Re: Ignorance - ITE too
Re: Washington Times article on Dick Armey's report.

May 29, 2001

Thomas W. Brahms
Executive Director
Institute of Transportation Engineers
1099 14th Street, NW
Suite 300 West
Washington, DC 20005-3438 USA
Telephone: +1-202-289-0222
Facsimile: +1-202-289-7722

Mr. Brahms,

   In response to your email, the ITE on signal timing is part of the problem and potentially a key part of the solution.

The Problem!
    Beginning with your 1985 proposed practice (never adopted), then the 1994 “Determining Vehicle Signal Change and Clearance Intervals” which further muddied the waters with no conclusive policy and in 1999 your adoption of unverified practices contrary to the findings of several prominent contemporary studies. This left the country with this legacy and crisis of 950 fatalities a year attributed to this cause according to your numbers. A number that would be half that if we hadn’t lost engineering based and verified only ITE or FHWA (MUTCD) guidance and practice standards.

    Right now as it stands, jurisdictions are of the opinion they can do whatever they wish and so long as the yellow is between three and six seconds, they meet the requirements of the MUTCD. That is nonsense! There is no standard being followed anymore, and as long the signal timing is between 3 and 6 seconds it is in compliance regardless of approach speed or distance across intersection – all red is optional. Cities like New York have city–wide problems that seem to be getting worse and yet they refuse to budge from its 3 second standard yellow interval. How many ITE members are on its staff and please tell me how a 3 second yellow became a standard for all intersections. California opted out of all red clearance in its standard practice and adopted a practice that results in consistent shorter than would be indicated yellows – a standard that routinely gives a green light to cross traffic when it is known that a significant number of entries are still occurring on red – with no clearance provisions. In short, unsafe practices are the rule and following sound practices is in a state of anarchy, particularly now that the new MUTCD no longer requires a basis in fact finding as the starting point.

    How did this happen and what has Dick Armey taken out of context. He is saying that something is wrong - look at what is going on. Maybe he didn't get it 100 percent right, but I would score him at 98 percent right.

    The wedding disaster in Israel this weekend and the jailing of the builder, designer and other engineers caused me to ponder... What should happen here in the United States when a licensed traffic engineer goes along with known unsafe practices. Maybe we should ask that negligent homicide charges be brought against these traffic engineers, this would stop this insanity. Sacrificing a few members would go a long way to resolve this, I personally abhor this common public agency practice to absolve those in charge of their wrongdoing. Maybe we should just target the administrators for not enforcing the standards. Political pressure is everywhere, I have personally caught engineers filing false reports (reverse engineered) to meet the mandates of their political employers at both the state and local levels. Or, maybe there should be ITE or professional board actions or review procedures. Something must be done to get this under control. The law is already in place that authorizes sound practices over political conjecture.. It is called the Highway Safety Act of 1966. Use it... enforce it.

    The MUTCD is window dressing, the problem starts with FHWA, ITE et al that allow no clear direction or a climate of non-enforcement of existing standards to exist. Worse yet, few even know they exist or their depth or nature.

Part of the Solution!
    What can the ITE do now? ITE guidance is now federal law by reference. You can make a difference. Sound and clear guidelines are paramount and it all starts with an engineering study that quantifies what the traffic is actually doing, traffic control guidance taking into account conditions as found and solutions (traffic controls) as warranted for that particular location. Immediately reinstate the 1965 and 1976 signal timing handbooks and the adoption of the 4M25 committees recommended practices. This would go a long way in establishing a base line to start with.

    The AAA Michigan study that reduced intersection accidents by more than 50 percent was based largely on these abandoned standards.

The handbook should be simple and easy to understand by all;

1. Do an engineering study to determine in the first place that a signal is warranted (many no longer meet basic need warrants and they also increase congestion, pollution, reduce road capacity and increased accidents), to determine what the traffic is doing, including a determination of prevailing approach speeds on each of the major approaches and the effects of the road geometry (hill, curve etc.).

2. Supply a table as to the recommended yellow interval timing based on the observed prevailing approach speeds - regardless of the posted limit. If speeds are higher, add time if there are significant numbers of larger commercial vehicles or downhill approaches. Accordingly, making sure the signal head is of appropriate size or location to give adequate warning.

3. Give recommended practices on the use of the all red clearance timing. Make it a mandatory .5 second and longer up to 3 seconds, depending on the time required to clear for low speed traffic or slow moving commercial vehicles and busses.

4. Require that a follow up report be done once the signal is operating and kept with this intersection file, showing what adjustments were made to assure that virtually all unsafe entries were minimized.

2/15/2001 Quotable Truisms, email by, B. Michel, Re: Red Light Cameras and Safety, “If you are at all familiar with industrial practices you will recognize the truism that “You can’t inspect quality into your product. It must be designed in.” If safe streets are your product, then enforcement is your inspection. I maintain that properly designed and engineered speed limits and signal timings are the right long term solution.”

