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Never right on red? DC closer to passing ban on red light turns

The council bill also allows cyclists to use the "Idaho Stop" at red lights.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — Some big changes may be coming to D.C. roads. A citywide ban on right turns on red lights is one step closer to becoming a reality.  

On Tuesday, the DC Council voted unanimously to move the Safer Streets Amendment Act for a second vote. However, many council members have expressed concern about the bill’s intention and enforcement. 

Reggie Payne is a food delivery cyclist in Navy Yard. “If I can touch your car - you’re too close,” he said as he stood by his electric bike, holding his arm out.

Payne was riding down Pennsylvania Avenue, SE in Capitol Hill, a 3-lane road with no bike lanes. After returning from a food delivery, Payne recounted that he kept his electric bike at 35 miles per hour but still had a car on his tail.

“I still had a person beep and go around me and less than 30 seconds later they’re sitting at a light and I’m 3 or 4 blocks down the road,” he said. “So am I slowing you down or are you slowing me down?”

Still, Payne doesn’t think the new city council amendment to ban cars from turning right on reds will do much to keep him safer.

“I don’t think it will do much I think it will allow them to be punished by law enforcement if they do get caught, but I don’t think they care or else they would stop now,” he said. “It’s most of the people who don’t ride bikes. I never had somebody with a bike on their car try to run me off the road.”

Thi-Lai Simpson is a cyclist and an avid walker and supports the ban.

“I think anything to encourage drivers to slow down is good,” she said. “I also think it’s going to make drivers angry and more aggressive.”

But many drivers are not happy with the plan. 

“They (cyclists) already took away most of the parking and the lanes are so narrow!” said one driver.

“I don’t agree with that at all,” said another driver.

“I think it could work with some enforcement,” said a third driver.

The measure builds on part of the Vision Zero plan initiated two years ago when no rights on red were banned in about 100 city intersections. This amendment calls for a ban at every light in the city in two years. Proponents believe that is enough time to allow DDOT to launch a public education campaign. The bill also allows cyclists or scooter riders to use the stop as a yield. That practice is referred to as an Idaho stop.

“Oftentimes, bicyclists are at risk of being rear-ended when stationary, right hooked when turning vehicles or sideswiped by vehicles decelerating past them after a stop,” explained Jeremiah Lowery safety advocate with the Washington Area Bicyclist Associations. “So, it's actually a lot simpler and safer for bicyclists to continue to maintain their momentum.”  

“This bill doesn’t allow folks to blow through red lights and stop signs, they must still yield to traffic and pedestrians,” said bill sponsor Councilmember Mary Cheh.

Still, some councilmembers wonder if the Idaho stop really makes cyclists safer including Councilmember At-large Anita Bonds. Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White worried the ban would add to more traffic back-ups. Despite the discussion and concern, the amendment was accepted, and the bill passed unanimously. 

The bill is scheduled for a second vote in about two weeks. After that, the ban will likely be implemented on Jan. 2, 2025.

“Some people make mistakes, they’re rushing for work or whatever, but mistakes can cost people their lives,” said Payne.

RELATED: DC lowers speed limits, community leaders call for road changes and traffic safety

RELATED: Proposed right on red ban lacks data to support crash claims

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