Tag Archives: flashing yellow

Another country heard from on flashing yellow turn lights

The in basket: Jo Clark writes, “When you approach an intersection and need to turn left, if the (flashing) yellow arrow is showing, do you have to stop before you turn?

“I don’t think so but my Canadian relative was adamant, not wanting to earn a traffic ticket.

“I say that that impedes traffic flow and could cause a rear-ender. Please clarify Kitsap regs for me.”

The out basket: Jo is right and her Canadian relative is wrong.

“If there is no approaching traffic or there is significant distance between the two approaching vehicles where the turn can be made safely, then the driver conducting the left turn may execute the movement without having to first stop,” says Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the county sheriff’s office.

Knowing that Scott is originally from Canada, I asked him if it’s possible the Canadian person might be correct up there.

“There are federal, provincial and municipal traffic code laws in effect in Canada, and there are 13 provinces,” he replied. “Confusing enough? It can be.”

So he checked only with British Columbia and forwarded the section of the BC drivers training manual dealing with traffic signals to me.

The manual makes no mention of flashing yellow arrows at all, but it does mention flashing yellows generally, saying they mean “slow down and proceed with caution.” That’s close to the phrasing in Washington state law regarding flashing yellows, which says they mean “drivers may proceed through the intersection or past such signal only with caution.”

So I don’t see any support for Jo’s Canadian relative’s belief at all.

Stopping at a yellow flashing light when you don’t have to certainly impedes traffic. I suppose it increases the risk of rear-end accidents, but only slightly, since you DO have to stop if there is oncoming traffic and anyone behind you has to be ready for that.

Right vs. left turners at flashing yellow pose a question

The in basket: Margaret Gibbard writes, “Two cars are turning onto the same road- which has the right of way – the right-on-red car or the left-on-blinking-yellow car?

The out basket: That’s an excellent question that hadn’t occurred to me. A left turner with a green light would have right of way, but the blinking yellow left turn signals require yielding to vehicles with a green light, which, of course, a right-on-red turner wouldn’t have.  I had to ask Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson to sort it out for me.

“A left turn is one of the most dangerous movements a motorist makes,” Scott replied. “Left turn traffic signals are designed to let drivers know when to yield to oncoming traffic and when they have the right of way, but the variety of the signals that are in use can be confusing.

“The person who submitted this question asked specifically about which driver has the right of way when two cars approach from opposite sides of an intersection:  a vehicle that is turning left has a flashing yellow arrow, while the other vehicle that is turning right  has a red light.

“In this instance the car turning right has to come to a complete stop before proceeding.  It must yield to any vehicles approaching from the left as well as any vehicles approaching from the opposite direction with a green left turn arrow or a flashing yellow arrow.

“The vehicle turning left on a flashing yellow arrow has the right of way over the car that’s stopped for the red signal, intending to turn right.  The car with the flashing yellow arrow must proceed with caution and yield to any vehicles that are entering and passing through the intersection from the opposite direction.”

So I guess it depends on whether the right turner has gotten into the intersection already.


Bremerton gets another flashing yellow left turn

The in basket: I see that Bremerton has added a flashing left turn arrow to another intersection, the one at 11th Street and High Avenue.

I’m among the fans of the flashing yellow lefts, which reduce the amount of time a driver must wait to turn left, compared to left turn signals that are red after a green cycle ends.

I was told the city didn’t have the money to add any more of the signals, after they installed them on nearly all of those on Sixth Street, which they were able to pay for with utility money. Sixth was the designated detour when 11th Street was disrupted by sewer replacement work in 2012, allowing for use of wastewater money for the signals.

I was  curious if the appearance of one at 11th and High signaled more use of them in the city.

The out basket: The flashing yellow at 11th and High isn’t the major reduction of wait times that the others were, because it replaces a green ball light and sign saying left turners must yield on green. So left turns were permitted while oncoming traffic had the green light all along.

Jim Orton, operations manager for city public works, says. “That intersection really needed the flashing yellow (the yield on green ball is not as intuitive as the arrow). We used some parts from other projects to get this in, so the only costs really were labor.

“It is our intent to standardize our left turn pockets with flashing arrows rather than the green ball but this will be done over time.”

Suspected malfunctioning left turn signal wasn’t

The in basket: Dave Sander asks, “Who do I call about a malfunctioning left-turn light.The light at Jackson and Lund, going north on Jackson, lets only two cars through, maybe 3 if they are quick, then it goes to blinking yellow.”

The out basket: That’s a Kitsap County signal, and when they malfunction, call (360) 337-5777 to report it.

But that signal is operating as intended. It provides a short period of green at the start of each left-turn cycle, during which the turners don’t have to worry about opposing traffic and no pedestrians in their path have a walk light. Then the light goes to flashing yellow, during which time left turners still can go, but they have to yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians.

