Right turners and traffic detection

The in basket: Dave Dahlke asks, “What’s with the traffic light at the South Kitsap Mall? If a car comes up from the mall to take a right turn onto the highway the light almost always turns green for it without even giving the vehicle driver the chance to execute a free right. 

“The light stays red longer for drivers desiring to make a left turn onto the highway or to go straight through then for those vehicles which have the option of a free right turn. This causes numerous stops to east-west traffic on the highway.

“I have never seen a backup in the right turn lane from this parking lot and have to question why there is even a trigger for this light from the right turn lane.

“I believe the light should not be activated any sooner (if at all) then it is for those cars utilizing the right turn lanes at Long Lake Road, Woods Road and California Avenue,” Dave said.

The out basket: Actually, the lane for straight-ahead traffic and right-turn traffic coming out of the mall parking lot (It’s called Towne Square Mall now) is the same lane.

And that accounts for the detection in the right turn lane, says Jim Johnstone of the Olympic Region signal shop in Tumwater. If they didn’t have it, straight ahead traffic wouldn’t be detected. 

The other Mile Hill Drive signals David cites as preferable have dedicated lanes for right turners in at least one direction. They also belong to Kitsap County. The state owns and operates the mall signal.

I watched it one day recently and found it hard to see whether the time that elapsed between the arrival of a right turner and a green light for that car was attributable to that car’s arrival. 

When there was traffic coming out of the high school complex on the highway’s opposite side, or a car wanting to go straight out of the mall, the count-down to a red light for Mile Hill Drive traffic often had already begun before the right turner even showed up. Pedestrians who had triggered their light for crossing the highway have the same effect. 

Jim says because traffic crossing the highway is light except when classes at the high school end for the day, and because of Dave’s observations, he has put a 7-second delay on the right turn-through signal leaving the mall. A car now has to be there seven second before the light will detect it. It then will take at least four seconds longer for the light to turn green, stopping traffic on Mile Hill Drive. 

“Please understand that this may minimize, but will not eliminate the signal changing to the side street as a right turner departs from the intersection,” he said. 

Seven seconds won’t be enough if traffic heading east on Mile Hill Drive is heavy, I would guess, or when two or three vehicles are waiting to turn right onto Mile Hill (it does happen).

Incidentally, the right turn lane delays on the county’s signals farther east on Mile Hill Drive are 10 seconds, except at Long Lake Road, where there is no traffic detection in the right turn lane.

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