Increase Walkability — Reduce Right Turns on Red

On February 12th of this year a woman was killed in Minneapolis while walking in a crosswalk. She had the right of way. She was hit by a truck taking a right turn on red, which trucks are generally legally allowed to do (although not while a person is in a crosswalk):

The driver of a vehicle which is stopped as close as practicable at the entrance to the crosswalk . . . in obedience to a red or stop signal, and with the intention of making a right turn may make such right turn, after stopping, unless an official sign has been erected prohibiting such movement, but shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and other traffic lawfully proceeding as directed by the signal at said intersection.” Minneapolis Code of Ordinances, Title 18, section 474.630.



According to an MPR review of 2007-2011 crash data, more than a third of pedestrian/car crashes occur in Minnesota in part because of driver’s failure to yield. This means that almost 300 people a year are injured due to driver error.

Although specific data on right-turn-on-red crosswalk injuries in Minnesota was not readily available, a quick search revealed somewhat antiquated data pertaining to right-turn-on-red safety issues.

According to a 2002 paper, there were 1166 crashes involving people on foot or bicyclists in Minnesota and Illinois combined between 1985 and 1998/9 combined. This equals just .04% of all crashes (including vehicle/vehicle crashes) during that time period. This figure is consistent with figures in a 1995 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report.

Although the percentage of total crashes attributable to right-turn-on-red are low, both of the above-cited reports show that walkers and bicyclists are disproportionately represented in right-turn-on-red accident statistics: about 20% of all right-turn-on-red crashes involve a person on foot or a bicyclist. Compare this to the roughly 6% of total crashes involve people on foot and bicycles (walkers and cyclists, as vulnerable users, constitute about 14% of total traffic fatalities, however).

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “[t]he majority of these RTOR crashes involved a driver looking left for a gap in traffic and striking a pedestrian or bicyclist coming from the driver’s right.”



Even when someone on foot or a cyclist is not hit by right-turning vehicles (an admittedly rare, thought unnecessary, occurrence), right turning vehicles still do a significant disservice to vulnerable users. Right-turning vehicles often pull into the crosswalk so that the driver of the vehicle can actually see oncoming car traffic. As a result, people crossing the intersection on foot lose that small stretch of street that is supposed to be temporarily theirs. That person must then walk around the front or the back of the imposing vehicle.

If the person walks in front of the vehicle, he or she must be on guard in case the vehicle attempts to leap into traffic. If the person passes behind the vehicle, he or she must weave between multiple vehicles, any of which could move. Therefore, right turns on red mean that people can never walk across the street, even when they have the right of way, as if they own the space. People on foot must be constantly aware of their vulnerability, can never go on a walk and let their mind wander.

Shouldn’t pedestrians – people – be able to simply be in their community without wearing “light colors” and “retro-reflective materials,” as the State of Minnesota suggests? The Federal Highway Administration appears to think so: “Prohibiting RTOR should be considered where exclusive pedestrian phases or high pedestrian volumes are present.”

A car drifts into a crosswalk to see if there is oncoming car traffic.

A car drifts into a crosswalk to see if there is oncoming car traffic.



During the oil and energy crises of the 1970s, the U.S. federal government encouraged jurisdictions to allow right turns on red as a fuel saving measure. The Federal Highway Administration estimated that right turns on red would save between 1 and 4.6 seconds for each driver at a red light.

While turning right on red does in fact save fuel for car drivers, the Massachusetts DOT points out that “[t]he best way to reduce fuel use is to drive less.” With 65% of trips under a mile in the U.S. made by car, improving the experience of being a pedestrian or biker, as well as improving actual safety, could result in significant fuel savings by encouraging people to walk and bike more.



If Minnesota jurisdictions eliminated, or at least reduced, right turns on red, they could improve both actual and perceived safety for cyclists and people on foot. This in turn could potentially encourage more people to travel using their own power. And this result, if it occurred, would produce the outcome right turns on red were initially intended to produce: lowered energy consumption.

As an obvious first step, mayors and council members should ban right turns on red in areas with heavy foot traffic. This would not be a step in a new direction. For example, the City of Minneapolis already has additional safety measures in place in heavy foot travel areas. The Minneapolis Code of Ordinances states “No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within a business district.” Title 18, Chapter 490, section 490.140. State statute clarifies that “‘Business district’ means the territory contiguous to and including a highway when 50 percent or more of the frontage thereon for a distance of 300 feet or more is occupied by buildings in use for business.” Minn Stat 169.01 subd. 39.

