating in the five boroughs and is scheduled to install another 18 over the next two months, according to DOT spokesman Tom Cocola. Last year, the cameras helped the agency hand out 400,000 citations.
"We do have legislation pending in the state to beef the number up to 100," Cocola said. "We think it's an effective deterrent."
The study's findings came as no surprise to a skeptical Mike Zahabian, who has lived near the busy Broadway/Spring St. intersection in SoHo for 10 years.
"The light changes and, bing, the cars still go," he said. "What can you do about it? Put a camera [there], take a picture and hope they learn? That might help, but I don't think they'll learn."
* * *
The 10 intersections with the worst red light violation rates:
Rank Intersection Borough Average (violations) per hour Time of day*
1. 79th St. and Madison Ave. Manhattan 56 morning rush hour
2. 30th St./Park Ave. Manhattan 52 nonrush hour
3. I-678 Service Road Eastbound/Hillside Ave. Queens 50 evening rush hour
4. Rutland Road/Utica Ave. Brooklyn 42 nonrush hour
5. I-495 Service Road Westbound/Van Dam St. Queens 42 nonrush hour
6. Kings Highway/Remsen Ave. Brooklyn 40 nonrush hour
7. 130th St./20th Ave. Queens 40 evening rush hour
8. Avenue Z/Coney Island Ave. Brooklyn 38 nonrush hour
9. I-495 Service Road Westbound/159th St. Queens 38 morning rush hour
10. Broadway/Spring St. Manhattan 36 evening rush hour
* Rush Hours: Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
* Nonrush Hours: Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Source: Office of City Controller Alan Hevesi
From: News and Views | City Beat |
Tuesday, May 22, 2001
Pedestrians Are Seeing Red
Fed up with borough drivers
tearing through lights
By DONALD BERTRAND
Daily News Staff Writer
t 154th St. and Northern Blvd., red doesn't always mean stop."They go through the light here all the time," said Maria Femia of Flushing. She said she was almost hit by a driver who breezed through a red light at that spot recently.
At intersection of Northern Blvd. and 154th St. in Flushing, it's commonplace to see all manner of vehicles running the red light, and, frankly...
The Northern Blvd. intersection was the 14th-most dangerous cited in a citywide study by Controller Alan Hevesi, whose staff studied red-light compliance at 106 intersections. The survey included 23 Queens intersections.
Hevesi's staff found an average of 28 cars an hour ran the red light at the intersection.
A Daily News reporter and photographer saw eight cars run the light in a 15-minute
midafternoon period yesterday, including a cement truck that lumbered through well after the light had changed to red. All the vehicles observed were on Northern Blvd.
During one red light, a police car slowly edged through the intersection westbound — without lights flashing or siren on — after making sure there was no traffic coming along 154th St.
Minutes later, a police van and a second vehicle ignored the light.
...people in the neighborhood, such as Marie Femia, are fed up with it.
"This intersection is scary," said Jose Gonzalez, who lives and works nearby. Unfortunately, he said, his walk to and from work takes him through the intersection.
"The drivers don't care; they are in a rush and speed through," he said.
According to the study, drivers in Queens are the worst offenders when it comes to ignoring red lights.
Hevesi said the city should purchase an additional 150 red light cameras, which photograph the license plates of drivers who run red lights, so offenders can be mailed summonses.
The city has 32 of the cameras operating and another 18 scheduled to be installed.
There are 11 cameras installed at intersections in Queens.
"The company gets reimbursed $48.50 a ticket and was expecting to nab about 18 violators a day. In some cases, it's only catching one person a day. Clore said that may be because the city recently lengthened its yellow lights by a second. "
Red-light cameras may ease in Mesa
By Betty Beard
The Arizona Republic
May 22, 2001
Some of Mesa's red-light cameras are working so well that police are talking about disconnecting them.
But before motorists get too cocky, they also need to know that Mesa officers propose expanding the hours and locations of their photo-radar vans to catch more speeders, especially in school zones and neighborhoods.
Lockheed Martin IMS, the company operating the cameras, has been losing money on five of the city's 17 cameras and is asking the city to disconnect them, Mesa police Cmdr. Richard Clore said. The cameras snap pictures of people who run red lights and of their license plate numbers.
The company gets reimbursed $48.50 a ticket and was expecting to nab about 18 violators a day. In some cases, it's only catching one person a day. Clore said that may be because the city recently lengthened its yellow lights by a second.
"From a public safety perspective, we can call this a success," Clore said. "But from the vendor's point of view, I imagine they are not happy."
He said he doesn't yet know which intersections would be affected. The camera housings would remain in place so motorists might not notice.
As for the photo-radar vans, police propose expanding the hours to 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and sending them to more streets. Now they operate between 5 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. and only on major streets such as Broadway Road and Country Club Drive.
The changes will need approval from the Mesa City Council. The council's police committee will consider the proposed changes today.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or (602) 444-7982.
Republican Leader Takes Aim at Red-Light Cameras
May. 22, 2001 21:33
WASHINGTON - Red-light cameras provide local governments with millions of dollars in revenue but their safety benefits are doubtful and longer yellow lights would slash violations, according to a congressional report due out on Wednesday.
