Wrong on red

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May 24, 2004 // UPDATED 1:45 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Terrell Brown
Terrell Brown

Minneapolitans may not want to turn right politically, but at stoplights it's another matter entirely

When I moved to the Twin Cities in 1980, one of the first things I learned is that you could always get three cars through the intersection after the light turned red. I suspect that this habit -- along with writing checks anywhere for anything -- will soon become part of the Minnesota Constitution right next to the right to fish and hunt.

A former co-worker once told me that a Chicago cop, after seeing the co-worker's Minnesota driver's license, declined to write a ticket for running a red light because "I know that's the way you drive up there."

Asking him not to laugh, I asked a helpful chap with a City Hall office how many Minneapolis intersections are equipped with signal lights. I then asked how many of those have "no turn on red" signs; he smiled and said, "we'd like to get rid of some of those."

Turns out Minneapolis has signal lights at approximately 800 intersections -- and 400 of them have signs prohibiting right turns on red.

Recently, I've started noticing that "No Right Turn on Red" signs are ignored nearly as often as they are obeyed.

Part of the problem is that, other than just plain too many signs, they are of nearly 57 varieties: some are just plain black letters on a white background, some have a red dot in the middle of their message, others incorporate the international black turn arrow in a red circle with a diagonal line.

With the differing visual cues, is it any wonder that your typical cell-phone-using, burger-eating, coffee-drinking driver talking to a passenger while adjusting the radio turns right on red at any particular intersection?

Signs, signs, gotta read the signs. Or do we?

Why so many signs? OK, how about a reason other than finding places to put them gives some traffic engineer a job, or reinforcing our reputation as a place where nothing is allowed?

Perhaps the solution is to meter the exits from the burger places. Upon completing a purchase at the drive-thru, a driver would be prevented from exiting equal to the time required to eat the meal.

I'm not sure what to do for the driver reading the morning paper during that morning drive to work, a habit that worries me every time I see it -- this from a guy who in a prior life had been known to turn on the autopilot so he could read the paper as he flew toward that day's destination. Fortunately, never once did the plane in front of me come to a sudden stop.

Let's make the red light a defacto stop sign, if it's safe just go for it. After all, this is a city that can't get snow plowed in less than three days partly because of the cost of the parking signs. Perhaps it's time to start a sign-recycling program.

Simply allow any driver to proceed through an intersection if it is safe? Does anyone, other than an oil company, benefit by having drivers wait for some computer to decide its time to change the lights? Maybe it's more innovation than City Hall can handle.

Terrell Brown (Terrell@terrellbrown.org) works Downtown and lives in Loring Park. Letters to the editor may be sent to dbrauer@skywaynews.net, or by fax to 825-0929, or to 1115 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis, 55403.