A telephone call to the Minneapolis Police Department Chief of Police’s office confirmed that the reason bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks in business districts is because of public safety concerns about crashes between bicycles and people. This public safety concern exists because of particularly high foot traffic in these areas.

A cab turns right on red in a pedestrian heavy area where bikes are banned from the sidewalk (Hennepin and Lagoon, Minneapolis)

A cab turns right on red in a pedestrian heavy area where bikes are banned from the sidewalk (Hennepin and Lagoon, Minneapolis)

If the City of Minneapolis finds it reasonable to limit bicycle traffic in high foot traffic areas for public safety reasons, isn’t it reasonable to place minor limits on car traffic in these same areas?

Minneapolis, along with other jurisdictions, should take this step toward making our communities more walkable places.

38 thoughts on “Increase Walkability — Reduce Right Turns on Red

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I generally agree that right turns on red should be limited to rural areas where there are broad, generous sightlines and rarely any pedestrians. Unfortunately, the trend has been going the other direction. In 2005, Minneapolis passed new guidelines regarding NTOR signs, limiting them to school crossings, where there are unusual intersections or geographic features, or intersections where there are many accidents.

    I can’t speak for the rest of the first ring, but Richfield has followed suit, removing NTOR signs along 66th St and at Lyndale/494 around the same time. I don’t believe there has been a documented increase of crashes as a result. But of course, crashes do not account for close calls and sense of intimidation.

    On the bright side, in the case of both Minneapolis and most of the first ring, there are few right-turn lanes. So in practice, only one or zero cars is able to make a right turn on red (since the right-turners are often stuck behind people going straight).

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Also one challenge to what I imagine to be the typical urbanist attitude: why do we prefer permissive left turns, but oppose right turn on red? Most urbanists who have an opinion on the matter despise dedicated left-turn arrows and lanes — implicitly trusting the driver to handle the responsibility of yielding on green. Yet we don’t trust drivers to yield to pedestrians on a right turn on red. Why not?

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Well, exactly the point. Accidents do happen from left-turning vehicles — probably more often than accidents due to RTOR. But I think particularly of the discussions on Minnehaha Avenue, where many Streets.mners disliked even offering left-turn lanes or protected-permissive cycles. Should urbanists prefer the old-school/suburban fully protected left-turn cycle?

        1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

          Because no one can walk during left turn phases.

          Also I would trust a left turning driver because there is more space and I am more likely to be seen since they are looking in the same general area to find a gap in cars.

          1. Froggie

            That’s not really a problem…either a loop or (more likely) a mast-arm detector will determine if there’s traffic waiting to turn left and will trigger the left turn phase at the beginning of the cycle. Something that’s largely done anyway. About the only times it isn’t is where there’s a protected-permitted left but no dedicated left turn lane.

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              I think the point is that it’s frustrating at urban intersections when there are many signal phases for drivers that prohibit any movement for pedestrians. But I agree with Sean and Froggie, LTLs and protected left phases can be a good thing when applied properly. A group I was involved with lobbied for LTLs at Cedar & 46th, Minnehaha Parkway, etc. They create more predictability and better intersection visibility for oncoming vehicles even without a protected phase. We found that many pedestrians also feel uncomfortable crossing streets when vehicles in the same direction would swing around a car queued to make a left turn by going into the shoulder area. I’d like to see more LTLs, even without protected left phases, at intersections like Cedar/42nd, Cedar/38th, etc. But often the intersections of our primary urban streets are business nodes, and businesses dislike the idea of losing even a handful of parking spaces.

              But the one thing that I truly dislike: Protected left phases without dedicated left turn lanes, such as at 46th/Park, 38th/Cedar, etc.

    1. Rosa

      because the other party in a left turn “accident” is a car, which makes drivers much more cautious. Do you watch the way drivers turn right on red? They barely slow down and only look left, where the danger is coming from other cars toward them. They don’t watch out for the pedestrians and cyclists to their right, who they are a danger to.

      Left turns are already sufficiently slow & cautious because of this.

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    NTOR is one the cheapest, most easily implementable ways that Minneapolis and Saint Paul could improve walkability overnight for the cost of a single onramp.

    Doing so would prove that our cities aren’t just giving lip service to encouraging walking and building safe streets, but are actually serious about it.

  4. Eric SaathoffEric S

    I have often had to maneuver around cars that are in the crosswalk. I also proceed very cautiously through even if the car is in the proper place – until I’ve made eye contact. It is not comfortable, and there is a very real sense of danger.