The study by the office of U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey says the huge revenue streams generated by the cameras coincide with disinterest in addressing traffic problems caused by shortened yellow lights.
``Red light cameras present a perverse disincentive for local jurisdictions to fix intersections with excessive red light entries, since this 'problem' brings in millions in revenues,'' a draft of the report released Tuesday concludes.
The cameras, installed at city intersections in about 40 U.S. communities so far, automatically photograph the vehicles and license plates of drivers who run red lights.
New York city collected $9 million in revenue from its camera program last year.
The report says studies finding safety benefits from the red light cameras often ignore increases in rear-end collisions that result from people braking suddenly for fear of being ticketed.
Data showing that almost 80 percent of red light violations occur within the first second of the red light strongly suggest inadequate yellow time is the major cause of red-light running, the report said.
But just last month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said there was ``solid evidence'' the red light cameras were cutting crashes and improving the way people drive.
DECLINE IN FRONT-TO-SIDE COLLISIONS
The insurance industry group, which studies auto-related safety issues, cited accident figures in Oxnard, California, to highlight the benefits of red-light cameras.
Since the cameras appeared in Oxnard in 1997, there had been a 32 percent decline in front-into-side vehicle collisions -- the type most commonly associated with red-light running.
Crashes declined throughout Oxnard even though only 11 of the city's 125 intersections with traffic signals were equipped with cameras, the insurance group said.
Armey's office said the Oxnard study's connection between area accidents and red light cameras was only implied as the crash data was not detailed enough to identify crashes that were specifically red light running events.
``The only documented benefit to red light cameras is to the pocketbook of local governments,'' the report said.
Earlier this month, Armey took aim at National Park Service plans to use radar cameras to ticket speeders on busy parkways around the national's capital saying it was a step toward a ''surveillance state.''
Insurance institute spokesman Stephen Oesch, who had not seen the Armey study, said the Oxnard data demonstrated the benefits of cameras to curb red light running -- which kills 750 people a year in the United States.
``Light timing is an important tool but there are still people who will run red lights,'' Oesch said.
Lockheed Martin IMS, a Lockheed Martin Corp. unit, is a major supplier of photo enforcement systems to governments in the United States and Canada.
May 23, 2001
Yellow lights getting shorter
By Daniel F. Drummond
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
A congressional report to be released today shows that yellow lights on traffic signals are getting shorter, causing more drivers to inadvertently run red lights and get caught by cameras that some say invade drivers´ privacy.
The report, from the office of House Majority Leader Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican, concludes that many local governments using red-light cameras have shortened the duration of yellow lights, allowing those jurisdictions to reap revenue from traffic tickets given to unsuspecting motorists. The Washington Times has obtained a copy of the report.
"When people come upon an intersection with inadequate yellow time, they are faced with the choice of either stopping abruptly on yellow [risking a rear end accident] or accelerating," an executive summary of the 23-page report states. "The options for those confronting such circumstance are limited, and unsafe. But each time a driver faces the dilemma, the government increases its odds of cashing in."
Local jurisdictions such as Fairfax County, the District and Montgomery County have cameras set up at intersections and other high-traffic spots to catch red-light runners.
Mr. Armey´s report suggests that since 1985, when yellow-light lead times began to be shortened, governments across the country have pressed for even shorter times to step up enforcement by red-light cameras.
Armey spokesman Richard Diamond said the cameras invade people´s privacy and have turned the notion of "innocent until proven guilty" on its head.
"We are told that we are supposed to give up our constitutional protections and our privacy because red-light cameras are about safety," Mr. Diamond said. "But what we have found is that these cameras may undermine safety [and with the cameras] we can´t face our accusers in court and we are assumed guilty until proven innocent."
The report states that local governments have turned the red-light cameras into a money-making enterprise. Mr. Diamond said "this is a gimmick" in which jurisdictions around the country are shortening yellow lights so that more drivers will run red lights and more revenue from traffic tickets will be collected.
The report, based on other studies and press clippings, as well as local, state and federal data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and other federal agencies, found that:
* In the District, a single camera collected more than $1 million in revenue and that $16 million was to be collected from 37 cameras throughout the city. About 40 percent of those fines have been going to the city´s contractor, Lockheed Martin.
* In Montgomery County, local officials asked that the fines for running a red light be raised from $75 to $250.
* In Howard County, Md., more than 70,000 tickets were written between 1998 and 2000, bringing in more than $4 million in fines.
The report states that, if the duration of a yellow light were lengthened, it would lessen the chances for accidents, especially at busy intersections. The executive summary states that when yellow-light lead times were extended by about 30 percent -- 1.4 seconds -- from an average of 3 to 4 seconds -- red-light running was eliminated or reduced by about 79 percent.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that about 260,000 crashes -- and 800 deaths and 1,200 injuries -- a year nationwide are caused by red-light runners. The report states that the insurance industry, as well as local governments, are cashing in on red-light cameras since more violations lead to higher auto insurance premiums.
