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Virginia: Engineer Slams Short Yellow For Red Light Camera Turns
Virginia legislature considers revising rules for yellow time in turn lanes for red light cameras.

Virginia Beach turning lane study
Cities in Virginia are short-changing motorists at intersections, and a professional engineer is asking the legislature to do something about it. Joe Bahen will testify before a House of Delegates subcommittee later today about what he says is an dangerous shortening of yellow warning time at signals monitored by red light cameras. While he says localities enjoy increased profit from this policy, the intersections become far more dangerous. He has the calculations to back up his claim.

"Whenever cameras are used, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) methodology must be used to assure that drivers can traverse the stopping distance and cross the stopping line before the signal turns red, and therefore have no need to slam on brakes," Bahen wrote in remarks prepared for delivery later today. "Fifteen of the twenty camera systems operated by the city of Virginia Beach are operating illegally. Virginia Beach has issued more than 200,000 illegal camera citations for right-turn violations since 2009. Injury crashes at this intersection have more than doubled since the cameras were installed. But even though the city knew that the cameras were sending people to the hospital, the city renewed its contract with vendor Redflex of Australia last September."

The House Transportation subcommittee chaired by Delegate Richard L. Anderson (R-Woodbridge) has a meeting scheduled to consider a number of bills, including a ban on the use of red light cameras and narrower legislation clarifying that the yellow signal timing standards in turn lanes must not be shortened below the level needed to give drivers adequate time to decelerate. The measure would also require the use of flashing yellow arrow signals, where appropriate.

Cities have taken advantage of the legal ambiguity. On February 15, 2013, Newport News took made the extraordinary move of shortening the yellow signal time at the left-turn lanes on Oyster Point Road and Jefferson Avenue from 3.6 seconds to 3.2 seconds. Local officials in Virginia Beach insist that the right and left turn lanes, which generate the vast majority of ticket revenue, do not need to use the same yellow duration as the straight through lanes. Under Virginia law, the ITE methodology must be used for any photo enforced intersection. Bahen, an ITE member and licensed engineer for the National Motorists Association, produced a sealed engineering study of Virginia Beach's most profitable intersection as an example of how the shorter yellow becomes dangerous.

"It has the potential to entrap anyone approaching in excess of 28.7 MPH on a road where traffic moves at 45 MPH," Bahen calculates.

Bahen has publicly disagreed with Virginia Beach City Engineer Robert K. Gey who testified that drivers only need "half the time" in turn lanes. Gey arrived at this conclusion by using a particular ITE kinematic formula. Bahen produced a letter by the author of that formula, Alexei A. Maradudin, which explains his formula does not apply to turning movements.

"Applying the formula to circumstances where a driver must decelerate within the critical distance into the intersection results in a minimum amber time that is shorter than what is necessary to eliminate the dilemma zone," Maradudin wrote.

Virginia Beach played a central role in the return of red light cameras to the commonwealth, despite a state report that documented an increase in accidents and injuries wherever cameras were used (view study). Former Redflex Executive Vice President Aaron M. Rosenberg testified that his company bribed local officials to have them sign on to the program. The list of states where Redflex bribed local officials included Virginia, though it did not specify the particular cities involved. Rosenberg's expense reports show Rosenberg spent time in Virginia Beach less than two weeks after meeting political operatives in Chicago, Illinois where the known bribery took place.

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