    As a driver I have noticed myself driving into those very same crosswalks. I am impatient and want to go. I want to see far enough left to make that right turn, and I’ve kicked myself after realizing what I’ve done. On the flip side, I actually feel more relaxed when I’m at a stop light that has NTOR. I do not feel the anxiety or adrenaline of finding the opening. I patiently wait for green, and then go.

    I would like to think this change would be a no-brainer, but then that goes for so many other things. I could imagine a major backlash. We live in an age of convenience, impatience, and instant gratification.

  5. Adam MillerAdam

    I’m not confident that “reduce” really accomplishes anything. Given that drivers often ignore posted no RTOR signs and given that those less than fully careful drivers are probably especially likely to hit something with RTOR, I don’t know if anything short of a blanket rule would make much difference.

    And while it’s true that not driving saves a lot more fuel than driving more efficiently, thta’s rather a non sequitur.

    Also, 20% of all ROTR crashes involving peds/bikes sounds actually surprisingly low.

    Ultimately, ROTR seems to me like it should be pretty low on the list of pedestrian reforms, long after doing away with beg buttons and improving enforcement.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Some driver might ignore the signs, but it’s a relatively easy things for cops to notice. Plus it only takes 20-50% of the ppl to obey a NOTR law to effectively shut down the behavior, as only one car has the ability to make the turn at a time.

    2. Sam RockwellSam

      I would prefer no RTOR. I lived in NYC for a decade where RTOR is illegal across the board and made walking a much less stressful experience (at intersections, at least). However, I suggest reducing RTOR as a first step because I think it would be far more politically palatable because protecting pedestrians in business districts is already codified.

      I’m not sure it’s a non sequitur to say that not driving saves more fuel than driving efficiently. In theory, as we make the pedestrian experience safer, more natural, and more enjoyable, people will walk more. The foundation of my argument is that eliminating (or reducing) right turns on red would do this. Therefore, if eliminating right turns on red increase trips on foot, there is a fuel saving comparison to be had.

      Finally, I totally agree that RTOR SHOULD be far below many other improvements. However, it is an easy fix for little money so why not go ahead an do it. It could be grouped with eliminating beg buttons in a “let’s make our intersections more pedestrian friendly” bill.

    1. Adam MillerAdam

      Now there’s a pedestrian (and road) safety issue that I’m surprised hasn’t lead to some action. DC banned using a phone without a hands free device when I lived there. I still haven’t adjusted to seeing people holding a phone to to their head while driving after moving back almost four years ago.

      Last night I walked to NE during the tail end of rush hour. Of the drivers I could clearly see (mostly those turning or passing me as I waited for a light), I’d say something like 30% had a phone up to their head. I didn’t witness it leading to anything particularly bad last night, but who hasn’t seen a driver do something dangerous and clueless and then realized it was because they were talking on the phone instead of paying attention?

    2. Sam RockwellSam

      You actually can see that the picture above features a driver doing just what you call out. A class act.

  6. Jeff

    One problem with no turn on red is that it creates additional conflict with right turning drivers and pedestrians who are crossing the street with the walk symbol. The right turn and the walk occur on the same phase. As a pedestrian I would have to contend with drivers who may not see me (especially at night) or drivers who are impatient due to the added delay. I would much prefer drivers to make the right turn on red where this conflict is less likely to exist. Drivers have to stop at the red anyway, check for pedestrian and cross traffic, then they can make the right turn. If a right turn can be made safely, why should it not be allowed?

    Drivers who do not stop at a red light now before making a turn are not going to stop when there is a sign posted. Assuming a cop would pull them over is optimistic. I have personally witnessed a few situations where drivers made right on red despite a NTOR sign being posted, with a police car at the same intersection. Neither were pulled over, I even made a motion to one of the cops and he ignored me.

    Social change takes time, and we would all love to see less reliance on cars, but forcing laws to change to make it more difficult to drive simply creates animosity and alienates our message. The better way is to provide more options and opportunities, make changes where they are warranted (such as road diets where traffic volumes are low), and eventually people will find that it makes more sense to not drive.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I’m not clear why the conflict is less likely to exist in an RTOR situation. When making a right turn on green, I am in conflict with pedestrian traffic on the same street I’m turning off of. When I’m turning right on red, I am in conflict with pedestrian traffic on the street I’m turning on to.

      The major difference is that when making a right turn on green, I have nothing else to focus on than the pedestrians I need to yield to. In the case of RTOR, I might be intensely focusing the left. If pedestrians only traveled with the flow of traffic this would be fine. But since sidewalks are two-way, this means I’m completely ignoring one entire direction of foot traffic. I look for a gap in roadway traffic and floor it — and may totally miss the mom and kid who walked in front of my car while I was staring the other direction.

