Yellow flashing arrows

Yellow flashing arrows point drivers south at Ninth and Q streets, but are meant to remind drivers to yield to pedestrians.

Journal Star file photo

Flashing yellow arrows, which first arrived in Lincoln around 20 months ago and are now used at nearly 100 intersections, are still creating controversy and misunderstanding with Lincoln motorists.

In response, the Lincoln’s Public Works and Utilities Department has increased its educational efforts with two short public service announcements on TV and additional information on the city website about the arrows.

Flashing yellow arrows are generally found on newly installed four-head signals, though some can be found on three-head signals.

And the flashing yellow arrows are just one of the ways drivers know they can or cannot turn left at a signalized intersection.

There are solid green circles and flashing yellow arrows, and solid green arrows, and solid yellow arrows, and solid red arrows and solid red circles.

This array of symbols can be confusing.

A question about yellow flashing arrows on radio drive time show host Coby Mach’s Facebook page several weeks ago drew more than 130 responses, and a wide assortment of opinions. 

“HATE…”

“I wish the yellow flashing arrow was replaced with a steady green (non arrow), However I am glad they now allow for left turn when traffic is clear.”

“Hate! And, people, stop making the argument that it allows more traffic to flow. The flashing yellow arrows are almost all used when it was previously a green light where you could already turn after yielding the right of way. There is no flow difference!”

“I'm all for anything that helps the traffic move better and faster. These are great once you figure it out.”

“Not a fan...”

“A lot of people are too ignorant to know what a flashing yellow means.”

“Coming up on 30 years of driving here, yellow has always meant to prepare to stop.”

Based on research and talking with peer cities, drivers do catch on after a short learning curve, said Mark Lutjeharms, manager of traffic engineering for the city. 

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And the arrows give public works “greater flexibility in moving traffic through intersections and a safer alternative for moving left turns,” Lutjeharms said. 

Adding a flashing yellow arrow costs an average of $500 per intersection and are part of the city's $12 million, six-year Green Light Lincoln program, intended to give traffic engineers better control over intersection flow and improve driving efficiency. 

That program includes software for intersection management and changes in intersection equipment and intersection design.

Green Light Lincoln also includes rearranging the signals, and installing cameras and radar detection boxes on many of the 131 intersections controlled by traffic signals along the city's major corridors. 

Some critics believe the new flashing yellow arrows have led to car crashes because people don't understand they need to yield to oncoming traffic.

Lutjeharms said public works staff knows there are left-turning crashes, but trying to attribute a crash to a flashing yellow arrow is like trying to figure out if a crash is caused by someone talking on the phone. The information is not provided on a crash report, he said.

Research on the flashing yellow arrow, first allowed by the federal government in 2006, has shown it can reduce left-turning crashes up to 25 percent, compared to the old dog house (five heads that look like a dog house) configuration, said Lutjeharms.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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