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City Installs Flashing Yellow Arrows

Seeking to cut down on traffic accidents in troublesome intersections in town, the City of San Luis Obispo has installed some new traffic controls.

The City announced the installation of signal lights with flashing yellow arrows at three high-traffic intersections — Monterey and Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa and Marsh, and Grand and Monterey — three intersections that “had more broadside collision patterns,” according to traffic studies done by the City.

“Flashing yellow arrows,” the City said in a news release, “are added to intersections where cars can turn left at a ‘protected’ green arrow or at a regular solid green circular light if there’s a break in oncoming traffic. The flashing yellow lights were designed to solve problems with drivers who turn left but don’t know whether opposing traffic is required to stop for them or who misjudge the gaps between oncoming cars.”

So a person heading eastward on Santa Rosa intending to turn left onto northbound Monterey Street gets a warning about the signals for oncoming traffic.

“Motorists making a left-hand turn at these intersections will now see a green arrow at the beginning of the cycle if there are vehicles waiting,” according to the City. “If there are no vehicles waiting, the signal will turn straight to flashing yellow. Motorists who see flashing yellow arrows are expected to yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians before making a left-hand turn.”

According to a Federal Highway Administration study, flashing yellow arrows help reduce left-turn crashes by 35 percent. And traffic engineers say the flashing yellow arrows are safer “because they better remind drivers to yield on left turns when traffic is moving both ways.”

The lights are part of an ongoing effort begun in 2000 to improve traffic safety. In its annual, “Traffic Safety Report,” the City identifies locations with high collisions, then develops projects to reduce accidents at those locations. Since the program’s inception, collisions citywide have been cut in half, the City said.

More than a dozen California cities have adopted lights with flashing yellow arrows, and they are being used in several other states, including Florida, Michigan, Kentucky and Nevada. The City will add more flashing yellow traffic lights, as funding becomes available.

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