INDOT signals expected to ease traffic flow

GREENFIELD — More of those flashing yellow arrows — which transportation experts say ease traffic flow but some drivers say are confusing — are coming to Hancock County.

Last week, new signals using a flashing yellow left-turn arrow were activated at two State Road 9 intersections — Muskegon and McClarnon drives — in hopes of easing traffic congestion. Last month, signals were activated at three other busy State Road 9 intersections: McKenzie and New roads and Green Meadows Drive.

The changes have prompted complaints from some drivers who said the arrows — which are accompanied by explanatory signs — are confusing, but officials with the Indiana Department of Transportation said traffic studies support their use, and more of the arrows are coming.

Nathan Riggs, INDOT spokesman, said the new traffic signals will be installed at State Road 9 and McKenzie Plaza and at U.S. 40 and Broadway Street soon.

Riggs said new traffic signals in Greenfield — as well as signals to be installed in the Fortville area next year — are part of a bigger contract the state department holds to install new signals at busy Indiana intersections.

A flashing yellow arrow allows drivers in the left turn lane to yield to oncoming traffic. The new signals improve intersection efficiency because they allows for more left turns while reminding drivers to be cautious, Riggs said.

The Federal Highway Administration has adopted the flashing yellow arrow as its preferred signal for intersections where drivers yield to oncoming traffic before turning, according to an INDOT news release.

The first signal featuring the arrow in Indiana was installed in the fall of 2013 at U.S. 40 and Salisbury Road in Richmond.

The cost per intersection for the upgrade is approximately $900, the release states.

A national study showed that drivers found flashing yellow left-turn arrows more understandable than traditional yield-on-green signals. The flashing yellow arrow communicates to drivers they must proceed with caution and decide if there is a sufficient gap in oncoming traffic to make a left turn, Riggs said.

“It’s just another tool in the box for engineers to use to find a balance in the location between safety and traffic flow,” he said.

In Greenfield, the new signals haven’t caused many traffic snarls, just a bit of confusion among drivers encountering them for the first time.

Greenfield Police Department Maj. Derek Towle, head of the city’s road patrol, said traffic along State Road 9 seems to flow more smoothly with the new lights. He has, however, heard some complaints from drivers that the lights are confusing. He expects as drivers get used to the new signals, those complaints will subside.

“It’s just like when we put in the roundabouts,” he said. “Eventually, everyone will get used to them.”

Towle said it might be some time before the city knows whether or not the new signals have helped decrease accidents. Those statistics are gathered and reviewed each year, but it can sometimes take several years to determine whether there is a pattern, he said.

But some drivers aren’t impressed with the new signals.

Dan Holly, a Hancock County resident, said he and his wife nearly crashed with a driver who turned left onto New Road in front of their northbound car.

He said he doesn’t think the arrows are necessary and might be more dangerous.

“People get impatient,” he said. “I’m not even sure why they’re there.”

He’d rather see the money invested in those lights put toward installing a turn signal at the intersection of State Road 9 and U.S. 40.

Across the state, as INDOT-controlled signals age and are ready to be replaced, INDOT officials will install new devices capable of featuring the flashing arrow, but not every intersection will utilize the feature, Riggs said. 

“This is the new standard that people are going to see more and more of,” he said.

Staff writer Caitlin VanOverberghe contributed to this report.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.