Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Worst Traffic Sign. Ever.

Arlington County gets a great many things right. But one thing they totally blow is their use of a particular sign. Every time I see this sign I'm left totally befuddled. The sign, which I don't have a picture of, because, well you shouldn't be taking pictures while driving, is a standard No Turn On Red sign with the following caption:

No turn on red when pedestrians are present

The question is - what specifically does pedestrians are present mean? Does that mean they are present at any of the four corners of the intersection, or just the corner you want to turn right at? And how do you determine if a person is a pedestrian versus someone just loitering near the corner? And what if a person is approaching the intersection on foot, do you have to assume they will be a pedestrian soon enough? And how close do they have to be before they are considered a pedestrian? And should you be thinking this much about a sign in the first place?

Turns out, I'm not the only one who's confused by such signage. This question was posed to the Director of Office of Transportation Operations at Federal Highway Administration and his response was: (emphasis added by me)

The Federal Highway Administration does not encourage the use of "When Pedestrians Are Present" legends with No Turn on Red signs, because the meaning is vague and there is an inherent lack of clearly defined criteria for enforcement. A 2001 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that signs prohibiting right turns on red during specified hours were very effective in terms of driver compliance but signs giving drivers discretion to turn right on red based on whether pedestrians are present were not effective because the vague message makes enforcement difficult.

Ironically, it appears as though the study was completed here in Arlington.

If a Director at the Federal Highway Administration can't answer this question, how can I? Oh, and when you search Arlington County's website for info, nothing comes up.

There, I feel better getting this off my chest. Looks like if I ever run for county government I'll have my first issue: remove these confusing signs.

Anyone have any suggestions as to how they deal with this sign? Anyone have a sign in their neighborhood just as confusing?

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