Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

City to install blue traffic lights for catching drivers running red lights

July 1, 2013


Red means stop, green means go, blue means — wait, what?

Drivers on 23rd St. after Wednesday morning might be surprised to see blue traffic lights when they cross Louisiana and Iowa streets. The blue lights don't signal some new traffic rule; they're meant to help enforce an old standard: stopping at the red light.

City workers and researchers from the Kansas University School of Engineering are partnering to install eight blue lights Wednesday at the intersections of 23rd and Louisiana and 23rd and Iowa streets as part of an experimental traffic safety effort.

Drivers don't need to do anything different when they see the blue lights perched at the four points of each intersection, said Steven Schrock, one of the leaders of the research group and an assistant professor at KU's Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.

The blue light simply turns on when the existing traffic light turns red, allowing police to see from any direction whether a driver just made it through on yellow or blew the red light long after it turned.

Ordinarily, a police officer can only be sure of a red light violation if positioned directly behind the driver. The researchers see the blue lights as an alternative to automated red-light cameras, which are used to catch offending motorists in other states but are not allowed in Kansas.

Transportation officials say the human cost of ignoring red lights is significant. At least 676 people across the nation died in vehicle accidents in 2009, the most recent year for which national figures are available, because a driver ran a red light, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The project in Lawrence, and a twin version in Overland Park at the intersections of College Boulevard and South Quivira Rd, and W. 75th Street and Metcalf Ave., is being paid for with a $120,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Mid-America Transportation Center, a consortium of university research centers from across the Midwest.

The study group, also led by Eric Fitzsimmons, a researcher at the KU Transportation Research Institute, watched video of about a dozen intersections in Lawrence and consulted with city officials and police before settling on the intersections at Louisiana and Iowa Street. Those two were chosen because they handle a high volume of traffic and showed a persistent pattern of drivers running red lights.

The Lawrence Police Department did not seek out this this project in order to write more tickets, according to Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman. But officers will find it helpful in making sure the tickets they do write pass muster in court, and the blue lights will allow them to watch for red-light runners more safely, without having to position themselves in the middle of traffic.

Over the next six months, the KU researchers will continue studying all of those intersections — with and without blue lights — and report to city and state officials any differences they find.

Similar blue lights have been tried in Florida, Kentucky, Texas and Minnesota, but there hasn't been enough data collected to say for sure how well they work, Schrock said. For their part, city officials in Naples, Fla., where the blue lights were installed earlier this year, say it isn't clear what effect they have had on driver behavior.

The researchers hope the blue lights will affect driver behavior across a wider area than the two intersections, but say they won't know until they see how people respond. People might tend to run red lights at a certain intersections because the timing of the signals makes the wait seem longer than it is, Schrock said, or because it is a difficult place for police to catch them.

"If people seem to get the perception that 'I could cheat here,' or 'I can see that people are cheating here and not getting caught,' then the power of the red light to stop people is less," Schrock said. "But, if word gets out about the blue lights, maybe they'll say 'Not at this intersection.'"


consumer1 4 years, 4 months ago

If I understand this correctly, a police officer would have to be in the vicintiy during the infraction(s), correct? How long does the blue light stay on after the infraction? what is the margin of error, that is, ticketing the wrong car/truck/or bicycle/Motor cycle? Will it pick up when a bicycle runs the red light??? If not, why not?

Matt Schwartz 4 years, 4 months ago

My understanding after reading the article is that the blue light will light up in all traffic signals except where red shows, not infractions. Is that right?Hope that helps.

ksjayhawk74 4 years, 4 months ago

The light doesn't just go on when a car runs a red light. It turns on when the traffic signal turns red. So when a cop sees a car coming from the other side of an intersection, cross the intersection after the blue light went on, the officer knows the driver ran the red light.

Ian_Cummings 4 years, 4 months ago

That's right. Whenever the traffic signal goes red, the blue light goes on. There aren't any extra sensors or anything. Ian Cummings, LJW.

broadpaw 4 years, 4 months ago

I'm glad you responded to the comments, but isn't it a bit 'telling' that it took three people writing comments/questions on this article to find out what the article was trying to describe? If I hadn't read through the comments, I'd still be clueless. The reader is left completely to guess what the "blue lights" actually are.

broadpaw 4 years, 4 months ago

SORRY!!! I just realized that it's not a lack of information in the article. It was just some obnoxious poll placed OVER the article that prevented me from reading until I answered questions. Please forgive my earlier criticism.

John Hamm 4 years, 4 months ago

The officer - now - must be behind the vehicle in order to testify in court he did actually see both the red light and the vehicle crossing against it. With this system if the officer sees a blue light he can say, since the blue light is timed with the opposing red light, that the vehicle crossed the intersection against a red light.

pizzapete 4 years, 4 months ago

I actually don't think we have a big problem with people running red lights in Lawrence. We do have a problem with people not using their turn signals, however. And don't get me started talking about all the distracted drivers I see looking down at their phone as they go speeding by.

