Traffic safety is goal of protected left turn pilot program - Tucson News Now

Traffic safety is goal of protected left turn pilot program

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Tucson will implement a pilot traffic program soon that is designed to make Tucson's streets safer, but it may run into some opposition.

Under the program, the city will choose up to six intersections to become "protected left" turn signal intersections. That means, left turns would be allowed "only on" a green arrow.

Many intersections allow the driver to nudge into the intersection to make a left turn on the green ball if there is no oncoming traffic rather than waiting for a green arrow. 

There already are some protected left intersections in Tucson, "but we're not consistent," said Ward VI City Council Member Steve Kozachik, who is advocating for the protected left study.

The hope is by adding protected left and improving consistency with light timing, it will make the streets safer.

"Every study ever done shows they (protected left signals) are safer," he said. But there are those who have reservations.

Tucson Transportation Department will meet next week to discuss which intersections to study. It is concerned about traffic flow.

"We expect increased congestion," said Andy McGovern, the Traffic Engineering Administrator for the city of Tucson. "That's something the public will have to deal with."

Which raises the question of what's better for motorists, getting to a destination a bit faster or to get there safely?

"There are safe ways to do it and less safe ways to do it," Kozachik said. "I'm saying choose the safer way even if it costs you another five seconds."

McGovern said, "It's a juggling effort between the need to move vehicles and provide safety."

The public will get a chance to weigh in on the study's results and they will be used for informational purposes, according to McGovern. 

Tucson was forced to get rid of its red-light cameras two years ago by a vote of the citizens and this is expected to face similar opposition.

Kozachik is prepared for that.

"With the red-light cameras we didn't have the data to back it up," he said. "But with protected left, the data is already there."

Tucson engineers will be tasked with choosing the half dozen or so intersections which will be part of the study in the next week and begin collecting data, which could take a year and a half.

Kozachik said it's easy to understand why the protected left makes sense.

Right now, when a person makes a left at a busy intersection, there are many things to watch out for - oncoming traffic, cars making U-turns, pedestrians, bicyclists, the traffic signal and cars also making right turns are all part of the picture.

When cars can only turn with a left-turn signal, it reduces the chance for error.

"If the only activity happening is somebody making a left turn, then invariably that's the safest way to manage and intersection," Kozachik said. 

McGovern has another concern though that would need to be addressed by the Tucson Police and Fire departments. 

"Increased congestion hurts first responders," he said. "And will likely increase their response times."

He says that's why they must be part of the conversation 

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