21 Saturday Mar 2015
With the stroke of a pen, I have a suggestion that will improve the quality of life for everyone trying to move about in Los Angeles.
I believe some of the rationale for these right-on-red rules is to permit traffic to keep moving when the streets are empty and there is no need to manage movement; this improves gasoline efficiency as well.
And I agree with these reasons for relaxing traffic regulation. When and only when it is safe and helpful to supersede traffic lights, which after all are (usually) ignorant of the actual conditions-on-the-ground. Under empty, nighttime conditions only, it would be sensible to override life-saving traffic restrictions.
But not otherwise.
Consider what the actual conditions of right-on-red (RoR) turns create. When a roadway is busy and a motorist zips into a heavily congested line of traffic, this slows down that delicately moving line of traffic as one and then several cars, in a wave, brake to accommodate the pushy vehicle. So under very busy, congested circumstances, permitting a car to insinuate itself in the flow of traffic impedes uninterrupted forward movement. In very busy conditions, RoR turns slow traffic “throughput”.
Consider conditions where pedestrian traffic is present. RoR is a clear and very present danger to pedestrians as motorists, already quite overloaded sensorily in keeping track of hazards coming from the side, from the front – all around; these motorists are trying to juggle zipping into the pedestrian crosswalk before the light turns green for any waiting pedestrian and the motorist loses right of way (ROW), while keeping an eye out for traffic coming behind one’s swiveling head – it is a very dangerous situation!. Traffic behind a car in this vulnerable situation has to manage very sudden stops, and also the same time-pressure to enter that crosswalk before the pedestrian. Any setup that pits motor vehicles against a pedestrian is unlikely to end well for pedestrians in the long run. Not to mention the immediate disaster.
Consider conditions as above where a motorist is negotiating the entering of a pedestrian crossway with vehicular cross-traffic from a “sharrowed” bike lane. In addition to the already-noted sensory overload, there are bicycles in their roadway who have ROW but are rarely afforded it. Things are just too complicated and mistakes get made, all the time. So dangerous!! Rescinding all RoR turns will clear bike lanes and permit some measure of safety and free passageway for bicycles during the day when most are riding.
Motorists just are not executing RoR privileges properly. They rarely evaluate the specific safety concerns of the moment, and in all honesty, pressures are so great and myriad it is often understandable why not. But it is never safe and really the whole setup is just permission for disaster.
Simply prohibiting all RoR turns during “normal-waking” hours is an easy fix. It would calm the nerves of motorists, rendering them so much more pleasant to interact with whether via vehicle, bicycle, motorcycle or foot. And I believe this will end up speeding traffic along its way, not throttling it. All that braking and hesitation that comes from starting and stopping to accommodate aberrant moves – that has to be extremely dampening to the effort of keeping traffic moving.
But most certainly, anything that can be done to calm tempers will raise the quality of life for everyone. Removing the entitlement to take the roadway regardless of traffic signaling, will restore far clearer rules of order and expectations on our streets. Entitlement, dashed, is far more nervous-making than well-regulated and equitable rules, properly enforced, to begin with.
We live in a really, really big urban area that hasn’t been growing in ways that accommodate sustaining our quality of life. We have to start thinking-smart to keep things moving smoothly, efficiently and safely for everyone.