18.6.03

BLOWIN' THOSE REDS. Setting the pace for red light running in the United States are Chicago drivers (So what else is new, ask any Badger about flatlander drivers.) The article raises the possibility that new traffic cameras are contributing to rear-end collisions, as risk-averse drivers apply brakes when they see a yellow with tailgaters expecting the usual flatlander response being taken by surprise. The article also exonerates the traffic engineers with the claim that a three-second yellow is a proper interval for 30-35 mph traffic. In doing so, it misses an important point. Traffic lights seem to have been installed without any thought to coordinating their workings, particularly along commercial roads with controlled entries to shopping centers. In many locations, your experience is to stop at a red light, wait nearly two minutes for the cross traffic, wait for the left-turning traffic that gets its arrow first, then you get your green, and just as you get your green, the light a quarter mile away at the entry to the shopping center or the next crossing drops to yellow, so you get to repeat the experience.

Drivers have discovered that if they speed, and take their chances at yellow lights, they will be able to continue their trip with fewer of these lengthy stops. As the police have other tasks to do, many drivers have also discovered that they can get away with it. Illinois does not seem to grasp that timing the lights, so that drivers who travel at the speed limit will be able to proceed from green to green, does much to reduce speeding and red-light running. Illinois might also consider changing the sequencing of movement through the crossings, so that the left turn arrow comes after the green light for traffic proceeding without turning, as New York state does.

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