    The above email says it all. The irony here is cameras become moot when sound engineering practices are followed in the first place. No location where the basic above guidelines have been implemented have the camera vendors kept their cameras too. Once signal timing is corrected, red light entries on red become negligible and accident rates are significantly reduced. Isn’t this the only objective?

    On cameras, what position does the ITE take on photo enforcement like the US Park Service when the posted limit meets no accepted practice or standard. Beaverton Oregon that has entered into a myriad of agreements with a camera vendor who PROMISED 3 million a year to the city in return for allowing them to install the cameras. We have on video shorter yellows at camera intersections. And your ITE release also cites FHWA Red Light Campaign program coordination, when the lead person in a recent phone conversation out–of–hand rejected the premise of observed prevailing approach speeds as a factor in signal timing. Interestingly too that this is no longer required in the MUTCD either. ALL STANDARDS HAVE BEEN DILUTED IN THE LATEST VERSION. (speed limits, signal timing, stop signs etc.)

    We ask that the ITE stick to its charter and adopt only those standards that have been properly reviewed and have a basis in fact determination – not special interest hypothesis as with signal timing. Your actions and the latest MUTCD have strayed from the course. This is a chance to place your organization back on track. Someplace, somewhere, somehow, someone has to defend sound engineering practices. The National Motorists Association was pleased with Mr. Armey’s report... now that it is a topic in the public domain... this is an opportunity to do what is right.

Chad Dornsife

PS I received the below email this morning. It has many on point examples.

Signal Timings – Safety (A few Thoughts)
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 more so 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.

Gene Quinn
Vienna, VA

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?

Full text of articles.

From: Tom Brahms E–mail:
Date: Tue, 29 May 2001 08:43:29 –0400
To: E–mail:

Subject: FW: Ignorance – ITE too
Re: Washington Times article on Dick Arm ey's report.

Mr. Dornsife:

It is amazing the conclusions that you have drawn from our news release! Did you not read that the Institute “takes exception to the conclusions concerning yellow clearance intervals in the report released on May 24, 2001...” Nor did you read the 4th paragraph? Nor did you read paragraph 5?

I can assure you that the Institute embraces sound practice... and devotes our organizational resources to developing state of the science practice based on research findings and concensus of the profession and others that wish to provide input. As stated in the release the Institute is preparing a complete report that provides a chronological summary of the vehicle change interval and the yellow clearance interval. I will make sure that you receive a copy of the complete report.

You encourage the reporter to ask for the research that supports have your obtained a copy of the Institute's publication entitled “Determining Vehicle Signal Change and Clearance Intervals” dated August 1994. Have you reviewed the 25 documents cited in the list of references?

I would be most willing to meet with you or representatives of your organization to discuss the issues associated with intersection safety and the Institute’s literature. I would appreciate better understanding your organizations positions.

Thomas W. Brahms
Executive Director
Institute of Transportation Engineers
1099 14th Street, NW
Suite 300 West
Washington, DC 20005-3438 USA
Telephone: +1–202–289–0222
Facsimile: +1–202–289–7722

-----Original Message-----
From: Chad Dornsife [mailto:]
Sent: Monday, May 28, 2001 4:03 PM
Subject: Ignorance – ITE too
Re: Washington Times article on Dick Armey’s report.

I sent this to the reporter... Instead of embracing this controversy as way to advance sound engineering practices; therefore empowering traffic engineers to do what they know is right.. you too become part of the problem. Who is left to defend sound practices????

The ITE is suppose to be an independent arbiter of safety standards. Sadly, they too have become political.

1. On the current truncated yellow standard that has become accepted practice. (leading to an epidemic of unacceptable ENTRIES ON RED and corresponding accidents) Ask them where the field data and studies are that support this practice. It was written into the standard without proper review or comment. Ask them how this deviation from accepted practice happened. (ask for copies of the studies showing reduced accident rates – none exist).

Part of this is from the Board of Directors zeal to become truly international – the UK for example has 3 second yellows as its standard. A standard that no signal expert would find acceptable here. If the old abandoned standards were so bad, ask them to explain why when the AAA in Michigan conducted a study returning to them – accidents were reduced up to 50% at the test intersections and entries on red were virtually eliminated . No one knew the changes were done, they just tracked the results. Ask them why with just a second added to the yellow interval, entries on red dropped up to 79% (camera equipped intersections) and why is that bad practice?

2. On Speed Limits – Ask them why they put together a special subcommittee (4M25) with their most respected experts in the field and then they refuse to accept their own report. This committees findings were first submitted in 1991 (ten years ago) modified many many times since – but ITE refuses to accept it. Why? Because these experts continue to maintain that unreasonably low speed limits do increase accident rates, and that this practice is unacceptable. The Parks Services Limit is not acceptable under this committees findings or under a like standard in California law they would be illegal – period.

Dick Armey claiming that sound practices are not being followed – for profit, and he is being chastised by the very organization that is there to promote them. What an insane place Washington has become! Good Job ITE!!

Chad Dornsife
775.721.2423 cell
800.708.5723 fax

Nevada Chapter
National Motorists Association
Box 141 Zephyr Cove, Nevada 89448