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Watchdog: With some right turns on red, size does matter

A red light camera, pictured on Oct. 26,

A red light camera, pictured on Oct. 26, 2010, on Ocean Avenue and the south service road of the LIE in Ronkonkoma. Credit: James Carbone

Indeed, there are times when size matters. In this instance, we're talking about the triangles of pavement striping that separate a right-turn lane from the rest of an intersection.

The issue got our attention because of -- you guessed it -- a red-light camera ticket. Peter Lombardo of Deer Park found one in his mail and, like many of us, thought it was undeserved.

What distinguished his complaint was this: Lombardo concedes that he didn't come to a stop before making a right turn on red. He contends that a stop at this location wasn't required.

He was driving in a right-turn lane at an Islandia intersection -- from Veterans Memorial Highway (State Route 454) onto westbound Suffolk Avenue (County Route 100) -- that he believes is not governed by the intersection's traffic signal.

"My contention is that this is a new lane, so it needs to be controlled by a new traffic device," Lombardo said.

We weren't surprised that Suffolk County disagrees.

The traffic signal at that location does control the right-turn lane, county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said, and a driver "must come to a full stop at the stop line before making a turn on red onto westbound Suffolk Avenue."

But Lombardo went further: To bolster his case, he pointed to other locations where right-turn lanes have their own signals or signs. At one, a few miles down Veterans Highway at Lakeland Avenue in Bohemia, the turn lane has a yield sign. On approach, the intersections can appear similar.

But then size comes into the picture: The striped-triangle design -- or "gore," in traffic lingo -- separating this turn lane is much larger. The turn lane is more than 30 feet from other lanes and considered independent of the intersection, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Eileen Peters said, and thus "not controlled by the traffic signal."

The "separate right lane is clearly distinguished by the very large striped 'gore' area between the right turn lane and the other four travel lanes, and therefore has its own yield sign to control traffic," she said in an emailed response to our inquiry.

In contrast, the triangle is substantially smaller at the intersection where Lombardo got the ticket. Peters said the turn lane there is close enough to be controlled by the traffic signal.

Lombardo's skepticism led him to question the validity of his red-light camera ticket. But Peters said all traffic controls at both intersections "comply with current engineering standards and practices."

And, in case you were curious: "No two intersections on Long Island's state roadways are identical," she said. The design of each is influenced by such factors as traffic volume, turning movements, geometry and crash history, she said, all of which can lead to "different lane configurations, traffic signals, arrows, turn lanes, pavement markings, guide signs, etc."

And not all right turn lanes require a stop. Baird-Streeter offered this distinction: When vehicles making a right turn enter a lane all their own, a stop isn't necessary. That's not the case on Suffolk Avenue, where drivers are merging with traffic.

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