Mr. Diamond said, as does the report, that the problem with the shortened yellow times can be traced back to 1985, when the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) first began to recommend that yellow lead times be shortened from the traditional five or more seconds to a little over three seconds.
In 1989, the ITE´s proposal, which is followed closely by the FHA and local and state governments, recommended that in a typical intersection "five seconds of yellow . . . reduce it to three seconds of yellow, and two seconds in which all sides of the intersection are given the red light."
Mr. Diamond said this kind of reduction makes the red light turn faster and the camera snap more often.
Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said he had not seen the report but noted commuters in the Washington area are "generally in favor of the red-light systems."
"The public understands that red-light running kills," Mr. Anderson said.
Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said that he doesn´t understand why Mr. Armey is so concerned about what is essentially a local issue.
"If you stop at a red light, you shouldn´t have anything to worry about," he said.
Fine-Tuned Traffic Lights Cut Commute Time
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2001; Page PW03
If Northern Virginia motorists have noticed that the green lights on their commute are lasting a bit longer and that they've shaved a minute or two off their daily jaunt, it isn't just their imagination.
As part of a regional plan to make local traffic flow more smoothly, the Virginia Department of Transportation has been re-timing traffic lights throughout Northern Virginia.
Traffic signals along major corridors have been programmed to stay green longer during rush hour and at midday. In addition, VDOT traffic engineers have more control over the lights to deal with traffic problems through a new centralized computer system.
Police have said the program helps to improve roadway safety and allows faster traffic rerouting.
Mark Hagan, VDOT's signal system manager, said engineers have been examining traffic signals at nearly 1,000 intersections and are using the department's Smart Traffic Center in Arlington to develop animated models of traffic flow as they re-time signals along road "networks" from Loudoun and Prince William to Fairfax and Alexandria.
"Think of it as fine-tuning an engine," Hagan said. "You have these signals that are coordinated, but they hadn't been fine-tuned in 10 years. Basically, the oil hadn't been changed. We're trying to bring them up to an optimal level."
This week, VDOT finished re-timing 120 signals in Prince William County after extensive efforts along Route 7 from Alexandria to Loudoun, in the Tysons Corner area, along Routes 28 and 29, and in Reston and Springfield. The program next moves to re-timing signals on Route 50 on either side of the Beltway, which Hagan estimated could save commuters as much as 20 minutes each day.
Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said timing traffic lights could be an important step toward having the region's roadways work better.
"It can significantly improve traffic flow, because all it takes is one inefficient traffic light to back traffic up for miles," McNaull said. "If you add up even five minutes of wasted time each way, that's almost an hour each week. That time comes out of the quality time that you use for spending time with your kids, to play sports, read books and do all the things we wish we had more time to do."
VDOT began working on the traffic signal system in late 1998 when engineers collected data about how many cars were on local roadways, what times intersections became particularly congested and how fast cars were going.
Hagan said VDOT then created computer models of the traffic flow and realized that many signals simply followed outdated assumptions, often stacking traffic because of short light cycles.
"Let's say a subdivision opened on a side street and the volume of traffic increased greatly," Hagan said. "The timing of the intersection's signal will be off, and you'll have cars backed up every day. We just have to even it up so that no one's waiting too long."
Some intersections have seen marked improvement since the upgrades, Hagan said. He said VDOT officials have been monitoring roads on which commuters have gained as much as 10 minutes on treks home.
At the intersection of Rugby Road and Route 50, Hagan said, simply increasing the green light to 75 seconds from 54 seconds untangled horrible congestion.
Another benefit of the centralized system is VDOT's ability to reroute traffic or change signal patterns in seconds. If Interstate 66 closes and traffic must spill onto local roads, for example, VDOT can change all lights to allow cars to stream through.
When a truck accident clogged the Beltway for most of an entire day in summer 1999, officials were able to change all lights on Route 1, streamlining traffic.
"It's common during major accidents on Interstate 95, and it is a chronic issue," said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police. "Certainly, anything that can save time and redirect traffic faster is going to be helpful for motorists. Anything that will ease frustration on the roads is very welcome."
Scottsdale uses technology to track crash sites
Scottsdale uses data to reduce traffic problems
Stephanie A. Miller and Lesley Wright
May. 23, 2001
The Stevenses are used to greeting shocked and bleeding visitors on their doorstep. As a matter of course, they offer water, blankets and use of their telephone. They simply ask that if you take out their fence, you cough up the repair bill.
During the 25 years they have lived at the corner of Scottsdale and Cactus roads, Scottsdale's most dangerous intersection, death, destruction and vehicular mania have become the background of their lives.
Herb Stevens had to stop and think about the worst accident he ever witnessed. He settled on the time seven or eight years ago that a motorcyclist hit a car while turning left and was thrown nearly a block away to his death.
It happens every day of the week, any hour of the day, but Stevens and his wife Ethel agreed that Saturday nights are the worst.
"You're watching a game but your ear is listening for that thud," he said.
Ethel Stevens said they find it rewarding to help people in pain, but she wishes drivers would use more common sense.
"You see so many cars and they don't care. They want to be first in line," she said. "It's hard to believe."
