Pedestrian crossing versus right turns on red

This electronic traffic sign in Malone switches from blank to “No turn on red” when pedestrians are crossing. (Provided photo — Dave Werner)

Last week’s article described a new traffic control device, Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons, that will be part of the pedestrian safety project for Malone. Today we will discuss blankout “No turn on red” signs (Malone has had one at the corner of Elm and East Main streets since 2014) and leading pedestrian interval (LPI) for pedestrians at signalized intersections. Malone also has several intersections already utilizing LPIs.

Much of prudent traffic engineering for any change is to consider the effect on vehicular traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians. Often compromises must be made. If we utilize a fully protected pedestrian crossing, all vehicles are held up by a red light for the entire duration of a pedestrian crossing just one leg of an intersection — fine for the pedestrian but not so for drivers. Conversely, we can give a pedestrian a signal to cross a street and at the same time give vehicular traffic on the street the pedestrian is walking along (not the street the pedestrian is crossing) a green light. This works fine as long as vehicles are not turning right or left onto the street the pedestrian is crossing, but that is not often the case. So this is good for drivers but less so for the pedestrian.

Without a significant number of pedestrians in our rural villages, vehicles do not always look out for a pedestrian when turning. However, Vehicle and Traffic Law requires turning vehicles to yield to pedestrians. Thus, traffic engineers often utilize an LPI for pedestrian crossings. The way this works is that the pedestrian gets an exclusive walk signal for about four to six seconds, which puts him/her into the middle of the intersection, and then vehicular traffic along the street that the pedestrian is walking along gets a green light. This compromise gives the walker time to get into the intersection, where he/she is more likely to be seen by drivers — good for the pedestrian, but also does not hold up traffic for the entire walk cycle, which is good for motorists. Basically, this is a win-win situation.

Now let’s introduce the blankout “No turn on red” sign. Again, this is another great compromise, especially for intersections without much pedestrian traffic. In this scenario, after the pedestrian pushes the “walk” button and gets the “walk” signal, the blankout “No turn on red” sign facing traffic that might want to turn right into the crosswalk being used by the pedestrian(s) lights up, telling drivers they cannot make a right turn on a red signal. This gives the pedestrian a safer cross but does not hold up vehicles turning to the right on a red light unless there is a pedestrian crossing — good for both the pedestrian and the driver.

When the pedestrian safety measures are completed in the proposed plan, Malone will see additional blankout “No turn on red” signs along with leading pedestrian intervals for additional intersections. All of this should increase the safety factor for pedestrians in Malone, but not at the expense of vehicular traffic.


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