When traffic flows well in some places and not others, drivers notice. Chip Farley of Stilwell certainly does.
On too many four-lane thoroughfares with medians, he said, you can turn left only on the green arrow, which often blinks off too early. Drivers wait unnecessarily, he said, and a string of these signals “does nothing but slow traffic movement.”
Farley offers an example of where it’s done right: Missouri 58 through Belton in Cass County. Left turns are allowed on the green arrow, he said, but drivers can proceed with caution on a yellow flashing arrow, too.
“Why isn’t this standard everywhere?”
The Watchdog put his paw on the telephone and rang up the Belton Public Works Department. Officials there offered an explanation while crediting the Missouri Department of Transportation for installing the signals on Missouri 58, which is a state highway.
Signal systems are chosen for different types of roadways and topography, said Belton public works director Jeff Fisher. If hills and valleys make it difficult to see oncoming traffic, for example, drivers won’t have the option of turning left without the green arrow.
Traffic volume makes a difference, too.
The system on Missouri 58 is especially suited for heavily traveled routes where it’s especially important to keep traffic moving, said city engineer Ben McCabe. He noted that Missouri 58 is a primary access route to Interstate 49.
About 30,000 vehicles a day use M-58 at the point where it meets the interstate. On less traveled routes where traffic doesn’t back up so easily, a different system might be chosen that would allow more interruptions to through traffic.
Fisher said the highway also benefits from being part of Operation Green Light, an areawide initiative to improve signal coordination on major thoroughfares even if they cross city boundaries.
By the way, the increasingly popular flashing yellow arrows serve the same function as solid green lights in the turn lanes. In both instances, those turning left must yield to oncoming traffic.
“Flashing yellow gives you a little more awareness that you should be cautious before you make that left turn,” McCabe said.
The Watchdog wishes that national politicians would be more cautious about left turns — but that the folks in Jeff City and Topeka would quit turning so far to the right.
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