County participates in Flashing Yellow Arrow—Pedestrian Safety study

Release date: 04/26/2013
Sponsored by: Department of Land Use and Transportation, Engineering and Construction Services Division

Left Turn SignalFlashing Yellow Arrows in Washington County

Permissive left turn movements are essential to our ongoing efforts to keep traffic flowing efficiently. They reduce congestion levels, driver delays, idle times and resultant pollution. A “permissive” left turn means that the driver can turn only after yielding to conflicting movements, such as pedestrians, vehicles or bicycles.

Flashing Yellow Arrows (FYAs) are a relatively new permissive left turn signal type. They are significantly safer than other permissive left-turn signals. Washington County was an early FYA adopter. We have implemented them at approximately 200 intersections around the county—just about every location where they are an option. ODOT and other agencies around the country are also rapidly deploying FYAs.

From the beginning, we have been proactive in our efforts to maximize pedestrian safety at intersections with Flashing Yellow Arrow signals:

  • We’ve posted educational information about FYAs on our website, including this video, which reminds drivers to be alert and aware, and to yield to bicyclists and pedestrians that might be crossing the intersection.

  • Early on, it was not possible to suppress the FYA signal when the pedestrian crossing signal was activated. We worked with a local consultant to develop new pedestrian-friendly signal “logic” (programming) that prevents the pedestrian walk signal and the FYA from being on at the same time. This can only be done at locations with advanced signal controllers, and we’ve deployed it at all of those locations—approximately 40 percent of our intersections with FYAs installed.

  • We’re upgrading to advanced signal controllers as rapidly as possible. By the end of June 2013, we will have deployed the pedestrian-friendly logic at approximately 70% of our FYA intersections. We are focusing on higher speed and higher volume roads, around schools, and along other heavily used pedestrian routes.

  • For older signal controllers, we have implemented signal timing changes to give pedestrians more lead time getting across the street before left turns are permitted—to help assure greater driver awareness of pedestrians at locations where concerns have been identified.

Recent OTREC study

With an eye toward identifying opportunities to further enhance pedestrian safety at locations with FYA signals installed, we also co-applied for a research grant and participated in a recent study conducted by the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC). The study results were just published, and are available on the OTREC website.

Key study findings

  • Between 4 and 7% of drivers apparently did not look for pedestrians in the crosswalk (the rate varied depending on the direction the pedestrian was moving relative to the driver’s position).

  • With more pedestrians present, drivers were more aware and more focused on the pedestrians.

  • More oncoming vehicles correlated with less driver attention on pedestrians.

What we’re doing

The study findings validate the actions we’ve already been taking to improve pedestrian safety at FYA intersections:

  • deploying new pedestrian-friendly signal logic wherever possible;

  • strategically deploying advanced signal controllers and the new signal logic as rapidly as possible; and

  • adjusting signal timing and taking other appropriate measures to help maximize pedestrian safety.

What you can do

  • Be vigilant. Whether you’re traveling by car, on a bicycle, or on foot, we all need to watch out for one another. Pedestrians and cyclists should never assume a driver has seen them unless they have made eye contact with the driver.

  • Be patient. Drivers should never feel pressured to make a left turn on a flashing yellow arrow signal if they have any potential safety concerns. When you have a FYA signal, do not pull into the intersection until you can safely proceed all the way through. Waiting behind the stop bar/crosswalk during a FYA is not only safer—it is also the law. Waiting in the intersection is considered obstructing cross traffic, which is a citable traffic offense (ORS 811.290). If you wait behind the stop bar/crosswalk, you will get a protected green arrow signal at the end of the signal cycle or at the beginning of the next signal cycle.

  • Share your concerns. Contact our Traffic Engineering section at 503-846-7950 or with specific concerns at intersections in Washington County. Some signals in the county are maintained by ODOT or cities, but we will make sure to route your concern to the appropriate agency.

  • Spread the word. Let others know about our Flashing Yellow Arrow website and video.

Media Contact:

Stephen Roberts, Communications Coordinator
(503) 846-4963