September 29, 2013

Pointing the way

New Flashing Yellow Arrow signals allow quicker, safer turns

By Mitch Talley Whitfield County Director of Communications

— Picture this scenario.

You’re headed east on Walnut Avenue and see a green arrow that lets you turn left onto Thornton Avenue to head towards downtown.

Just as you reach the intersection, though, the light turns red and you have to stop and sit there, tapping your fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for what seems like an eternity for another green arrow, despite the fact that no cars are headed west on Walnut Avenue toward you.

Wouldn’t you like to be able to go ahead and turn — legally?

Well, thanks to a new kind of traffic signal, the first in northwest Georgia and only the third in the entire state, you will soon have that option at that heavily traveled intersection.

“We’re excited about this new signal,” said Andrew Parker, project manager for the city of Dalton. “It really puts Dalton ahead of the curve when it comes to traffic engineering. Our traffic division is always looking for ways to improve traffic flow and make signalized intersections more efficient for the traveling public within the city. For some time now, we have wanted to make improvements at the intersection of Walnut Avenue (State Route 52) and Thornton Avenue.”

City crews, with help from industry experts Temple Inc., plan to begin installing the new light — known technically as a Flashing Yellow Arrow signal — on Tuesday morning, and it should be operational sometime that day, barring unforeseen technical problems. One lane will be closed briefly during installation, Parker said.

Since the city will just have to change out the actual signals (and not the wiring, control box and other costly equipment), the cost of the materials for the project will be $2,000, Parker said, noting that it will be paid for from the city’s portion of transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) funds.

“We’ll be out there watching to see how the public reacts to the new signals,” Parker said. “We really think that people will like them. These signals are very intuitive; from the time you’re a kid, you learn that yellow means caution or slow down. When you see the flashing yellow arrow, it hits you immediately that, hey, I can go but I have to yield to oncoming traffic so I need to do that very cautiously.”

Currently, the intersection has “protected only” left turn signals in all four directions, which allow left turns only with a green arrow. That decision was made years ago because westbound traffic on Walnut Avenue turning left has a sight distance restriction which prevents drivers from being able to see if traffic is coming towards them. Because of that restriction, westbound traffic will continue to have the same type of protected only left turn, but Parker says there is sufficient distance for eastbound traffic to see how to make a left turn safely to go northbound on Thornton Avenue when there are adequate gaps in westbound through traffic.

“After reviewing this intersection with industry experts, we have decided, after receiving approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation, to install a Flashing Yellow Arrow signal for the eastbound left turn at this intersection,” Parker said.

The Flashing Yellow Arrow signal will be the first of its kind in northwest Georgia and one of the first in Georgia period (Johns Creek and Cobb County are the only two other locations known to have these signals in Georgia). Many states such as North Carolina, however, have been using this technology for the better part of the last decade, and others, including Tennessee, Texas, Michigan, Missouri and Oregon, have also installed these signals.

In fact, earlier this year, the city of Chattanooga installed Flashing Yellow Arrow signals at several intersections along Highway 153.

“We believe the installation of the Flashing Yellow Arrow signal here will provide more opportunities for drivers to turn left when there are sufficient gaps in westbound through traffic,” Parker said.

A national study conducted for the Federal Highway Administration demonstrated the new signals help to prevent crashes, increase intersection capacity and provide additional traffic management flexibility for road agencies.

Studies have also shown that drivers catch on to the new lights quickly.

“Researchers and professional traffic engineers have found that the Flashing Yellow Arrow signal indication is more intuitive to drivers than the standard green ball signal,” Parker said. “Studies have shown that the lights reduce driver delay and wait time by as much as 28 percent.”

The new signal is simple to understand, he said.

When the traditional green arrow is on, it’s OK to turn left because oncoming traffic is stopped.

When the flashing yellow arrow is on, drivers can turn left after yielding to oncoming traffic and pedestrians, proceeding with caution. Remember, oncoming traffic still has the green light and does not have to yield to you.

When the yellow arrow becomes steady, drivers should treat it just like a standard yellow light — prepare to stop or safely clear the intersection before the steady red arrow appears.

Signage will be installed next to the Flashing Yellow Arrow signal which clearly states: “Left Turn Yield on Flashing Yellow Arrow.”

With the Federal Highway Administration approving the use of the Flashing Yellow Arrow signal, Parker says you can expect to see more of the lights across Georgia, and the rest of the nation, in the coming years.

For more information on the Flashing Yellow Arrow signal and an online informational video, visit the city of Dalton’s website at