The only other time I have written about this particular aspect of the flashing yellows was when the one at the Walmart on Bethel Avenue in Port Orchard DIDN’T provide a short period of green one holiday season. The heavy shopping traffic didn’t provide many breaks in traffic for the left turns on yellow. It was supposed to have the green phase and the county fixed it.

RR tracks keep Provost at Newberry from having flashing left signals.

The in basket: Eric Blair asks, “Do you know what criteria the county have used to decide which intersections will get flashing yellows for the turn lanes?
“Specifically, is there a reason these haven’t been placed at Provost and Newberry Hill? I can understand not putting them on Newberry here, but why can’t they be put on Provost for north/south drivers.

“About once a week I’ll come up in the turn lane on southbound Provost, just after the lights have gone green for straight-through traffic, but remained red for the turn lane. And the way the lights cycle, I have to sit through a whole cycle to get the green turn arrow. A flashing yellow here would be wonderful.”

The out basket: I often get nominations of intersections where yellow flashing left turn signals would eliminate a lot of waiting. Mostly they are on state highways, and the state’s regional traffic office doesn’t like them. Their official stance is that they won’t use them unless there is a significant upgrade at the intersection. But they passed on using them at the recently improved intersection the county upgraded for the state at Ridgetop Boulevard and the southbound Highway 303 off-ramp.

They don’t get much interest in them outside Kitsap County, one technician told me.

The flashing lefts we do see are all at county intersections, installed by the county. Cities here like them, but haven’t found the money for them

Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works didn’t get into the criteria the county uses, but availability of money certainly is one.

At Newberry Hill and Provot roads, there is another reason. “That intersection is too close to the railroad crossing for a left-turn flashing yellow arrow,” Doug said. Too much to watch out for in addition to conflicting vehicles, I guess.

2 flashing yellow lefts get warning signs

The in basket: Ian MacKenzie wrote on June 3 and said, ” I wrote to you a while back regarding the intersection of Randall Way and Kitsap Mall Boulevard (in Silverdale). I worried about the implication of both the southbound lanes able to turn left on a flashing (yellow) arrow.

“I just came home from a trip to Home Depot in Silverdale and made that left turn and I see that the county has installed a large sign between the signals informing people that Left Turns Yield on Flashing Yellow,” he said.

“This is the exact sign that the City of Federal Way has installed at all their flashing yellow (turn) signals.

“I would like to think that maybe we had an impact in getting that sign placed and improving the safety of the intersection.” he concluded.

The out basket: I suppose we contributed, but accident history prompted the sign’s installation, notably a fatal left-turn accident at the Kitsap Mall Boulevard-Randall Way intersection.

The same sign has been put on the left-turn signal cross-arm on Myhre Way southbound at Ridgetop Boulevard, also in Silverdale, reader Harry Gilger notes. None of the other county intersections with the yellow flashing lefts nor any of the other directions at the two in Silverdale have gotten the signs.

“We are placing that sign at intersections where collision data support additional awareness,” said Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works.

West Bremerton beacon raises question

The in basket: Kathy Weigel e-mails to say, “I was wondering about the intersection of Patten and South Lafayette Avenue in West Bremerton.

“When traveling east on Patten towards Lafayette, you come to a stop sign. There you will see a flashing yellow light. “Aren’t these types of yellow lights usually used for warning, not for stopping?

“It has been that way as long as I have lived here. It seems it would make more sense to have flashing red lights, as it has a stop sign. Just wondering.”

The out basket: The light is a warning, says Gunnar Fridriksson, Bremerton’s managing street engineer.

“The beacon is there to call attention to the directional sign on the east side of the intersection,” he said. “My understanding is that there were a number of accidents here with people missing this sign and driving into the lawn and residence just beyond where the beacon is located now.

“Lafayette in this section is a very old concrete street with a rolled curb and driveway for the residence almost directly across from the intersection, so a motorist would not even feel much of a bump rolling over the curb. “I believe we have records on this beacon going back to 1962 or so.  It is likely older than that.

Poulsbo due for its first flashing yellow lefts

The in basket: Last September, Ann Nardo wrote to say, “The left turn signal to the North Kitsap school bus barn will trip when there is no vehicle in the lane to turn left.

“It does not do it often but seems mostly in the afternoon has been my observance.  With traffic increasing at this intersection, it can be a glitch in the flow of traffic.

“Not a big thing, but could help,” she said.

When I checked back with her in January to see if it was still doing the same thing, (it was, she said), she also put in a good word for the yellow flashing left turn signals she had seen at Kitsap County’s intersections in Silverdale. She called them “the best traffic organizational idea in years.”

