May 04, 2005
Avoid these intersections

Yesterday, the Chron listed the ten worst intersections in Houston for accidents caused by red light running. Today, Anne notes a letter to the editor which points out that one of those intersections, Richmond and Dunlavy,is problematic because there's no protected left. This prompts Anne to ask about the others on the list.

Well, I used to live a stone's throw from Richmond and Dunlavy, and I now live not too far from the #2 entry, Waugh and D'Amico. That one almost doesn't count as an intersection, since D'Amico doesn't go through Waugh, it becomes an entrance to the parking garage for the American General office tower. And yes, there's no protected left from the D'Amico side (there is one on Waugh). I happened to drive by this yesterday, and saw a person trying to make a left from D'Amico sitting in the middle of the intersection while a stream of cars coming out from the AG tower turned right onto Waugh. Of course, since Waugh has three lanes on each side at that juncture, there's technically no reason why all these turns couldn't have happened simultaneously, but I guess no one remembers the bit from Driver's Ed where you're supposed to turn into the lane closest to you - certainly, none of the drivers I observed demonstrated any recall of that lesson.

Anyway. All that said, I don't think the lack of left turn signals is a big factor in the red light accidents. Most of those other intersections do have protected lefts. And look at the KTRK list, which is chock full of crossings that include highway service roads, almost all of which feature a green light for only one of the four directions at any time. I guarantee you the vast majority of those crashes are caused by people too impatient to sit through a second (or third or fourth) light cycle. Whatever the merits of red-light cameras may be, those are the people such cameras would aim to deter.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 04, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

I guarantee you the vast majority of those crashes are caused by people too impatient to sit through a second (or third or fourth) light cycle.

How can you guarantee that? Have you pored over the actual statistics?

Not trying to be too picky, but unless one is intimately familiar with all of those intersections (a little photoblogging project for anyone who's interested!) and with the incident reports themselves, it's just hard to draw that sort of blanket conclusion about vast majorities.

Some of these intersections may just be poorly designed becuase of a confluence of factors -- left turn signals, bad visibility, odd angles, what have you.

Indeed, looking at some of these service road intersections, I'm more inclined to the notion that a significant number of these accidents are coming from people who are just blasting through a red light through carelessness, and at high speeds.

Cameras can't deter those sorts of incidents, yet we haven't been given enough information to know what sorts of accidents are occurring -- guarantees and inclinations notwithstanding. :)

I mean, the KTRK list includes failing to yield to another driver's right of way. It's not even exclusively red light running!

Without more information, I guess I'm not inclined to draw many conclusions other than those are accident-prone areas.

Posted by: kevin whited on May 4, 2005 9:07 PM

How can I guarantee it? Years of observation plus a little rhetorical excess. You're right, I can't guarantee that. It's my best guess. All I'm saying is that if Vegas had a betting line on this, I know where I'd be placing my bets, and I'd feel pretty good about my chances to win.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on May 4, 2005 9:14 PM

Kuff, I have my own theory.

Richmond and Dunlavy is right next to the La Tapatia. That's where me and my friends go after getting drunk, because they have cheap burritos and are always open.

My hypothesis is that there may be some drunken exuberance involved.

Also, it's also real close to St. Thomas University. Dude, everyone I know at St. Thomas cannot drive. Seriously.

So that's the Dallas burritos theory of traffic accidents.

Posted by: Jim D on May 4, 2005 10:29 PM

I currently do live not far from the Waugh and D'Amico intersection, and agree, it's not as much an issue, as is nearby Waugh and Dallas or Waugh and Gray.

Waugh and Dallas features left turn lanes on Dallas, but no protected green for left turns.

Similar situation on Gray, except there are no left turn lanes. I myself have been stuck in the middle of that intersection when the light changes trying to make a left turn. If I don't get sideswiped by drivers trying to jump the light like a drag strip, I might get rearended by someone not expecting me to stop on a green.

On Shepherd between Grey and South West Freeway, again, there are no left turn lanes and marked no left turns at most intersections, but people seem to have a common disregard for that in many places. This is the cause of accidents along that stretch.

A bigger problem is downtown, where the law enforcement will stop traffic to allow a vehicle to exit a parking garage. Traffic will come to a complete stop, leaving vehicles stuck in intersections when the lights change. Cross traffic then trys to weave through the stalled cross traffic.

I don't see a way that red light cameras will fix these problems. Taking care of traffic hazzards, or redesigning problem areas will.

Traffic cameras have proven, through research, that while it may decrease the instances of T-bone accidents, the ratio of rear-end accidents will increase. Fix the traffic lights (4.5 seconds yellow, 2 seconds 4-way red), fix the traffic patterns, and I suspect Houston will see results similar to the research; an exponential decrease in all accidents. And the man-hours to do these changes is cheaper than the costs of installing and maintaining the cameras.

Posted by: Michael Jones on May 4, 2005 11:27 PM

People run red lights everywhere, but I swear that it's worse here than anywhere else I've lived. And the places you're most likely to see it happen are feeders and protected left turns. The left turn lights on Westheimer are far too short for the level of traffic on the street. I've seen a line of 7 or 8 cars waiting to turn and only 3 would be able to go safely. And if the person at the front of the line hesitates for only a couple seconds, only two cars get to pass through the intersection safely.

I'm supposed to learn how to drive this summer. It's not something I'm looking forward to.

Posted by: Sue on May 5, 2005 8:06 AM