It wasn't always this way. In the 1970s, when the Stevens home was surrounded by open space, traffic accidents did not punctuate their daily routine. But as development and construction increased with Scottsdale's population, so did the carnage.
The trend is not lost on the city's traffic engineers, who spend much of their careers tracking down why people crash into each other.
A number of factors help intersections earn a spot on Scottsdale's Top 20 most dangerous list published annually by the Arizona Department of Transportation. Cactus and Scottsdale roads won first place in 2000 and 1998, with 40 and 30 major accidents respectively. McDowell and Scottsdale roads was a close second, with 35 major accidents in 2000 after two relatively benign years when it logged 21 crashes. Hayden and Shea won third place in 2000, with 33 accidents. But 92nd Street and Shea elbowed everything out in 1999, when it jumped from 10th place to first and then fell back to fourth in 2000. Twenty-five people lost their lives in Scottsdale traffic accidents during those three years.
Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard is quickly proving to be an up-and-comer, city traffic engineers say. Three of its intersections, at Scottsdale, Pima and Hayden roads, made the top 20.
Remedies run the range from old-fashioned police stakeouts to "intelligent transportation systems" that monitor the flow of traffic electronically. In Scottsdale, the technology approach is preferred - red light cameras, closed-circuit monitors and the signature lagging left-turn signals figure prominently.
The adoption of the latest technology for enforcement of traffic laws has helped keep Scottsdale's accident rate low compared with other Valley cities, said Richard Schmude, the police department's expert on the issue.
Cactus and Scottsdale had a total of 107 accidents during the last three years, compared to Glendale's top spot, 59th and Olive avenues, which logged 141 reported crashes during the same period.
Scottsdale's police and traffic engineers, while approaching dangerous intersections from divergent angles, share essential accident data, which is published every other year in one massive document.
After an accident, police take reports from the victims, file them and send the data to the city's traffic engineering division. These in turn are sent to ADOT.
Taken together, they allow engineers to see patterns forming at specific hotspots.
"It tells us what the severity of the accident was and what type," said Phil Kercher, Scottsdale's traffic engineer management director. "You want to look at the data and see what the patterns are."
There could be a problem with sight distance or an overload of traffic could lead drivers to give in to the impulse to turn left on a red light. Signal timing may not leave enough seconds for cars to clear red lights. Excessive driveways and distracting shopping centers also play a role, Kercher said.
And sometimes accidents are the price motorists pay for construction of faster, smoother roadways.
The spike of crashes at 92nd Street and Shea in 1999, for example, likely were caused by construction of the Pima Freeway, when too many drivers were shunted to the smaller roadway.
"I'm positive that's what happened," Kercher said.
Engineers analyze the data every two years and then draft a list of capital projects that might improve it or, if dramatic enough, go out and make spot changes.
But there's little question in their eyes that as urbanization and population booms move into an area, the accident rates rise.
"We're really focused on the Frank Lloyd Wright corridor right now because of the freeway construction," Kercher said. "It's just overloaded right now."
Steve Ramsey, the city's intelligent transportation systems analyst, said his department consults with the police on enforcement issues, such as where to place a camera, but approaches the problem from a different perspective.
"We do have a good dialogue with the police on all sorts of issues, including accidents," he said. "But it's not a joint effort. We really don't look at in terms of safety programs - red light cameras or radar. We look at it more from the perspective of what we can do to fix the problem."
The city has budgeted $2 million per year over the next five years for intelligent transportation systems alone, out of a total five-year transportation budget of $24 million.
The technology is more sensitive, smarter and can be integrated into one overall system, Ramsey said.
The vast majority of intersections have wire loops cut into the pavement to alert traffic signals to waiting cars. More advanced technology includes low-frequency radar that lets a computer downtown know of a car in the lane.
"Part of our intelligent system is we can talk to the signals here electronically," Ramsey said.
Other high-tech engineering tools include a monitoring system wherein people in a control room watch feeds from cameras and then alter the signals. Two such cameras are at work on Frank Lloyd Wright at Scottsdale and at Hayden Road.
But the main line of defense lies squarely with the driver, Schmude said.
"When you're driving you have to concentrate on driving," he said. "That's primary. Everything else should be secondary."
Reach the reporters at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-6879 and email@example.com or (602) 444-6883.
House Leader Assails Red-Light Cameras
Armey Sees Threat to Privacy, Safety, Government Integrity
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2001; Page B01
House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) yesterday criticized red-light enforcement cameras at intersections across the country, claiming that the devices put drivers at risk and intrude on privacy and that they can be rigged by local governments looking for a cash cow.
A report compiled by Armey's office and released yesterday suggests that the cameras encourage localities to shorten the timing of yellow lights to "trap" motorists into making a dangerous choice: speed through the intersection or slam on the brakes in a "panic stop."
Armey called red-light cameras a federally supported privacy intrusion. He said such cameras have netted millions of dollars from coast to coast, tempting cash-strapped governments to use them. In the District last year, city officials reported that a single camera yielded more than $1 million in fines.
