Increased Yellow Light Times Make Ticket Cameras Unnecessary

As a follow-up to our last post on short yellow light times, a local newspaper in Denver reports that the city is reconsidering its plan to install red-light cameras after the paper’s investigation revealed short yellow light times across the city.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for cities to install ticket cameras without implementing simple engineering changes like increasing the duration of yellow lights at intersections.

Local news media can play a key role in protecting the public by keeping city officials on their toes. If you’re concerned about yellow light times in your city, calling the local media and suggesting an investigation is an excellent way to force change.

An excerpt from the Rocky Mountain News story:

Denver is re-examining its plans for its first red light cameras after a Rocky Mountain News investigation found that the locations had short yellow lights, which could make the intersections ticket traps and accident hot spots.

Traffic engineers will do a quick study of the four camera locations to determine whether the yellow signal should be increased from the legal minimum of three seconds – timing that’s considered appropriate for 25 mph traffic.

The four intersections that Denver has selected have speed limits ranging from 30 to 45 mph, with traffic going faster than that, and other conditions that call for greater yellow time, up to 4.3 seconds or more. Denver, as a matter of policy, has used the three-second minimum at most of its 1,250 signals for decades.

Local officials have now conceded that increased yellow light times may be the best way to proceed:

[City engineering director, Brian Mitchell] said that Denver will select four similar intersections where yellow timing will be modified to see if that alone reduces accidents.

Denver’s locations are all one- way, multi-lane approaches: the east end of the Sixth Avenue Freeway at Kalamath Street, eastbound Sixth at Lincoln Street, westbound Eighth Avenue at southbound Speer Boulevard and northbound Quebec Street at 36th Avenue.

All have three-second yellow lights for which the standards call for more time. If the yellow is set too short for the existing traffic conditions, drivers must choose between braking hard or running the red.

Numerous studies on red light cameras show that while they can reduce the number of more serious T-bone type crashes, they more often result in a spike in rear-end collisions. Aurora put them in two years ago and the number of tickets and accidents has gone up.

The article goes on to mention that increasing the yellow light time has already worked for other Colorado cities:

Fort Collins put in cameras on South College Avenue at Drake Road in 1997. For eight years, an average of 166 tickets were generated every month, while the accident rate at the corner went up 83 percent over 10 years.

In August 2005, traffic engineers bumped the yellow light from four seconds to five.

“Within a week, the police called us,” said Ward Stanford, acting traffic engineer. “They knew pretty quick we had done something because the infractions went down significantly.”


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