A Modest Proposal, Revisited

Last year I made a post proposing modifications to Minnesota bike legislation. In that post I referenced the fact that blinking (flashing) yellow arrows were becoming more common at area intersections.

Flashing yellow arrows allow road users at an intersection to turn left when safe to do so even though oncoming traffic has a green signal. The flashing signals are replacing solid red arrows which required road users to wait through an entire cycle of the intersection signal before being able to complete their turn.

Now, the City of Minnetonka is publicly welcoming flashing yellow arrows. In a recent Minnetonka Memo article (PDF), the City is touting to newsletter subscribers that by 2022 almost all of Minnetonka’s intersections will be so equipped, and will be safer, and will no longer try drivers’ patience.

Given the direct acknowledgement that road users are often able to recognize safe conditions that allow certain traffic movements even outside the direct control of traffic signals (gasp!), it is time to recognize the truth on the ground and pass legislation implementing #IdahoStop and #ParisStop. Either the language from the original post or from HF 1991 (introduced 3/2/17 by Thissen) is suitable. HF 3925 (introduced 3/9/2018 by Bernardy and Koznick) has a small part of the language but does not fully address the matter.

13 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal, Revisited

  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Ramsey county have recently converted the junction of Hodgson Road & Village Center Drive to flashing yellow for left turns. In the few months since there has been a significant increase in near misses of drivers turning left when there are no oncoming cars but completely missing that there is a human being walking or riding in the crossing.

    There has also been at least one incident of a car turning left when there was oncoming traffic and resulting in a crash.

    Road users are not always able to recognize when it is safe for themselves and all too frequently not able to recognize when they are endangering others.

    1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

      This is so true. As a bicyclist, sometime pedestrian and a rare auto driver, I see this EVERY DAY.

  2. Monte Castleman

    It seems the line we’ve drawn is we allow conflicts between motorists and oncoming traffic or pedestrians when making turns on green, and conflicts between pedestrians, and a single lane of cross traffic when making right turn on red. (Although Bloomington’s flashing yellow arrow custom programming (that Hennepin County has access to but is using it on a case by case basis rather than systematically like Bloomington) will not allow a conflict between a left turn and a ped phase).

    If we’re going to allow bicyclists to blow through red lights across both directions of cross traffic if they feel it’s safe, shouldn’t we allow motorists to do the same thing?

    1. Frank Phelan

      With all due respect Mr. Castleman, I have to call you out on the inflammatory phrasing “blow through red lights”. No one is calling for that. What some are calling for the ability of bikers to approach a stop sign or red light as a yield sign.

      And the reason that we would treat automobiles differently from bikes is simple physics. It is extremely easy to kill pedestrians and bikers with even the smallest of cars. Killing someone while I’m biking is very difficult, highly unlikely, and extremely rare, though I suppose it happens. When a biker recklessly “blows through” a stop sign or red light, the risk of serious injury is nearly 100% on the biker. For a motorist, the risk from hitting a biker is virtually non-existent. What you are doing is comparing apples to apples, when it’s more like apples and computer chips.

      Given that there are yield signs in some locations, we already do allow motorists this opportunity in some cases, right? When encountering a yield, motorists slow but only stop if necessary. We already have a precedent for this.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        There are bicyclists who blow through red lights, but in my experience they are almost always bike messengers or someone impersonating one. The vast majority of cyclists do not commit what would be suicidal acts.

    2. Adam E

      “If we’re going to allow bicyclists to blow through red lights across both directions of cross traffic if they feel it’s safe, shouldn’t we allow motorists to do the same thing?”

      Just because they’re doing it doesn’t mean they’re allowed to. What they are allowed, is to get a ticket for running the light, just like the rest of us.

  3. Nicole Salica

    I fully support this – we need to decriminalize completely commonplace actions!

  4. Frank Phelan

    OK this flashing yellow arrow thing is a burr under my saddle. In the past, we’ve just had either a green arrow or a solid green. Of course everyone knew that the solid green (for left turns) meant that the vehicle could turn left when oncoming traffic or peds did not take precedence. It’s not like this flashing yellow is a huge innovation. There may be some evidence that the flashing yellow leads to more caution for left turning drivers, but it really doesn’t change anything.

    That said, I am in support of Idaho Stop.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Some motorists really are too stupid to know that left turns need to yield on a green ball. Mn/DOT had to remove a “yield on green” in Stewartsville because of an ongoing crash problem.

      Beyond additional reinforcement of the need for left turners to yield, a four section
      flashing yellow arrow allows all three types of phasing (permissive only, permissive protected, and protected only) at the intersection. Phasing can be modified without any hardware changes. Phasing can even be programmed to change automatically during the day, like from protected only during rush hour to protected / permissive in the evening to permissive only late at night. And it enables you to run lead / lag permissive / protected (the best way to do coordination) without creating a yellow trap or requiring visors or programmable visibility heads to mask signal heads from adjacent lanes.

      1. Frank Phelan

        Phasing. Permissive. Permissive protected. Protected only. Lead/lag permissive/protected. Yellow trap. Programmable visibility heads.

        Jeez that’s a lot of insider jargon, it makes the Completion-Backwards Principle seem simple. Until I get the civil engineering degree an English translation would be helpful.

        1. Monte Castleman

          Phasing: The way the signals are set up to operate

          Permissive only: traffic turning left must yield at all times but is never prohibited from turning when through traffic can move. A plan green ball, or a flashing yellow arrow, green or red arrows are never displayed.

          Protected Only: traffic turning left can only do so during a green arrow which does not conflict with oncoming traffic, and is prohibited from turning during a red arrow. A green ball or flashing yellow arrow is never displayed.

          Permissive / Protected; This is a hybrid where turning traffic has it’s own protected phase initially, but also during the same cycle has a permissive phase. The display goes from a green arrow to a green ball or flashing yellow arrow, or vice versa

          Yellow Trap: Happens during protected permissive when the protected part of the phase is at the beginning of one direction, but the end of the other. A car that has pulled into the intersection to make a left turn sees the light for the through phase turn yellow (to allow an opposite green arrow) and incorrectly thinks they have to take a chance to get out the intersection because cross traffic is about to be released.

  5. Brian

    Passing Idaho Stop basically means that cars could end up being stuck at some intersections with high bike traffic. It also means that car drivers have to assume that a bicyclist is never going to stop.

    The way I read HF 1991 is that if a car is stopped at a stop sign that bicyclist doesn’t have to stop unless the car is moving.

Comments are closed.