"These Big Brother devices are not just harming our privacy, they're harming our safety," Armey said. "This is clearly a case where government is doing something it shouldn't."
Armey also has protested the use of speed-monitoring cameras on federal roads such as George Washington Memorial Parkway.
A red-light camera uses sensors to detect when a vehicle has run a red light and then takes a picture of it. The cameras are in use throughout the Washington region and have been embraced by law enforcement officials across the country. Police say the technology, which has been supported through federal grants, promotes safety at intersections, providing a strong and reliable deterrent.
Manassas City Police Chief John J. Skinner, who first brought red-light enforcement technology to Northern Virginia in the summer of 1997 when he was police chief in Fairfax City, said yesterday that appropriate legislation could regulate such programs and prevent governmental abuse. He said the technology has had dramatic effects locally, reducing red-light running by 60 percent at some intersections.
"I'm very disappointed to hear a congressman, in the leadership role that he serves, make reckless statements regarding the use of technology that has proven time and again to be lifesaving enforcement technology," Skinner said.
Skinner and other area law enforcement officials said they do not time yellow lights differently at intersections with cameras.
Although his report does not recommend a specific course of action, Armey called for closer scrutiny of the technology nationally and said he will encourage the House Transportation Committee to hold hearings regarding safety at intersections. In the report, Armey's office suggests that the only benefit to having the cameras is to fill "the pocketbook of local governments."
"We traded our privacy for this. We gave up our constitutional protections for this. In return, we are less safe," the report says. "That is the red light camera scam, and it has gone on for far too long."
Justin McNaull, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association's Mid-Atlantic region and a former Arlington County police officer, said the cameras can be a deterrent but should be used appropriately.
"It's important that it be looked at as a safety tool and not as a revenue-generating source," McNaull said. "Neither government nor private companies should make money based on the number of tickets that are written at a location. Ultimately, they should be used as a safety tool and not a fiscal tool, and policymakers need to remember that."
http://washingtontimes.com/metro/20010524-12927170.htm May24, 2001
Armey seeks probe of short yellow lights
By Daniel F. Drummond
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
House Majority Leader Dick Armey and other lawmakers are calling for congressional hearings in the wake of a report that accuses local governments across the country of endangering motorists and maximizing fines by shortening yellow-light cycles on traffic signals.
The study, first reported in yesterday´s editions of The Washington Times, indicates that since 1985, yellow lights on traffic signals have been cut from an average duration of five seconds to three -- and that fines generated by traffic cameras capturing drivers running the quick-changing signals has become a critical revenue source for local governments.
Rep. Dick Armey, who presented the study -- "The Red Light Running Crisis -- Is it Intentional?" -- at a news conference yesterday, said the shortened yellow lights put motorists at risk, and he called the red-light cameras a violation of Americans´ privacy rights.
The Texas Republican called for hearings on the issue before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Mr. Armey´s report focused on national trends, but an ongoing independent investigation by The Washington Times indicates the traffic signal problems are particularly chronic in the Washington area, where many jurisdictions have invested heavily in electronic monitoring of busy intersections.
Last fall, reporters at The Times counted 20 vehicles in 30 minutes -- including a police cruiser -- running a red light under the three-second yellow signal at Slaters Lane and the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Alexandria. Six months later, those two reporters watched for another half-hour as 21 vehicles got caught by the same quick-changing light.
The combination of short-cycling lights and unsynchronized signals along major thoroughfares leaves some Washington drivers fuming.
"It´s not a good way to start your day off, being mad," said Alan Phillips, a federal government worker from Centreville who, on a good day, sits in traffic for about 90 minutes to get to work in the District every morning. "You get upset and irritated even before you walk through your office door. That´s not right."
Mr. Armey´s report, according to Lon Anderson, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association´s Mid-Atlantic division, verifies what many drivers in the gridlocked Washington region already know: Incorrectly programmed traffic signals are adding to danger on area roads.
Mr. Anderson said congressional hearings are a step in the right direction, and he urged Mr. Armey and other lawmakers to step in and set a national standard on the timing of traffic lights to discourage "unscrupulous" behavior by localities trying to profit off the use of red-light cameras.
"AAA strongly believes that law enforcement should never be a get-rich-quick scheme for local governments," Mr. Anderson said.
Supporters of the red-light cameras in the Washington area, however, were skeptical.
Fairfax City Manager Robert Sisson and Alexandria Police Department spokeswoman Amy Bertsch -- who work for two jurisdictions that have red light cameras -- said the cameras help save lives and prevent injuries.
"Red means stop, a 4-year-old knows that," Miss Bertsch said. "There is no greater invasion of privacy than getting broadsided by someone running a red light."
Mr. Sisson said persons who are caught on the candid camera can contest their ticket and have their day in court.
"You still have the opportunity to go before a judge and plead your case," Mr. Sisson said.
Richard Retting, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said Mr. Armey´s report is making a federal issue out of what is really a local and state matter. "Most people in their community know what to expect when a yellow light turns yellow," Mr. Retting said.
Mr. Retting´s group estimates that about 260,000 crashes -- and 800 deaths and 1,200 injuries -- a year are caused by red-light violators.
