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Proposed right on red ban lacks data to support crash claims

DC Council pressing for Safer Intersections Act, which would ban right turn on red lights for nearly every intersection.

WASHINGTON — It's something that drivers around the nation take for granted: the ability to turn right on a red light. But in DC, that could soon be illegal at nearly all intersections. District leaders say it’s for pedestrian and biker safety, but WUSA9 examined the supporting data.

Rojyar Poozesh owns Picasso Custom Framing on 17th and R Street Northwest DC. He says traffic and lack of parking is strangling his Dupont Circle business, “It's actually been very difficult for us, you know, just dealing with the traffic, getting our deliveries, my customers now. I've actually started offering to pay their tickets when they come in.”

Poozesh sees DC council’s latest push to ban right turn on red at nearly all traffic lights as causing even more backups. “Because it's just putting me in a situation where it's untenable for us.”

Credit: Tom Kopania
Picasso Custom Framing owner Royjar Poozesh

With the support of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association DC Councilmember Mary Cheh is pushing the Safer Intersections Act.

 “This whole right turn on red originated, you know, in the 1970, and it was to save fuel,” said Cheh.

In 2018, DC's Department of Transportation announced plans to do away with Right on Red starting with 100 intersections in a pilot project. The changes were part of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's "Vision Zero Initiative" to end all traffic related fatalities and serious injuries.

WUSA9 wanted to analyze whether pedestrian and biker safety improved at those 100 intersections.

Credit: Tom Kopania
A bicycle crosses a street near DC's Dupont Circle

We asked DDOT for the crash data. It said it will take months to prepare. We asked for a sample of ten intersections in Wards 3 and 7 and analyzed those.

WUSA9 found that in 2018, before the ban, those ten intersections had 28 total injuries, most involving people inside cars. In 2021, after the ban, crash injuries went up to 39. Pedestrians and cyclists fared better. In 2018, three pedestrians and three bicyclists were injured. In 2021, those numbers went down to one pedestrian being injured, and no bicyclists.

RELATED: Proposed legislation would allow cyclists, scooters to yield at stop signs and ban right turn on red in DC

"I had to balance, whatever we're talking about in terms of maybe a longer time to go through a light and safety, I would pick safety," explained Councilmember Cheh.

Nicholas Delle Donne is president of the East DuPont Civic Association opposing the right turn on red ban. "We’re the guinea pigs. We’re the ones who take the brunt.”

Credit: Tom Kopania
WUSA9's Nathan Baca walks with members of the East Dupont Civic Association

The only other major city that bans right turn on red entirely is New York. WUSA9 found a New York City report when it temporarily lifted the ban in Staten Island. It admitted ‘The intersections where Right Turn on Red is allowed have not seen significant changes in the overall number of crashes, nor in the number of crashes involving injuries to pedestrians.”

RELATED: 'Ride of Silence' | DC cyclists, pedestrians want safety improvements now

Some DC neighbors believe the District needs to prove lives will be saved before changing how everybody drives. "I think they need to do a lot more research," said Poozesh.

Another group that agrees more research needs to be done: DC's Department of Transportation. During a May 5th council hearing, it announced its opposition to the council’s one size fits all ban. Instead, it wants to keep the default of allowing right on red unless it has accident numbers to back banning them on a one-by-one basis.

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