Those flashing yellow turn signals ‘popping up’ in Omaha improve traffic flow, safety officials say

September 24, 2018

Flashing yellow arrows are popping up at intersections around Omaha, and traffic safety officials say that’s a good thing for motorists.

“Using these signal configurations moves traffic more efficiently in all directions,” said Fred Zwonechek, administrator of the Nebraska Highway Safety Office. “It takes a little getting used to, but drivers just need to remember that a yellow flashing light or arrow means slow down, yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians, and proceed with caution.”

When illuminated, the flashing yellow arrow allows waiting motorists to make a left turn after yielding to oncoming traffic. Otherwise, the new traffic signals work the same as traditional signals.

The flashing yellow arrow replaces the circular green signal used in the traditional left-turn signal configuration to indicate the need for left-turning vehicles to yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians.

A national study on flashing yellow left-turn signals found that drivers had fewer crashes than when the circular green signals were used, Zwonechek said.

City of Omaha traffic engineer Jeff Riesselman said the flashing yellow arrow signals cost about $200 each and are being installed when other work is performed at each of the city’s 900-plus intersections. So far, he said, 190 signals have been installed at 89 intersections.

“That’s why the signals are popping up in different pockets of the city,” Riesselman said. “Some of the first were on Center Street in the middle of town, but you can see them along 72nd Street from Pacific (Street) south to L Street. We’re also installing them at West Farm near 144th and Pacific.”

The federal guidelines for the use of the flashing yellow turn signals came out in 2009, Riesselman said. Omaha, he said, is “a bit behind” other cities, such as Lincoln. By the end of 2020, he said, about 25 percent of the installations will have been completed.

“We are making the change as we replace our old equipment,” Riesselman said. “It’s actually just a small part of our master plan for improving traffic control.”

In Lincoln, a total of 267 signalized intersections on approximately 83 miles of arterial streets have been upgraded with flashing yellow turn signals, said Mark Lutjeharms, the city’s traffic engineering manager. He said benefits of the upgrade include reduced travel times, reduced vehicle emissions, fuel savings, fewer crashes, a lessening of the severity of crashes and smoother traffic flow.

“Essentially, the flashing yellow arrow allows traffic to turn left while oncoming traffic is still approaching the intersection or as soon as oncoming traffic begins to clear,” Lutjeharms said.

Riesselman said feedback from Omaha drivers generally has been good.

“This is the new standard that the nation is going to,” he said. “The vast majority of folks will find it to be an intuitive system. We tell people to always focus on the traffic signal right in front of them, yield to oncoming traffic and drive with caution.”

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