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Yellow arrow, for 'yield before turning,' may soon be added to traffic lights

ARLINGTON -- Motorists soon may notice a colorful change in the left-turn lane at intersections in Texas and across the United States.

A new federal rule encourages cities to do away with the solid green lamp on traffic signals in the left lane -- which under current law is the commonly accepted way of telling motorists that it's OK to turn left after yielding to oncoming traffic. Instead, the Federal Highway Administration wants cities and states to begin replacing that solid green ball with a flashing yellow arrow.

The flashing yellow arrow makes it more clear to drivers that they must proceed cautiously before turning left, federal officials say.

Safety research shows that a solid green light sometimes gives motorists the false impression that they have the right of way -- "green means go," right? -- which can lead to avoidable collisions at intersections.

In cities such as Arlington, officials may begin replacing signals this year if the state clears the way for the change. Other cities could soon follow suit, although they would have several years to switch out their signals.

"Right after the Super Bowl we will begin a pilot project at selected intersections," said Paul Iwuchukwu, Arlington traffic engineer.

After the game Sunday, he said, city officials will begin narrowing their choice of streets on which to start adding the flashing yellow arrow, with the most likely candidates being major north-south arterials such as Collins and Cooper streets.

How it works

Before cities can made widespread use of the flashing yellow arrow, the device must be approved by the Texas Transportation Commission, which is expected to consider the measure this year, spokesman Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Val Lopez said.

How the cycle would work:

Motorists who want to turn left would first get a green arrow, as they do today, giving them right of way.

The green arrow would switch to a steady yellow arrow, then a flashing yellow arrow, giving motorists permission to turn left after yielding to oncoming traffic.

The flashing yellow arrow would then change to a steady yellow arrow, and then a steady red arrow, when turning is no longer permissible.

Costly switchover

The switch would not affect larger intersections, where left turns are already permissible only with a green arrow.

Changing the signals could cost large cities such as Arlington and Fort Worth several million dollars, although the cost would be spread out over many years.

Arlington has 340 signalized intersections, and about 75 percent of them could be candidates for a flashing yellow arrow, Iwuchukwu said.

The precise cost of a signal with a yellow flashing arrow isn't known, but a typical device with five signal heads costs around $700, he said. A signal with the flashing yellow arrow would have four signal heads -- one each for green, red, steady yellow and flashing yellow arrows.

But federal officials say the use of the flashing yellow arrow is optional for states, and cities will have many years to make the switch as part of their normal capital costs for traffic signals, Federal Highway Administration spokesman Doug Hecox said.

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