Road Worrier

DOT revisits crash-prone spot

Staff WriterOctober 20, 2009 

Warning: Traffic safety engineers at work.

The last time they tinkered with the signals at Glenwood Avenue's twin intersections with Westgate and Lumley roads, state Department of Transportation engineers set off an astonishing rash of red-light crashes.

This time, let's hope their work makes things better -- not worse.

It was the death of bridegroom Chris Raynor, just four hours before he was to be married on Sept. 12, that prompted DOT to take a fresh look at these complicated intersections in northwest Raleigh.

An Asheville man was speeding down the offramp from westbound Glenwood when he ran a red light and hit the car in which Raynor was riding on Westgate. He faces a misdemeanor charge of death by vehicle.

Traffic engineers checked accident records and found a shocking pattern of crashes involving cars struck on the side or "T-boned" by other cars running a red light.

But Raynor's death didn't fit this pattern. Since July 2004, only one other crash has been blamed on a westbound Glenwood driver who failed to stop for the Westgate light.

The big problem has been drivers on Westgate who ran the light at westbound Glenwood. They have caused 47 T-bone crashes in five years, including a fatal wreck in April 2008.

Red light, green light

What's been happening? In many cases, these Westgate drivers were taking their cues from the wrong traffic signal.

Instead of seeing the red light for westbound Glenwood, they were looking 200 feet down the road -- under the Glenwood overpass -- at the green light for Lumley and eastbound Glenwood.

"Vehicle No.1 mistook a traffic signal a short distance away as his own and proceeded into the intersection," says the police report of a July 30 crash on Westgate at Glenwood. The driver was charged with running a red light.

So DOT engineers have made it easier for drivers to see the right signal -- and harder to see the wrong one.

They have added more signals at these twin intersections on both sides of the Glenwood overpass. They've framed them with black rectangles to make them stand out more.

And they've planted taller poles to lift the signals a few feet higher above the road, so a driver on Westgate no longer sees that Lumley light at the other end of the tunnel under Glenwood.

David B. Phipps, a DOT regional traffic safety engineer, thinks these and other steps will make the intersection safer.

"I absolutely do," he said. "What's been done out there so far is going to help quite a bit. All these things are designed to diminish red-light running."

16 crashes in 23 days

Of course, DOT engineers also thought they were doing the smart thing back in April 2005. They made seemingly sensible adjustments to that stop-and-go signal on the south side of the overpass.

But drivers on Lumley were confused by the change. They kept running through the red light at eastbound Glenwood.

Nine people were hurt, and 39 cars and trucks were damaged in a spate of 16 crashes at Lumley and Glenwood, all in the space of 23 days.

That's how long it took DOT engineers in 2005 to admit their error -- after a lot of nagging from the Road Worrier -- and to undo the damage. They were actually on hand to witness the 16th crash, which occurred as they were preparing to reverse the changes they had made.

We can help DOT watch for any ill effects of its latest improvements at Glenwood and Westgate/Lumley. If you see somebody running the light out there, at either end of the tunnel, tell the Road Worrier.

Enlighten the Road Worrier: blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or 919-829-4527 or bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com. Please include address and daytime phone. Comments welcome.

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