The case for no right turns on red

Do the new no right turn on red restrictions throughout the city have you feeling either puzzled or frustrated?

York Region’s Transportation Services Department can explain why they’re there.

Regional Councillor Don Hamilton raised the issue at the Sept.29 York Region council meeting based on resident pushback he’s been getting.

Hamilton thanked York Region staff for their efforts to make some intersections safer for students, crossing guards, and pedestrians. Kennedy Road and the Bridle Trail is one such intersection.

The Iocation has been designated a “Community Safety Zone,” given its proximity to Unionville Public School and the high volumes of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, especially students and their families in the mornings and afternoons.

Hamilton acknowledged that certain intersections are problematic and therefore need the restriction of no right turn on red. But he added that the new restriction has “raised the ire” of residents, who are frustrated at the “proliferation” of intersections with the new restrictions or at having to refrain from turning right on a red light when it seems at times unnecessary.

Joseph Petrungaro, director of roads and traffic operations for York Region’s Transportation Services Department, explained the rationale behind the placement of the restriction at specific intersections.

“The no right on red application is an application that is driven through data research and review,” said Petrungaro. He added that when traffic analysis reveals a high number of conflicts, or potential accidents, between pedestrians and/or cyclists and vehicles at certain intersections, video analytics and site reviews are then carried out to assess the need for no right turn on red restrictions.

“We all know that pedestrians and cyclists are among the most vulnerable on our roadways, and when they’re involved in a collision, the severity of injury can be quite extensive leading up to, and unfortunately at times, fatal.”

No right turn on red restrictions have been implemented at York Region intersections in Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, and Vaughan, where the data has confirmed that they’re needed.

Petrungaro explained why the restriction works. Conflict is avoided because pedestrians are seen when vehicles are forced to stop.

While this may seem frustrating to drivers not being able to turn right while pedestrians crossing in the same direction can’t cross either, Petrungaro made the critical point that at any intersection, pedestrians can cross two ways.

It’s the pedestrians crossing in the path of the driver waiting to make a right turn that becomes vulnerable if there’s no restriction in place for the driver turning right. Those situations can surprise the driver and cause a conflict or collision.

“We’re always doing our best to control that conflict in the vein of the highest level of safety for the most vulnerable road user at that intersection,” he said. “If we’re going to make a change to help improve our communities, we have to make changes where it’s not always about time. It’s about people getting to where they need to go safely.”

“I’m very proud of the fact that we have this program in place. We had a pilot project in the City of Markham, and it proved to be very, very successful,” Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said. “We have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to improve road safety for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Some discussion followed about the possibility of implementing “dynamic” no right turn on red technology which can be set to work at certain times of the day or, for example, when a pedestrian activates the “walk” push button.

Petrungaro stressed that dynamic right turn signalling is relatively new and not commonly used, “so we are going through a very cautious and meticulous bench test to make sure we get it right before we implement that.”

He added that the region is implementing dynamic signalling at the Woodbine Road and 19th Avenue intersection; however, there is more “latitude” to use it there because it is outside the urban area with little or no pedestrian activity.

Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Markham Review