Watchdog: DOT won't move stop line at intersection

Some red light cameras are forcing drivers to

Some red light cameras are forcing drivers to stop twice before they can make a right turn on red. (Aug. 19, 2010) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Judy Cartwright

Judy Cartwright Judy Cartwright

Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column

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The introduction of red-light cameras is forcing drivers at some intersections to stop twice before they can make a right turn on red. And that, says Neil Nisita of Hicksville, can lead to a bumper-car scenario -- just like the one he found himself in -- as succeeding drivers move ahead, looking to the left, unaware that the car in front may have come to a second stop. He is calling for a design change: Stagger the white stop lines so the one on the right-turn line is a half-car-length ahead of those on the through lanes.Nice try, Mr. Nisita, but the state insists that moving those lines wouldn't help.

At some intersections, such as the one at Glen Cove Road and Jericho Turnpike where the white stop line extends straight across all lanes of traffic, including the right-turn lane, drivers are permitted to turn on red after stopping. Before the cameras arrived, some drivers would drive past the white line, stopping only at the entrance to the roadway, where they had a clear view of traffic.

But these days, ignoring the white line can lead to a ticket. So drivers are learning to stop at the line -- and then stop again at the roadway.

"As has happened to me, when you see the guy in front start to pull out [from a stop at the white line], you believe he'll complete his turn," Nisita said. "And as you're coasting up behind him, you're going to continue to the point where you can see traffic to the left, where you'll pause to make a decision about entering the roadway."

But if you're looking to the left, you may not see the driver ahead come to another stop. And bumpers are likely to meet.

"It's a design problem," Nisita said, adding that staggering the white stop lines would permit drivers in the right-turn lane to stop only once, where they could make a safe judgment about when to turn.

The state Department of Transportation's traffic safety engineers say such a change won't help. Moving the stop line forward on the right turn lane "is not appropriate" since the existing crosswalk is located just beyond it, according to spokeswoman Eileen Peters. The stop line must be set back from the roadway, she added.

And moving the line back in the through-traffic lanes would not be effective, she said, because "many drivers would still pull up to the crosswalk."

Mr. Nisita's response: "Then the line for the right turners is useless. You can't see far enough to make a decision about whether to go. So you have to move up, stop again."

The state has this advice for drivers: "Always proceed cautiously and always come to a complete stop [at the stop line] and check for pedestrians," Peters said, then proceed slowly to the intersecting roadway -- and, yes, make the double stop if necessary.

Looking again at left-turn dilemma

Recent changes at a five-way intersection in Huntington Station include left-turn signals for drivers turning from Dix Hills Road onto Jericho Turnpike. I like what was done, but a left-turn signal is also sorely needed for westbound drivers who want to turn south onto Dix Hills Road. Now, only one car can get through before the light turns red.

-- Wendy Natalone, Dix Hills

That's been a popular Watchdog intersection, Mrs. Natalone. The most recent story, in August, detailed the new left-turn signals on Dix Hills Road and the change in the traffic signal sequence for safety, so northbound and southbound cars aren't moving through the intersection at the same time.

Those changes came after the state conducted a traffic study in 2010 in response to complaints about the troublesome conditions. Now, as a result of your request, another study is on the way.

"A full assessment will be conducted including on-site observation of driver movements and analysis of crash data to determine if a left-turn arrow [on Jericho] is warranted and will improve safety and traffic flow at this busy five-way intersection," Department of Transportation spokeswoman Eileen Peters said in a statement. The investigation will be done in the spring, she said.

The earlier study did not include an analysis geared specifically to the delays that westbound drivers experience when they try to turn south, she said.

Long Islanders with safety concerns involving state roads can call the DOT's Regional Traffic Safety & Engineering Office at 631-952-6020.

Stop sign, 'yes,' signal, 'no'

In 2009 I called the Town of Brookhaven's Traffic Safety Division and requested a three-way stop at the T-intersection in Port Jefferson Station, where Pine Street meets Canal Road. The speed of vehicles makes it difficult for cars on Pine to make a left turn onto Canal. The representative said they would do a survey and get back to me. They haven't.

-- George Rieu-Sicart, Port Jefferson Station

Change is on the way, Mr. Rieu-Sicart, but don't hold your breath. The town did conduct a traffic study, in 2010, and determined that the high traffic volume warrants not a three-way stop sign but a traffic signal.

First, work under a $310,000 Local Safe Streets & Traffic Calming grant from the state Department of Transportation must be done, town spokesman Jack Krieger said. That project will shift travel lanes on Canal and add a bicycle lane between Route 112 and Patchogue-Mt. Sinai Road.

"It is anticipated that design will start in the new year and construction, nine months later," Krieger said.

For now, he said, the town has asked Suffolk County police to boost patrols on Canal and deploy digital speed-detecting machines. The town is also reviewing the intersection's crash history and crash rates to see whether further steps are needed.

Brookhaven residents with traffic safety concerns on town roads can call the Traffic Safety Division at 631-451-8696.