Yellow lights to be just a little longer in Tampa and the rest of Florida
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10/17/13 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: red light cameras, Tampa City Council, Charlie Miranda, Yolie Capin, Lisa Montelione, Tampa Police

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Tampa transportation manager Jean Duncan explains a new state mandate to lengthen yellow lights at intersections.


photo by Janelle Irwin


The City of Tampa is increasing the amount of time traffic signals stay yellow at intersections where there are red light cameras. During a council meeting Thursday, transportation officials defended the move even though it is required by the state.

No one on council made a move toward getting rid of the city’s red light cameras, but council member Lisa Montelione did ask about the potential threat of increased rear end collisions with longer yellow lights. Tampa transportation manager Jean Duncan said there isn’t a lot of data on the subject.

“But the bottom line is those rear end crashes are much less fatal than t-bone crashes that we get for the red light runners for the intersection. So, if there is such data to show that there are more rear end crashes, at least those crashes are more minor in nature and less fatal in nature.”

Right now, the minimum length of time a traffic signal stays yellow is 3 seconds. The state now mandates that length be increased to at least 3.4 seconds. Less than half a second doesn’t seem like much, but Duncan said it kind of is.

“Well, it makes a difference when it adds up with other amounts of time. You know, the more we add to the yellow time as the day goes on and that compounds hour after hour, that can cause more delay at the intersection in some cases because there’s only so much time that can be shared.”

The state law will also require municipalities to increase the length of all-red time at signalized intersection. Traffic in all directions at an intersection is held on a red light simultaneously before light changes for one second. That’s about to become two seconds.

“Well, the criteria from the DOT applies to all signalized intersections. But they have separated out the schedule of their deadlines. They want all of the red light camera intersections to have those timings updated first and that deadline is December 31st of this year. All of the remaining intersections – for example, the city of Tampa has about 550 signalized intersections – so those remaining intersections, the deadline for all of those to be updated is May or June of 2015.”

But Duncan said there are some non-red light camera intersections that could be updated before the 2015 deadline.

“When you re-time one intersection it causes sort of a domino effect. So, even though we have 18 signalized intersections we’ve made sure to look and make sure that there aren’t any upstream or downstream that would need to be done as well.”

Another possible problem brought up by council chair Charlie Miranda is some confusion for drivers who have noticed the countdown timer on pedestrian crossing signs.

“You’re driving down the street and you see, 7,6,5,4,3,2,1, bingo the light changes automatically. All of a sudden, you’re driving around the city, you get to another intersection and you see 7,6,5,4,3,2,1, and you’re waiting for it to change and it doesn’t change. It’s like, a 5-7 second delay so that it allows you to take the light. So that’s confusing that same one brain cell that’s saying, ‘oh I gotta stop, no I gotta go, no I gotta stop, no I gotta go…’”

His concern was reiterated by council member Yolie Capin. But Duncan, the city’s transportation manager said pedestrian signals shouldn’t be used as an indicator of when a traffic signal may change.

“Depending on the width of that street, that amount of time can change. So, if you’re a driver and you’re using the pedestrian countdown to make a decision about going through the light, you’re mixing traffic control devices there. You want to just use the light to make a driving decision and the countdown to make a pedestrian crossing decision.”

Transportation staff with the city of Tampa started planning for changes to the traffic signal timing in May, but were forced back to the drawing board at the end of September after the Florida Department of Transportation made changes to the policy. However, the department expects to meet the state’s deadline for red light camera intersections without problem.

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