At his news conference, Mr. Armey slammed communities using red-light cameras to fill their coffers.
"There seems to be a tendency to see the traffic camera as a revenue device as opposed to a traffic device," he said.
And shortened yellow lights, he said, can lead to more crashes.
"As you shorten the yellow, you find people that are more rushed into what we would call panic stops," Mr. Armey said. "And the panic stop, as we know by our own driving experience, is what creates the rear-end collisions."
* Ellen Sorokin and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.
"Police across the East Valley say the majority of crashes at intersections are rear-end collisions that occur under clear skies during daylight hours"
Debris from accidents litters familiar streets
By Senta Scarborough
The Arizona Republic
May 24, 2001
Many of the most-dangerous intersections in the East Valley can be found in Mesa. And the most crash prone last year was in Tempe.
Those are some of the highlights of preliminary figures from the Arizona Department of Transportation. They show that Mesa is home to more than half of the 20 East Valley intersections that recorded the highest number of motor-vehicle crashes in 2000.
What's more, Mesa and Tempe are the only East Valley cities to break into the top 20 list of all the highest-crash intersections across the Valley, according to the data.
In Tempe, the intersection of Rural Road and University Drive consistently has outranked all others as the most dangerous intersection for the past three years, according to ADOT statistics.
An average of 45 crashes at the highly traversed crossing keeps this major entrance into the East Valley and Tempe at the top of the list each year.
"Rural and University is typically one of the biggest for having the highest level of accidents. It's not a mystery to us. We know to put enforcement there because there are always going to be accidents because of the sheer volume of traffic," Tempe police Commander Mike Ringo said.
In Chandler, the intersection at Alma School and Warner roads had the highest number of crashes during 2000, according to ADOT data.
But that data are especially preliminary for Chandler, because almost 1,000 accident reports have still not been received by ADOT.
Other top spots for a high number of collisions in Chandler include familiar names. Arizona Avenue and Ray Road, Arizona and Warner, Alma School and Elliot roads are consistently ranking in the top five crash-prone intersections.
"We see the same high-accident intersections every month," Chandler police Sgt. Shawn Hawkins said. "They change places a little bit, but the five highest in 2000 made the top five in 1996."
When Chandler traffic engineers compared intersections with severity of injuries in 1999, Alma School and Warner roads ranked only seventh for severity, with no fatalities and 15 injury crashes. Still, Chandler police chose the intersection as one of its first for installation of red-light cameras.
The high number of collisions at intersections is a problem city engineers and police face every day, leaving a trail of shattered glass, twisted metal and skid marks at almost any of the city's most crash-prone intersections.
Police across the East Valley say the majority of crashes at intersections are rear-end collisions that occur under clear skies during daylight hours, often caused by driver inattention.
Repeat contributors to collisions at intersections, police say, are failure to yield the right of way, driving too fast for conditions, inattention and red-light running.
And traffic police agree drivers need to take the lead to avoid collisions by:
• Eliminating any distractions from driving, including eating, applying makeup and talking on a cell phone.
• Being patient and courteous to other drivers.
• Leaving earlier by at least five to 10 minutes to arrive safely on time.
• Wearing seatbelts, which police say often means the difference between life and death.
• Not assuming what the other driver may do. Rather than take a chance, wait and let the other driver go.
• Realizing that just because the light is green, it isn't always safe to go.
To find problem areas, almost every city traffic-engineering department routinely ranks or reviews intersections based on traffic volume, the frequency of collisions at an intersection, the severity of the crashs and contributing factors.
Local police departments also tabulate intersection and other crashes, based on reports as well as calls for service, and send the collision reports
to ADOT for further analysis.
Sometimes the data doesn't necessarily match, depending on how the agencies define what constitutes an intersection-related accident.
For example, Phoenix police data show that in Ahwatukee Foothills, the South Ray Road and South 50th Street was the top intersection for collisions with 72 crashes in 2000. But ADOT says no intersection in Phoenix recorded more than 42 crashes last year, and that the two most crash-prone were in the northern and central parts of the city.
In Mesa, the intersection of Country Club Drive and Southern Avenue not only leads the city's most-dangerous list but earned a spot in the top Valley intersections for crashes, according to ADOT data.
In Gilbert, the most crash-prone intersection in 2000 was Guadalupe and McQueen roads, ADOT figures show. The intersection ranked sixth in 1999 and third in 1998.
"Traffic is heavier in Gilbert and drivers are getting more impatient because they have to wait," Gilbert police Sgt. Jim Lahti said.
In every East Valley city, police and traffic engineers are constantly in the process of reviewing and addressing traffic problems, regularly sharing information from police collision reports, officer feedback and citizen complaints.
Usually those red-flag areas are in the lower volume, less traveled or newly traveled areas because engineers have worked for years to improve engineering standards at larger intersections. Wherever problems are found, solutions range from adding a traffic signal to changing its timing to increasing signage or placing a left-turn arrow at an existing signal.
Chandler traffic engineer Martin Johnson said he's always searching for collision patterns and trends, but the trick is to find ones that are correctable.
