Saturday, January 4, 2014

To Blink or Not to Blink

The City of Sioux Falls announced their Wait No More campaign in October 2013.   I can remember discussions taking place back in my working days at City Hall on this same issue. People always complaining about sitting at stoplights late at night when there was no traffic to be seen on the horizon. Traffic Engineering officials back then were concerned about safety and the likelihood of people blowing through intersections and t-boning someone.

I am uncomfortable when approaching 26th and Southeastern Avenue when those traffic lights are blinking yellow or red. I am always careful, but how do you count on that illusive "other" driver to be careful too? It's a major intersection with multiple lanes. I worry about a speeding car coming down that big hill from the east just as I enter the intersection. I know I am careful and sober, but what about the other person?

I understand that people don't want to be delayed late at night. The City doesn't want us to be delayed anymore either, hence their Wait No More Campaign. The thing is, just because people don't want to be delayed, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do at all signal controlled intersections. The idea of "wait no more" can be dangerous to your safety if you are not careful and don't use the eyes on the back and sides of your head. 

81% of the 250 traffic lights at various intersections in Sioux Falls are now blinking at 10 or 11 p.m. That's a lot of intersections. This is not a sleepy little town anymore. There are a lot of neighborhood intersections with traffic lights where a flashing light might make sense but does it really make sense to have flashing traffic lights at those highly traveled major intersections with multiple lanes?

I hope visibility concerns or lane geometry aren't the only criteria for keeping the light cycles working late at night. I think all major, wide, multiple lane intersections should be left to cycle through late at night.  How about no flashing yellow lights at these big major intersections - make them all flashing red so it's a four way stop. Is it possible to adjust the lights to a shorter cycle at these major wide multiple lane intersections instead of turning them to blinking yellow and red?

Frankly, I was shocked to learn that the major intersection of 10th Street and Sycamore Avenue was one of the newly designated signals that were changed to flashing back in October. That intersection is known for it's crashes and fender benders and it's a major, wide, multiple lane intersection. Now, tragically, we have a fatality at that very intersection because a drunk driver blew through the flashing lights and t-boned another vehicle.

It's fine to tell people that they have to be careful when approaching intersections with flashing lights, but how do you get that across to careless drivers, impatient drivers, drivers driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. And let's face it, drivers in this town don't know what yield means, so are we sure they understand what blinking yellow or blinking red means? Just go through a 4 way stop in this town and you know what I mean.

Granted, a drunk driver may go through a cycled light intersection as much as a blinking light intersection but the point is a cycled light at a major intersection adds just a little more insurance that someone might pay more attention and not just treat the intersection as a rolling stop event or an opportunity to not stop at all.

Sometimes the city should just say no to those people who don't want to "wait no more." The city isn't a sleepy little village anymore.  As a police representative said, we can't be everywhere in this town. Granted, accidents happen but there are still things we can do to try to minimize accidents. Our lives may depend on it. Maybe this Wait No More Policy needs to be revisited, at least for the big intersections in this city.

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