The out basket: The signal is behaving as intended, says Jeff Collins of the city of Bremerton electronics shop, which maintains Poulsbo’s signals.

“The signal will only turn green in a direction when a vehicle is on a detector loop (in-pavement traffic detector) except in the main street direction, on  which it should rest,” he said.

“The problem Ann is seeing is most probably caused by the south-to-east left turn vehicles driving over the detection loop for west-to-south,” he said.

Andrzej Kasiniak, Poulsbo city engineer, said he likes the yellow left turn signals too, and one such signal is coming.

“The new signal at the intersection of 10th Avenue and Lincoln will have a yellow blinking left turn arrow,” he said. Safeway will install the traffic signal this summer as remediation for its new store’s traffic impacts.

Other than that, budget cuts keep him from retrofitting any other city signals, which county employees tell him can be a $6,000 project per signal, he said.

‘Yellow trap’ and oncoming emergency vehicles

The in basket: Rob Shafer of Yukon Harbor in South Kitsap writes, “The other day I was traveling west on Mile Hill Drive approaching Woods Road when an ambulance approached from the other direction.

“It appeared that all of the through traffic lights had been triggered to red as cars were stopped in both directions and my light was red. However, the left turn arrow on Mile Hill was still flashing yellow where an inattentive driver could make a turn directly in front of the emergency vehicle.

“Is there some fault with the emergency system where it does not turn all lights red on the approach of the emergency vehicle? This is not the first time I have seen this,” he said.

The out basket: Jeff Shea, traffic engineer in Kitsap County Pubic Works,

says the signal was working as intended and explains what Rob has seen.

“Emergency vehicle drivers are trained to watch out for motorists that make illegal movements, such as turning in front of an oncoming vehicle on a flashing yellow arrow,” Jeff said.  “We held several discussions with emergency vehicle operators to go over this situation and make them aware of what the signal configuration will (be).

“When a signal is ‘preempted’ for an emergency vehicle the whole intersection does not go red.  The direction the vehicle is traveling will go green while the side and opposing traffic will get red indications, except for the flashing yellow arrow in the opposing direction.

“The reason the flashing yellow arrow continues to flash is to avoid what is called the ‘yellow trap.’  The yellow trap occurs when a left turning vehicle with a green ball or yellow flashing arrow gets a steady yellow ball and assumes that oncoming traffic is also getting the yellow ball and turns in front of that vehicle assuming that it is coming to stop for the upcoming red light.  This condition caused so many collisions that the federal guidance manual, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, specifically restricts agencies from configuring signal systems to allow this.

“Therefore, we continue the flashing yellow arrow, and hope that motorists obey both the legal requirements not turn in front of traffic, or an emergency vehicle with its lights and sirens on.

“There is another option which requires us to terminate all the movements that are going at the time of preemption.  In this situation, also, the MUTCD is very clear that we cannot shorten any of the clearance times – the yellow and red times.

“So, by the time all those clearance times are complete and the green ball comes back up for the preempted direction the emergency vehicle may already be at or beyond the intersection making the preemption.  We felt this was not a good option.”



Flashing yellow lefts coming to four Bremerton intersections

The in basket: The Road Warrior column gets lots of requests to see the flashing yellow left-turn signals that Kitsap County has deployed in South Kitsap and Silverdale put to use at other intersections, including those in Bremerton. So far, Bremerton has declined to go to the expense.

But a major traffic headache coming to Bremerton this spring and summer will have as a happy by-product the introduction of the flashing yellows turn lights at four intersections where there are left turn pockets on Sixth Street between Wycoff and Warren avenues.

The city is having to close one of its busiest thoroughfares – 11th Street – between Montgomery and Naval avenues for the months of June and July, to replace a failing sewer line. Sixth Street will be the designated detour and the flashing yellows will provide the most green light time for the increased traffic on Sixth.

Another major street, Naval Avenue, will be closed to through-traffic between 11th and 13th streets for a period  to be determined. That also will add to the load on Sixth Street.

The flashing yellows will remain in place after the sewer work is done, said Gunnar Fridriksson of the city street engineers. Details about the sewer project can be found online at www.ci.bremerton.wa.us/articles.php?id=1864.

As for the yellow flashing signals,  “City crews will begin installation of the heads and hardware on the 15th of May, with activation by the end of the month,” Gunnar said .

The sewer project not only provides the need for the new style turn signal, it also is the source of the money to pay for them, he said.

For those who haven’t encountered the flashing yellow lefts, they mean that left turns are authorized but those turning must yield to oncoming traffic. They mean the same thing as the signs you’ll see at some Bremerton intersections that depict a green ball signal and say left turners must yield when the light is green.

They DO NOT mean left turners have the right of way. Only a green arrow means that.