Right Turns On Red

I’ve written before about the perils of pedestrianism in modern urban America.  Walkers really have to mind their Ps and Qs whenever they approach an intersection.  Cars rocketing through red lights, or trying to squeeze past pedestrians who are already in the crosswalk, or gliding into the crosswalk to make a rolling right turn on red, clearly aren’t thinking about us — at all — so we really need to look out for them.

no-turn-on-redjpg-8e01337c7948434eSo when I saw this article in the Washington Post about the District of Columbia’s evaluation of whether to end right turns on red, I read it with interest.  It’s been a really bad year for traffic accidents in our Nation’s Capital, with deadly crashes involving 12 pedestrians, three cyclists, and a person riding a scooter.  That’s a pretty shocking death toll, and it’s caused D.C. to reevaluate its policies — including allowing right turns on red at intersections — as part of an effort to cut down on car[people collisions.

Two points about the article were of interest to me.  The first is that right turns on red was primarily the result of a federal policy adopted in the ’70s, during the “energy crisis” days.  Right turns on red were viewed as a way to reduce oil and gas consumption, and federal policy was directed toward strongly incentivizing cities to allow that driving maneuver as an energy conservation measure.  And the second is that the impact — an uncomfortable word under these circumstances — of allowing right turns on red on the number of traffic accidents really doesn’t seem to be significant, as a statistical matter.  One early study, undertaken shortly after “right turn on red” was adopted as a policy, showed a big increase in crashes, but more recent studies, performed after drivers became used to the rules, indicate that the effect of right turn on red is negligible.

My personal pedestrian experience tells me that right turn on red is a perfectly safe maneuver — if drivers are paying attention and following the rules.  The problem is that some drivers don’t do that.  They roll directly into crosswalks and intersections, looking only to their left at oncoming traffic, without considering that there might be pedestrians entering the intersection — just as there are some drivers who routinely run through red lights.  I’m convinced that it’s not the policy, it’s the drivers who are a problem.

And for that reason I really question whether eliminating right turns on red would make a difference.  I routinely cross an intersection where right turns on red are not allowed.  That makes no difference to some of the drivers — they take a right turn on red anyway.  Unless our police are rededicated to enforcing basic traffic rules, which doesn’t seem to be a high priority for law enforcement right now, there’s not going to be a significant improvement in traffic safety, whether the policy changes or not.

Right turn on red or not, pedestrians just need to be wary.  It’s a hazardous world for walkers.

Advertisements

A Pedestrian’s Humble Request

I’ve written about the dangers cyclists face while navigating through vehicular traffic in American cities.  Now I’d like to add an appeal about a constituency that is even nearer and dearer to my heart: pedestrians.

For the most part, drivers are courteous to pedestrians like me — when they see them.  And therein lies the problem.

The big safety issue with downtown walking, in my view, is right turn on red.  Consider the following scenario that you’ve likely encountered during your driving day.  You approach an intersection in a city and you want to turn right.  You move out into the crosswalk to get a better viewpoint and see past those tall buildings that come right out to the sidewalk and block your view.  You crane your neck, peering intently to the left to see any traffic that might be approaching from that direction.  If you don’t see any to the left, you hit the gas and move ahead into that right turn.

But consider — what if a luckless pedestrian is walking toward you from the right?  He knows he has the right of way if he crosses with the “walk” sign in the crosswalk.  He might not even have been visible as you drove up to the intersection because his approach was blocked by a building on the right.  If you turn right without first looking right to see if a walker is there and he crosses just as you make your turn, the results aren’t going to be happy for either of you — but at least you’ll survive the encounter.

In my walks to and from work, I’ve seen this circumstance again and again, and the driver almost never looks to the right to see me entering the intersection.  If I don’t see them looking at me, I’ll stop rather than taking a chance of getting crushed by tons of rolling metal — and often the drivers just make the right turn, completely unaware of my presence and the fact that their inattention risks a terrible and entirely preventable accident.

So do me a favor, motorists:  Before you move out into the crosswalk and block it in advance of that right turn on red, look both ways and make sure no pedestrians are coming.  If they are near, let them have the crosswalk, unimpeded, that is their legal right of way.  Once they’ve gone, you can make that right turn.