John Hamm 4 years, 4 months ago

Oh so wrong. Larryville is the Red-light-running capital of the US.

oldbaldguy 4 years, 4 months ago

may attention at stops before you proceed. idiots in Lawrence run red lights all the time.

Clinton Laing 4 years, 4 months ago

I could not disagree more strongly. A week does not go by that someone doesn't run a red light directly in front of me. And I am retired, and have no ongoing activity that keeps my out on the streets!

foxli 4 years, 4 months ago

As a car owner who indulges in the occasional walk, I've gotten in the habit of checking for people running the red light when my walk signal comes on. I've nearly gotten hit enough times in my car that it's a concern.

I do agree that more people around here need to remember their cars come with this handy-dandy signaling device (standard!) that requires no telepathy from other drivers to determine where they're going, but I think the problem with red lights is more dangerous and therefore more pressing.

pizzapete 4 years, 4 months ago

Interesting, I guess I was kind of comparing us with a bigger city like Chicago or NY where people if they're anywhere near the intersection when the light is changing speed up and rush through. I try not to drive much, expect for going to work, I'm mostly walking or riding a bike where I need to go. Judging by the number of responses, I stand corrected, it does appear to be a bigger problem than I thought.

windjammer 4 years, 4 months ago

I think you are wrong on the red lights and correct on the others.

Lisa Day 4 years, 4 months ago

"Ordinarily, a police officer can only be sure of a red light violation if positioned directly behind the driver. " So, the officer won't actually SEE with their OWN eyes this alleged violation. Hmm. Last I knew, that was called HEAR SAY, not admissable evidence. But that's only my opinion, as a private citizen.

John Hamm 4 years, 4 months ago

Not now. The 'blue' light indicates the cross traffic light is red. If he sees blue the driver was on a red.

Jason Johnson 4 years, 4 months ago

The officer will now know, since the blue light only comes on when it's a red light. Ergo, they will see, with their own eyes, the violation.

It's a simple circuit, too, if electricity doesn't flow through the red light, it will also not flow through the blue light.

geoismeo 4 years, 4 months ago

Bicycle riders won't care if the light is orange with baloons attached, the will ignore them anyway.

q_ball2kand1 4 years, 4 months ago

Where in this article does it say anything about bicyclists?

Suzanne Jacobsen 4 years, 4 months ago

Hey, why doesn't the city spend that money elsewhere, by putting in more left turn lights. Start with 6th and Michigan, proceed from there.

asixbury 4 years, 4 months ago

In the article, it states these blue lights were paid for through a grant. Grants can only be used for specific purposes. Don't worry, you didn't pay for this directly.

arch007bak 4 years, 4 months ago

Saw a story on KSHB 41 about this on the 5:00 news. They were being installed in OP today. They're barely visible in daylight, but the traffic engineer there said they think officers will be able to handle that after training. They also said each light costs either $150 or $250 (don't recall now which it was). They didn't say if that includes installation costs. Either way, that means $2400 or $4000 for the lights. Assuming it doesn't include installation, I'm guessing that would leave about $100k for the 6-month study. Seems like a lot...

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

$100,000 seems like a lot to you for the study?

If the use of the blue lights prevents only four serious accidents, two of which are fatal, it would seem to me to be a bargain. Remember, at one time the use of stop signs and traffic lights was only an experiment.

In_God_we_trust 4 years, 4 months ago

I wouldn't be surprised to see an increase in traffic accidents at these intersections, due to drivers watching for blue lights, instead of on coming traffic at intersections. It's a terrible driver distraction and these devices and red light cameras should be removed. They should concentrate on safety for drivers instead of writing more tickets.

Curtis Lange 4 years, 4 months ago

You realize the blue light isnt that big, right? You also won't even notice it is there unless you see it while wasting time looking around waiting at your red light. The ONLY time it is on is when your direction of travel's light is red. There is no distraction to this whatsoever.

Attached is a photo of Orlando's setup. During the day it will be even less noticeable to the bumbling fools that drive our roads.

In_God_we_trust 4 years, 4 months ago

Yes your right; it is a nice addition to the electronic police state. Lawrence is a perfect city to implement this wonderful device.

chootspa 4 years, 4 months ago

Wha huh? How is it suddenly a police state to make it easier to catch people that are running red lights?

Armored_One 4 years, 4 months ago

You do realize that the human psyche is not programmed for self moderation, right? Everybody has, at one point or another, considered any number of crimes, from jaywalking to mass murder. What stops most people is the punishment that would accompany being caught, not whether it was right or wrong.

So who is supposed to moderate social interaction, since the individual cannot be trusted to do it themselves? You can't really leave it to your neighbor, since he or she might have a grudge against you and act against the concept of 'fairness', and I use that term facetiously, and testify against you.

