Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I wonder whether the term "right turn on red" has taken on the problems of our society. We think of a short phrase and forget all the caveats that go with it. The rules concerning right turn on red require that a driver:
· Come to a stop.
· Wait for oncoming traffic.
· Not have any pedestrians present.
· Not have a sign forbidding a right turn on red.
At intersections where the problem with pedestrians is prevalent, the Virginia Department of Transportation has placed signs that say, "No turn on red when pedestrians are present." That is the rule at all intersections.
Today I waited at Prosperity Avenue and Little River Turnpike. When the walk light came on, cars continued to stream around the corner through the red light, so that I could not even enter the crosswalk while the light allowed me to cross.
I finally decided it was safer to jaywalk and walked about a half-block up Prosperity to cross.
The region's Street Smart pedestrian safety program offers these statistics to reinforce McClinton's concerns: Across the region, six pedestrians are injured each day on average. Pedestrians account for about one in five of the area's traffic fatalities.
Engineers have ways of designing greater safety for intersections. For example, they can push the cars' stop line back, so pedestrians know whether cars are really going to stop before stepping off the sidewalk.
They put up plenty of signs about the pedestrians' right-of-way in crosswalks and have techniques for improving the visibility of crossings. At some intersections with much pedestrian traffic, red and green arrows control when vehicles can turn right. At others, right turns on red are banned altogether.
But many pedestrians tell me they have so little faith in drivers' readiness to obey the laws that they will decide for themselves when and where it's safest to cross.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
As with many other things, the modern government is miseducating us on even such a simple thing as the best way to cross the street. I think that crossing at intersections is not as safe as crossing between the intersections because you only have to look both ways when crossing, as I was taught many years ago. At intersections, you have to look at all the streets because cars can come at you from any one of them.
There's certainly support for that view, both here and overseas.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
After visiting London, I believe pedestrians should cross mid-block. In London, city streets have center islands.
Pedestrians press the crossing button, walk to the center island, press the button, and continue across to the other side. Pedestrians contend with one direction of traffic at a time.
When I cross Rockville Pike to the Twinbrook Metro station, I always cross mid-block to the center island and then continue across the other direction of traffic, avoiding cars turning at corners from several directions.
Drivers making right turns into oncoming traffic tend to look only to the left, and several times I have narrowly missed being hit crossing the street at the corner because they don't look to the right.
Harris added that she had just returned from Spain, where she noted that some intersections have railings preventing people from crossing at the corner. The crossing lights are a few yards into the block.
Planners know they must pay attention to what they call the "desire line," the path that pedestrians are going to follow because it's easiest, safest or both.
There's a mid-block crosswalk in the long stretch of G Street NW between Fifth and Sixth streets. Metrorail riders reach the top of the escalator at Judiciary Square and march right across the street. They'd likely be crossing there no matter what, and the broad crosswalk adds a measure of safety, as long as they look both ways, in the face of relatively light traffic.
In downtown Silver Spring, a mid-block crosswalk links office workers in the Discovery Building with the many shops just across Georgia Avenue. In this case, a full traffic signal at the crossing helps protect pedestrians from the heavy commuter traffic on multi-lane Georgia. That's a balancing act by engineers. They created a protected mid-block crossing and an extra stop for drivers.
One example of an in-between step can be found on Brentwood Road NE at 13th Street, between Home Depot and a little shopping center with a Department of Motor Vehicles office.
The District Department of Transportation needed to improve safety for walkers but decided a full traffic signal wasn't appropriate. So it raised the visibility of the crosswalk, installing signs and flashing lights that could be activated by pedestrians when they were ready to cross.