      There’s also nothing too radical here. Prior to the 1970s, right turn on red was not allowed. In the vast majority of the developed world, right turn on red is not allowed. Bringing us in line (or at least our urban pedestrian centers in line) does not seem too crazy.

      1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

        Like Jeff, I too have felt the conflict of trying to cross with traffic making right turns at no RTOR intersections. But, I agree also with Sean that there is a conflict either way because sidewalks are two-way. Thus, I’m not convinced that no RTOR does anything for safety. The intersections that I love are those in cities that have four way pedestrian crossing lights. During the pedestrian crossing times, cars have stop lights all directions and pedestrians are free to cross even diagonally. Changing stop light systems in the Twin Cities to accommodate pedestrian only crossings, especially in high traffic intersections, seems like it would also be a cheap and effective way to actually improve safety for pedestrians.

    2. Andreu

      So there’s a solution to that:

      Advance Pedestrian Signaling + No Turns on Red. Win-win: pedestrians get a sense of comfort in having the “green” earlier with little/no crosswalk intrusion expectations and turning cars will likely wait less than if there was no advance signal for pedestrians.

  7. Zach L

    I didn’t even know that NTOR was a thing until I got a ticket for it. Nonetheless, it seems to me that more problems are caused by cars turning right on green than on red, especially if they are trying to get out of traffic quicker.

  8. Al DavisonAl Davison

    Honestly I would love this even as a driver because I hate people who get impatient when I don’t floor it on a RTOR and just wait for the light to be green because I can’t see because I don’t like blocking crosswalks and being an a-hole.

    Seriously if I can’t see, I’m not going til I know for sure it’s clear.

    1. Eric SaathoffEric S

      I’ve felt this pressure before, too. You get honked at as if you’re parked at a green light – or better yet a stop sign, which I guess is sort of what it is.

  9. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    This is spot on. We also need to make right turns on greens safer, too. Bumpouts are a great way to do this, since they move human beings forward into the view of the intersection from an approaching vehicle, into the cone of vision.

    1. Froggie

      Given that drivers turning right are (mostly) in the far right lane along the curb to begin with, I fail to see how bumpouts would help with pedestrian visibility for those right-turning drivers. If there’s a bumpout, they’re going to be on the edge of the bumpout curb…really doesn’t help things here.

      (not that bumpouts are bad…there are other very valid reasons for building them, but visibility to right-turning drivers isn’t one of them)

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        It pushes the pedestrians crossing the street (in the way of their turn) further into the intersection and further into their visibility. It’s the same theory that says when cycletracks have dedicated signals, those signals should go green a few seconds before the vehicle lanes so that they can get further into the intersection and are visible from a less acute angle.

  10. Stacy

    “People on foot must be constantly aware of their vulnerability, can never go on a walk and let their mind wander.” You say that like it’s a bad thing.

    The idea transportation design should create an arrangement where pedestrians can wander about with their heads in the clouds is ridiculous. No pedestrian should let their mind wander when crossing the street. Just as no bicyclist or motorist should let their mind wander during travel. All travel requires focus because you are negotiating around other human beings. Pedestrians should focus more than most because they are more vulnerable and less visible.

    Several pedestrian flashing devices that were popular in the past are now no longer recommended because they make pedestrians feel so safe that they stop following even the most basic safety procedures such as looking both ways.

    There are many things we can and should do to increase pedestrian safety. (Someone earlier mentioned bump-outs, which are great!) But, if you want to have a stroll where your mind can wander, wait till you get to a park.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Fair point. But if we need to prevent minds from wandering, it really ought to be preventing drivers’ minds from wandering. They are the ones in control of thousands of pounds of steel. Unfortunately we’ve brought “forgiving design” principles (which work GREAT on rural roads with high speed traffic segregated from non-vehicular uses) and applied it to our urban streets. This is codified in state statute by state aid design standards, and it is manifested through the values of traffic engineers who are often given design powers over urban streets. The reality is that urban streets have a completely different value proposition and design metrics compared to rural high-speed roads. So I hope we can focus on some structural changes that will give drivers the cues on urban streets that they need to slow down, pay attention, and integrate into the diverse fabric of street users.

    2. Sam RockwellSam

      I think you are partially right here — wandering minds may not have been the best choice of words to make the point I was trying to make.