If only we could come up with a system, applied equally and unilaterally to all citizens, that would be independent of the concept of personal vendettas or other such nasty things.

I wonder what we could call it. Well, since it would exist to govern the actions of the people to prevent various forms of anarchy, I guess we could call it a government, but that would have too many people complaining about self determination, regardless of whether or not they were actually and truly capable of running every single aspect of their lives. Not to mention the headache of trying to avoid hassles, like how to deal with theft, murder, rape, running red lights...

Is that enough sarcasm for you In_God, or should I make an addendum post?

Richard Ballard 4 years, 4 months ago

I'm all for it! I see people running red lights and 'pink' lights almost every time I drive across town. I almost got hit by one yesterday evening at 19th. & Mass.

The only problem I see is, if the cops will bother to enforce the law when they see it being broken?? I see people running red lights, with a cop right behind them. They keep going, and the cop sometimes stops at the light! And the cop sometimes runs it too! But I have never seen a cop stop a red light runner in recent times for doing it.

Now off on another tangent! Why don't they enforce the double yellow line on Mass street??

I can't make it from 11th. & Mass to 6th. & Mass at 6:00 PM without some idjit pulling a U-turn in the middle of Mass to park crooked on the other side of the street.

Or a covey of texting jay-walkers running out in front of me without looking, two parking stalls away from an intersection, or mid-block cross-walk.

Lets enforce the traffic laws on Mass street, or repeal them all and make it a pedestrian mall with no cars at all!!


Curtis Lange 4 years, 4 months ago

Noticed tonight that Overland Park does this already as least at the College and Quivira intersection.

George_Braziller 4 years, 4 months ago

Maybe people wouldn't try to run the lights at 23rd and Louisiana if the left turn signals onto Louisiana stayed green for more than about 20 seconds. I've had to sit at that intersection through three cycles of lights because it isn't long enough for all of the traffic to turn. Sometimes only three or four vehicles are able to make it through before it turns red.

I know I've pushed it before because after five minutes of waiting I didn't want to have to sit there for another cycle of the lights.

Smarmy_Schoolmarm 4 years, 4 months ago

I don't believe the object is to raise revenue. I believe it is to make our streets safer and that is sorely needed in Lawrence. I've never seen so many people disregard the rules of the road. Maybe they just don't know them? That's what it often feels like.

Phoghorn 4 years, 4 months ago

This. Right. Here.

Granted, Lawrence does not have the traffic volumes of Chicago, Houston, Phoenix (or even Wichita for that matter), but too many of our streets and signals are poorly efficient. Many larger cities (and plenty of smaller ones), have become far more efficient than Lawrence when it comes to traffic flow.

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

After careful deliberation, I think this might be a good idea. if you know the sequence of lights, you could use the blue light to get a holeshot in a race down 23rd or Mass. This is assuming there is a lag between the opposing turn lane blue light going off and your green light coming on. If you launch when the blue goes off. you'll get that half-second or whatever jump on the other racer... errr, driver.

I approve. And always remember, real racing tires don't squeal.

Smarmy_Schoolmarm 4 years, 4 months ago

Since when do I have to respond to a Google questionnaire to be able to read more than the first couple of paragraphs of a story??? Is this a ghost in my machine or is it's problem?

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

It's because of a new partnership between google and the ljworld.

Joe Hyde 4 years, 4 months ago

I wish great success for our officers when using this blue light enforcement system. And I'm very pleased that the system is also being installed at some Overland Park intersections. That will directly benefit the safety of Lawrence streets.

From my years living in Lawrence I can say that Johnson County drivers, as a group, are the most frequent violators of our traffic laws. Not just stop lights but everything. I appreciate that most are university students; thus simply from being young they're automatically prone to impulsive behavior and we should expect a certain amount of that as a normal part of growing up.

What's not normal is pulling into an intersection on a green light and getting t-boned by a red light runner (no matter where the violator driver hails from). Any traffic control system, but especially a free one, that reduces intersection collisions is a fine improvement.

blindrabbit 4 years, 4 months ago

Hey, those blue lights are not very big, but they are sure bright. Went through the 23rd. and Iowa intersection last night (no, I did not run the "blue" light) but looked back from the west on 23rd. and could see them clear from Kasold!

windjammer 4 years, 4 months ago

That would make it way to simple kansasdaughter.

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

Just make sure you don't run lights at those intersections and they will conclude the lights aren't needed and not waste more money on them. Since they will have cops there watching, you will be less likely to get busted elsewhere for your impatience.

Billy Smith 4 years, 4 months ago

So instead of being parked in a church parking lot taking radar or driving around town typing on their computers, you mean that cops will be staking out these blue lights? Haha man these police earn their money. Glorified meter maids...

patkindle 4 years, 4 months ago

anyone stupid enough to run a red light would expect his rights to be protected against him getting a ticket, after all he is more important than the rest of us

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