12/4/2012Virginia: Engineer Challenges Short Yellow, Right Turn Trap
National Motorists Association engineer says Virginia Beach, Virginia has created an illegal right turn ticketing trap.
A traffic engineer with the National Motorists Association is taking on what he calls a dangerous intersection in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Engineer J.J. Bahen Jr. began investigating one particular location in response to an NMA member who raised questions about a citation sent to her in the mail by Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia.
"As you may know, we received a heated complaint from a local resident about a camera citation she received for failing to stop before making a right-turn-on-red from southbound Great Neck Road to westbound Virginia Beach Boulevard," Bahen wrote to Virginia Beach's senior traffic engineer. "After waiting two cycles of the traffic signal behind drivers in the dedicated right-turn lane who appeared to be spooked by the 'Photo Enforced' signs, she crossed the stop bar without stopping 0.76 second after the beginning of the 3-second all-red clearance interval."
Bahen's analysis shows the city has been forcing drivers to wait unnecessarily in traffic by displaying a red light at the location when proper engineering principles suggest a green right-turn arrow would be more appropriate, providing the safest and most efficient flow of traffic.
"Since all conflicting traffic was being held by the all-red, she could not have possibly caused a crash," Bahen wrote. "In fact, the Redflex video showed that, because of the all-red interval and the start-up period, there was no conflicting traffic for six seconds after she had fully cleared the intersection. If there is a compelling traffic safety reason for impeding rush-hour traffic with strict enforcement of benign technical right turn on red violations during the all-red clearance interval, please tell us what it is."
Virginia Beach depends on these right turn violations 82.3 percent of the photo ticket revenue generated citywide. The Great Neck location alone allowed Redflex to mail out 24,400 citations since June 1, 2009, even though the intersection has no documented history of crashes caused by turning right on red. A federal report shows such turns are rarely dangerous (view report). In addition to the turning problem, Bahen said straight-through traffic is also being shortchanged with a yellow time of just 4.3 seconds.
"The recommended methodology of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) is that yellow intervals be based on the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing vehicles, not the posted limit," wrote Bahen, an ITE member. "The difference between the two is generally 7 MPH. Virginia law requires that the ITE methodology be used. Therefore, an interval of 4.8 seconds is required. Camera enforcement of short yellow intervals always increases crash rates."
Bahen recommended the General Assembly modify the red light camera authorization statute to increase the minimum grace period before issuing a photo ticket to 3.0 seconds.