ANC Opposes Ban on Right on Red

Photo by ErWin.

Last week the ANC considered a resolution concerning proposed legislation on “right turns on red” (“RTORs”). GM mentioned this topic briefly in his preview of the meeting. In short: the Council is debating a bill that would make it the default that RTORs are not permitted throughout the city. GM was hoping the ANC would see the benefit in this proposal for pedestrian safety, but sadly the bugaboo of traffic won out. Nonetheless, the ANC eventually reached the correct position, if not a bit grudgingly.

The resolution adopted by the ANC calls for, among other things, the Council to exempt streets like M and Wisconsin from this change. Specifically, it discusses how at intersections like Wisconsin and M, there are so many pedestrians that drivers looking to turn right have to wait until the end of the light for all pedestrians to clear the intersection. The fear is that this would cause a back up of drivers. So then, the ANC concludes, drivers should be able to make that right even when they have a red light. The resolution does not, however, contemplate the fact that if there are a lot of pedestrians crossing M (and thus blocking a driver turning right from Wisconsin with the green) there would probably be a similar number of pedestrians crossing Wisconsin during the cycle when the driver would be turning on the red.

It’s the very fact that drivers have a difficult time turning with the green that makes allowing them to turn with the red so dangerous: there’s a lot of human beings legally crossing the street in front of them in either case. The ANC has it exactly opposite. Banning RTOR is especially necessary in places like Georgetown where there are a lot of pedestrians and drivers competing for the same bits of asphalt. This is why New York City never allowed RTOR in the first place.

To the credit of the ANC, the resolution does not insist that allowing RTOR in Georgetown is the only solution. It also acknowledges that the city may move forward regardless and calls for structural changes to facilitate the flow of traffic. It suggests, for example, the introduction of right turn arrows. This is, in GM’s opinion, the correct compromise. This solution is already installed at one intersection in Georgetown. Drivers making a right turn from M to Wisconsin are controlled by a turn arrow. This makes crossing Wisconsin safer for pedestrians while also preventing undue back-ups. (Another solution is one that was proposed years ago but rejected by DDOT: Have an all-pedestrian phase at Wisconsin and M.)

In the same resolution, the ANC expressed skepticism (but did not specifically support or oppose) the related Council proposal on “Idaho stops“. This is a change whereby cyclists, etc., are allow to treat a stop sign like a yield sign. The DC bill also would allow cyclists to treat red lights like stop signs. It was this part of the proposal that seems to have gotten stuck in the craw of the ANC. So the resolution asks the Council to explain why both elements would be included in the DC version of the Idaho stop. (GM will simply note that allowing RTOR is basically like letting drivers treat red lights like stop signs.)

The resolution passed the ANC with four yeas and one abstention from Commissioner Lohse, who appeared to want the resolution to come out and oppose the Idaho stop proposal altogether.

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