Expanding DC’s ‘no right turn on red’ could backfire, AAA says

WASHINGTON — D.C. is moving to ban right turns on red lights at another 100 intersections by July.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which is set to begin installing the additional “no turn on red” signs this month, said the goal is to make roads safer.

But AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said an unintended result could be more accidents and gridlock: “If the driver is now only allowed to turn on green, then he’s in constant conflict or immediate conflict with pedestrians crossing at the same time.”

Townsend said that could lead to an uptick in crashes involving pedestrians. He also thinks impatient drivers may speed up to try to beat red lights, leading to more rear-end collisions and crashes that are more severe.

“If the District’s assumptions are not based on current state of the art protocols for traffic safety, the ban could create more conflicts with pedestrians, cause more rear-end collisions at intersections, increase traffic gridlock, decrease travel time reliability, and generate more red-light camera tickets and revenue,” said Martin Wallen, a former traffic engineer for the cities of Long Beach and Richmond, California.

DDOT has said that crash history, pedestrian activity and other factors were used to choose the intersections where new signs will go up. The city currently boasts over 1,650 traffic signals, and is pursuing more “no turn on red” signs as a way of reducing roadway deaths.

Though AAA thinks the city should start small by doing more studies on crash history and pedestrian activity, and releasing intersection-specific results to the public.

“Unlike other cities eyeing the ban, the District is ‘taking a blanket approach,'” AAA Mid-Atlantic said in a statement released Tuesday, the last day DDOT is accepting written comments from the public. “It is going ‘full steam ahead’ without weighing a smaller scale pilot project, like Seattle and Alexandria.”

Townsend said Seattle initially banned right turns on red at just 10 downtown intersections in order to see if the changes actually led to the intended results.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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