Today’s Headlines

  • The Tribune’s Latest Foray in Its Crusade Against Traffic Cams Focuses on Yellow Times
  • CDOT Releases Video of Red Light Crashes (DNA)
  • Mayor’s Office, Fioretti Attack Garcia for Hypocritical Opposition to Red Light Cams (Sun-Times)
  • The New Damen Station Is Getting Rave Reviews (Sun-Times, DNA)
  • …But It Has the Wrong Street Address Number (DNA)
  • Evanston Woman in Critical Condition After UPS Driver Struck Her While Turning (Evanston Now)
  • Good Samaritan Rescues Senior from Car Stuck on Metra Tracks (CBS)
  • Bike Bridge-Blocking Alderman Berny Stone Passes Away at 87 (Sun-Times)
  • The CTA Plans to Launch a New Weapon Against Rats Next Year: Birth Control (Tribune)
  • Bike Messengers Help Transport Toys for Tots Donations (DNA)
  • Is “Manspreading” a Major Problem on the CTA? (Tribune)
  • Holiday Train Sidelined Due to Door Problem; Foul Play by Grinch Suspected (RedEye)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • It is striking how much of the most recent criticism of the red light camera program by the Tribune repeats the same pattern (a.k.a. the underpants gnomes):
    1. Even though we don’t like it, we admit the city’s traffic regulations are, in fact, legal and not that unusual.
    2. But a lot of people are breaking the law anyways, getting tickets.
    3. Let’s change the law or stop enforcing it so people don’t get tickets.
    4. ???
    5. Safety!

  • ohsweetnothing

    I found this telling:

    “Maryland passed a state law in 2004 raising the minimum yellow to 3.5 seconds wherever a red light camera is installed. Baltimore raised its minimum to 3.6 seconds throughout the city, said Frank Murphy, a senior adviser in the city Transportation Department.

    “The reason the law was passed was because it was represented that there was an ambush situation when yellow lights were set so low, even though they had always been set at three seconds previously,” Murphy said.”

    Sounds pretty similar to the situation developing here. This is exactly what the Tribune is doing. Mr. Murphy sounds absolutely thrilled about the resulting change in state/city law. Ha.

  • The standard in Chicago has been 3.0 seconds for several decades. People are hardly driving differently now than 30 years ago. The car has changed more to be safer than the driver has changed.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I’d be fine with them adding time to the yellow light, hell, I hope they do, but I think the red light cameras are awesome and should not go away at all.

  • So did this result in an overall reduction in red light crashes, or after a few months did more drivers learn to run yellow lights?

    I noticed this morning that traffic lights don’t have an all-red phase in the city. In the suburbs most traffic lights have a long (2-3 second) all-red phase to fully clear red-light runners.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Great question. My uneducated hunch is given the way that we design streets and the driving behavior that is tolerated in this country, people would eventually learn to push the new threshold as well.

    Here’s to 2050 6-second yellow light intervals!

  • Any “modernized” traffic signal in Chicago has a 1 second all-red phase. There are still dozens, probably hundreds, of signals with 0 all-red phase. This included Milwaukee-Wood-Wollcott until that signal was replaced this year (the previous signal was like 50-60 years old).

  • Lisa Curcio

    Do we have any evidence that people do not drive differently now than they did 30 years ago? It might be that I am getting more fearful and cautious as I age, but I feel like people drive more aggressively today than they did then.

  • Fred

    Get rid of the green light completely. That way drivers can just gun it until the light goes red!

  • Chris Chaten

    Horsepower to weight ratio is up dramatically over the past couple of decades. Due to auto safety regs, cars tend to be heavier but more powerful. Disc brakes help with stopping power, but the sensation of ‘slamming’ increases even at the same speed due to higher weight.

  • As I was researching for our article about the yellow light timing I came across this study published by the Maryland department of transportation in 2004 that observed driver behavior and categorized it into levels of aggressiveness.

    A couple of the interesting findings [PDF]:

    “Female drivers, in general, are more likely to take conservative actions in response to a change in the signal phase.” (change = change from green to yellow, or yellow to red)

    And more salient to yellow light timing, there was this one, “Drivers at intersections with a longer yellow-light durations and higher average flow speeds are more likely to take an ‘aggressive-pass’ decision.”

  • To answer your question, though, here are some studies:

    People’s ratings of dangerous behavior now versus how they answered a year ago. Link on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (this is partially summarized on a different page)

    Safety feature of a car offsets the risk of the driver’s behavior. Link on JSTOR (take care knowing that this study is from 1995 and I don’t know of a similar one)

    A study from the AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety showed an increase in the extreme aggressive incidents from 1990 to 1996. This study used news reports and focused on situations where the motorists used the car as a weapon or exited the vehicle to start a fight. Link on AAA.

    It seemed to remain a problem in 1997 when the AAA testified at the House of Representatives about the violent driving problem. Link on AAA.

    I’m unaware of research that qualifies differences in driver education and testing standards between now and 30 years ago but here are some promising leads:

    1. Driver education programs have yet to demonstrate consistent attainment of their safety objectives.

    2. Education/training programs might prove to be effective in reducing collisions if they are more empirically based, addressing critical age and experience related factors.

    3. Eighty percent of eligible high school students participated in driver education in the 1960s and 1970s but fewer than half did in the 1990s and the proportion continues to decline (2001)