      I actually cut a series of paragraphs after that sentence that gave some insight into my thought process (mainly that streets and transportation systems are designed for cars, not people). Perhaps I should have left it in. I pasted it (unedited) below — sorry if my citations in brackets make it hard to read:

      Isn’t this the same for drivers? No. Drivers are not told to “make eye contact with [other] drivers [at intersections] and ensure they see you and will stop.” Drivers are not told that other “drivers aren’t always looking for your passing vehicle.” Drivers are not told to paint their car in “light colors and [outfit it with] retro-reflective materials.” No. Pedestrians are given these sorts of instructions, and they are given these instructions from the State of Minnesota. []

      Some might argue that automobile drivers are not given these sorts of instructions because cars are inherently more visible to other drivers than pedestrians because they are bigger. If size were really the determining factor for what drivers see on a streetscape, most drivers would find themselves crashing into inanimate objects as they gazed uncontrollably at city buildings (which are much larger than cars).

      Cars are more visible because the streets are designed for cars. Cars move faster than people, and everything about a street is designed to facilitate automobile visibility at speed. Street signs are huge, dashes on the pavement exceed pedestrian scale [], and impact at the 30mph speed limit common in most of our cities will kill 50% of pedestrians [] while only 3% of drivers in a head-on 30mph collision will die []. Drivers have the luxury of rolling through intersection after intersection without focusing on their mortality. Pedestrians do not.

      1. Stacy

        I agree that many drivers attempt to drive with distractions because of the ease of travel. I’m not sure that the goal of design should be that pedestrians should have the same freedom.

        In my opinion, a preferable design would demand drivers’ (and cyclists’) attention through street characteristics. Ideally when they enter a heavy pedestrian area, they think, “Hey wait, I’m now in an area where I’ll be sharing the road. I’d better step-up my game and focus.” In this scenario, the pedestrians are also paying close attention because they know they have to share the road with vehicles and bicycles.

        1. Sam RockwellSam

          That is a good lens. I tend to want to cater to the most vulnerable and sustainable users first, then fit everyone else around them. This means first and foremost making communities walkable, then bikable, then transit friendly (transit is a little bit of an odd man out since people who take transit have to take another mode to get to that transit), then motorized vehicles. I realize this prioritization is somewhat of a pipe dream.

      2. Adam MillerAdam

        I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but cars are also required to come equipped things like lights and indicators that make them more visible too.

        We should all be thankful that the legislature hasn’t mandated that ever pedestrian be fitted with break lights. Or should we?

    3. Andreu

      The total alternate to your statement is — yes pedestrians should feel comfortable enough that if they make a mistake they won’t die from it. We design our freeways/highways in this same manner for people in cars, on roads that are designed only for automobile traffic. It leads us to the question why can’t we design our urban streets this way for people on foot or on bikes? Do these people not matter?

  11. Cadillac Kolstad

    I was hit by a car turning right on a NTOR intersection. after an hour of waiting the police did not even show up. I was very lucky that I was able to hobble away and nothing was broken.
    Having experienced this first hand and walking and biking most of the time I get around, I would like to counter. More rules that piss of drivers are not an answer.
    “Bump outs” are not an answer they are a huge waste of money and constrict the street for bikes. Since adding bump outs to Franklin ave s it has become much more difficult to cross on foot. Constricting any flow causes more pressure on the system. look what happens to a garden hose with your thumb over the end.
    Enforcing crosswalk laws that already exist would be a better more effective step.

    Reminding people what Bill L said above about the dangers of driving should become a mantra.

    1. Rosa

      enforcement of existing laws would be a great, easy, first step. Make some ticket money for the city too, I’d imagine.

      Myself I’ve had to “enforce” the “no turning through the crosswalk while I walk in it” with car-slapping (and once with kicking, because my hands were occupied with a toddler & his scooter – since I made him cross “safely” with me, with the walk light on foot holding my hand) too many times.

      Mpls PD used to routinely park someone in the cemetery off Lake Street to catch people illegally turning left, because it slows down traffic. I’ve never seen them enforcing any of the no turn on red signs that exist anywhere, or the “yield” signs at the right turn cutoffs where they cross (for instance) the LRT near busy train stops with lots of pedestrians & cyclists.

  12. Cadillac Kolstad

    Two more things,
    Minneapolis already has a much more restrictive RTOR policy than the rest of the state.

    I have often thought that perhaps a graduated drivers license is in order, with additional education requirements to drive in cities or highly populated areas, most important for those who live outside the city and may not be culturally acclimated.

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