"Not every pattern is correctable (through engineering). It is very difficult to change. Rear-end collisions will happen, no matter what. Proper following distance and being aware will reduce your chance. Just the basic stuff you learn in traffic school in high school," Martin said.
Police traffic supervisors also review collision reports monthly, quarterly or annually to plan their enforcement approach, which might mean increased patrols or the use of photo radar.
Police also employ stealth methods, using unmarked cars, photo radar and traffic officers driving between lanes of traffic to spot driving violations.
In Gilbert, motor officers are driving between lanes of traffic to sneak up on red-light runners while also finding a host of other drivers' infractions, said Gilbert police Officer Neil Martin, the senior traffic officer.
And police say the extra enforcement works, even if it is short-lived.
In Tempe, photo radar and red-light cameras haven't been used long enough to indicate whether they reduce collisions, but they do drastically reduce the number of violations per hour, Tempe police Sgt. Randy Fougner said.
Fougner said increased enforcement is effective only as long as people remember they may be in danger of receiving a ticket. It's what police call the halo effect.
"You can earmark an intersection and work it for weeks and see the violations drop," he said, "but the minute you leave, drivers continue to behave for a couple of months, then they revert to running red lights."
And technology hasn't made breaking bad driving habits any easier.
"It's not difficult to drive today's cars. They are very stable and comfortable. With power steering, you can drive with one finger. People conduct business in their cars. There's just too much taking up your time and it (safe driving) is not a priority," Tempe police Commander Mike Ringo said.
Car danger a priority in Chandler
By Senta Scarborough
The Arizona Republic
May 24, 2001
With more red-light cameras and cops, Chandler police are trying to make a dent in traffic danger.
This month, they are doubling their photo red light presence with eight violation-catching cameras, Chandler police Sgt. Shawn Hawkins said. Hawkins said the red light cameras target several of the city's busiest intersections for collisions.
"We hope to reduce accidents, injuries and personal-damage loss," Hawkins said.
And citizens can expect more action in response to traffic complaints in their neighborhoods with a new traffic unit expected to start in July.
The Neighborhood Traffic Team will handle the ever-growing traffic complaints, often concerning speeding in school and construction zones and smaller neighborhood streets, Hawkins said.
Motor officers don't have the time to handle all the citizen complaints on top of responding to four to six collisions per day - and that doesn't include driving time and writing reports, he said.
"Last year's statistics from beat meetings showed the Number 1 concern is traffic," Hawkins said. "Because our city's growing, officers are going from call to call for accidents."
A problem for traffic officers is that the top time for collisions is during the rush hours, which are the same time they are needed in the school zones when parents are dropping off and picking up their kids.
"It's hard to get to them (the school zones) because it is the highest accident time frame as well," Hawkins said.
Chandler police plan to start with three motor officers in July, adding two more by the end of the year, Hawkins said.
"And signals in much of the city go all-red for a second between light changes, to help clear intersections."
Best idea for safer driving: Pay attention
May 24, 2001
The reasons cars crash at Valley intersections are many.
We speed. We're easily distracted and frustrated. We push yellow lights and run reds.
But the Valley's 20 top intersections for crashes have one thing in common: lots and lots of traffic.
Every day, 80,000 cars squeeze through intersections like 19th Avenue and Indian School Road, a crossroads that recorded 52 crashes in 2000, tied for tops in the Valley.
"It doesn't mean it's more dangerous," said Jim Sparks, Phoenix deputy street transportation director. "It means there are more opportunities for collisions."
Many of the highest crash totals are at older, centrally located Phoenix intersections. There were 52 wrecks last year at Seventh Street and McDowell Road. At 51st Avenue and Thomas Road, 50 crashes.
"Volume continues to grow, and the roads haven't been expanded year after year," said Steve Bacs, Arizona's representative for the National Motorists Association, a driver advocacy group.
It costs lots to fix intersections to handle higher volumes. Not just to widen them, but to purchase land to make room for more lanes.
"I know it's expensive, (and) is it worth the money for safety?" Bacs said.
In Chandler, they're working on it; 12 key intersections are slated to be rebuilt in the next five to eight years. A $4.1 million project is under way to widen the intersection of Alma School and Elliot roads, one of the city's three worst for crashes. Additional through and left-turn lanes are being added.
"Typically, any time you make an intersection less congested, there's arguments for safety," said Brian Latte, Chandler street transportation director.
In Phoenix, the street department uses 12-inch traffic signal lights, larger than national standards require, and has installed brighter lights at some signals. Ten red-light cameras will be installed in the city starting this summer. And signals in much of the city go all-red for a second between light changes, to help clear intersections.
"We think that should give the police a better chance of writing a red-light ticket," Sparks said.
Bacs says signal timing needs to match actual driver speeds, which he says are above posted limits. Drivers keep getting stopped at every red because they travel at a speed they feel comfortable with on the Valley's wide, straight streets.
While I think Valley signal progression works well when set to current limits, Bacs makes a great point that many drivers lack the proper training from the very start.
