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City red-faced as Watchdog exposes illegal yellow lights

Our allies at the Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau had a great victory when Virginia Beach reset its traffic signals to conform to state law. You should check out the full article by Kenric Ward, but in the meantime, here’s a preview:

VIRGINIA BEACH — Hours after Watchdog.org reported that Virginia Beach was running illegally short yellow lights to trap red-light runners, the city reset its signals to conform to state law.

The change came in the wake of Watchdog questioning the Virginia Department of Transportation about the legality of the city’s photo-enforcement program.

State law requires that intersections with ticket-issuing cameras have yellow-light intervals that comply with the methodology recommended by the Institute of Traffic Engineers.

“The cameras were operating illegally from 2009 until last week,” Joe Bahen, director of the Virginia chapter of the National Motorists Association, said Thursday.

Brian Walters, coordinator of Virginia Beach’s “PhotoSafe” program, said the city’s signal timing “has been in compliance with the VDOT guidelines since the beginning of our photo enforcement program.”

When VDOT amended its guidelines — extending the duration of yellow light intervals at camera-monitored intersections — the city followed suit. VDOT announced the change Jan. 7, days after Watchdog began investigating the issue.

Virginia Beach reset its yellow lights Jan. 10.

“Virginia standards are important to our driving public,” Walters said. “Drivers should be able to have expectations or similar experiences of standardized yellow timing, regardless of where they are driving in our state.”

But, he added, “It should be noted that it will take the state and localities at least a year, and likely much longer, to bring all traffic signals into compliance.”

Bahen called that “a load of crap.”

He said Virginia Beach could have spared itself — and motorists — a lot of trouble if it had simply followed accepted traffic engineering formulas on its 90 photo-enforced traffic lanes.

“State law is silent on yellows unless cameras are installed. Then the yellow must comply with the ITE recommended methodology,” Bahen said.

Virginia Beach issued some 16,500 traffic citations to red-light runners and left-turn violators at its camera-monitored intersections in 2011, the latest year for which figures were available.

“Had the city’s yellow intervals been in compliance, approximately 8,000 citations would not have been issued,” Bahen, a public engineer, told Watchdog.

Check out the full article by clicking here.

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