It's a few hours of class, a few hours behind the wheel with your frustrated father, and you're on your own.
"Education is a huge part that we continue to neglect," Bacs said.
That leads to another key factor: distractions.
"Most people think driving is just an extension of their social life or their living room," Bacs said.
So put away the cell phone and the Big Mac. Resist the CD changer, and focus on what you're supposed to be doing, driving.
Pay attention to changing traffic signals. Make the smart decision on whether to stop or continue. Not the rushed one.
Drive defensively, not aggressively.
"If my drivers are scared," Phoenix's Sparks said, "they'll drive safer."
Reach Petrie at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-7941.
"Mr. Retting concedes that "there is some benefit when you increase the yellow timing," but he adds that his group´s research shows shorter yellow lights can deter red light running, once persons in the community get used to it."
May 25, 2001
Red-light cameras boost revenues
By Daniel F. Drummond and Stephen Dinan
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Few traffic safety experts agree on how long a yellow light should stay yellow. But one thing is for certain -- local governments are cashing in with red-light enforcement cameras that snap away when drivers get caught by a quick light.
"One of the difficulties we have here is that there is no clearly articulated set of standards that is known to the public," said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for the AAA´s Mid-Atlantic Region. "[The red-light cameras] are a proven cash cow, and we all know that greed is a very strong element."
In the Washington area, the red-light cameras and the fines they generate have become a big part of municipal budgets. The District, for example, has taken in $11 million from 39 cameras since 1999. In Howard County, Md., more than 70,000 tickets were written between 1998 and 2000, bringing in more than $4 million in fines. Those figures will likely rise as more and more cameras come online, and as more governments turn to law enforcement as a way to balance the books. In Montgomery County, local officials recently asked that the fines for running a red light be raised from $75 to $250.
In "The Red Light Running Crisis: Is It Intentional?" -- a report released this week by House Majority Leader Dick Armey -- some traffic safety engineers contend the lack of uniform standards has gives local governments too much latitude on how to set the timing cycles for traffic signals. The Texas Republican says that latitude means some communities have put traffic fine revenue ahead of motorists´ safety, and he´s called for congressional hearings on the matter.
According to the Armey report, the private Institute of Transportation Engineers started in 1985 to recommend reducing the duration of yellow lights at traffic signals from an average of five seconds to as little as three seconds.
The ITE´s recommendations on traffic signals are followed almost verbatim by the Federal Highway Administration, which, in turn, serves as a general guide for localities. But there is no nationally accepted standard for yellow-light timing, and across the country, the duration can vary from five or six seconds to as little as three.
These short-cycling lights are causing crashes on the nation´s roadways, according to highway engineers like Peter S. Parsonson, professor of transportation at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He says municipalities need to be held to a national standard.
"This idea that 'We don´t have to follow anything´ -- this is an utterance you will hear from an engineer who just doesn´t have any experience with his or her agency being sued," he said.
Mr. Parsonson has served nationally as an expert witness in scores of trials involving personal injury due to collisions, testifying on roadway design and operation, including traffic signals.
Accident reconstructionists doing a scientific analysis of a crash often find that yellow lights have been timed impossibly short, he said.
"There is such a thing as a yellow that is so short that the driver can neither stop comfortably at the stop line, nor clear the intersection without entering on the red signal," Mr. Parsonson said.
Yellow signals that are timed properly give drivers time to decide to either stop or proceed safely through an intersection. But at intersections where cars are going at least 35 mph, there´s something called the "dilemma zone," or zone of indecision, where the driver has to decide whether to jam on the brakes or continue through the light.
For regulars who know the intersection, it´s not always a problem.
But with no accepted standards in place, drivers who don´t travel through the intersection often have no way of knowing how long the yellow light will last.
A short stop may end in a rear-end collision from the driver behind. Trying to clear the intersection may result in a ticket or, worse, a right-angle collision.
Chuck Emick, a retired traffic engineer who lives near Atlanta, made it his hobby to travel around the country and look into the timing of traffic lights.
"What I see has happened over time is [the yellow light] has been reduced by nipping away a fraction of a second at a time by chipping pieces of the formula -- that could mean your rate of braking has become an unreasonable 15 feet a second, which pretty much puts your nose up against your windshield," he said.
"What has also taken place is your perception-reaction time [has been reduced]. . . . It was a 2 1/2 second perception-reaction. The current technology is using one second," Mr. Emick said.
Richard Baier, Alexandria´s director of transportation and environmental services, said he doesn´t think federally imposed national standards would be a good idea.
Smaller cities and counties, he said, would suffer because they would be forced to adopt inefficient traffic signal standards that might be based on urban traffic patterns.
And setting longer yellow lights, he said, will only encourage more drivers to try to race through intersections.
"They begin to sneak through the signals," Mr. Baier said.
Richard Retting, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said the timing of yellow lights is essential to maintaining the credibility of red-light cameras, which he says save lives and deter crashes.
Mr. Retting concedes that "there is some benefit when you increase the yellow timing," but he adds that his group´s research shows shorter yellow lights can deter red light running, once persons in the community get used to it.