A story from WCCO-TV last week answered a question that has likely been puzzling many commuters passing through Ramsey County: what are those blue lights popping up on traffic signals?
The report explains that the blue lights illuminate when a traffic signal changes to red, allowing a patrol officer to witness and enforce a signal violation more easily and safely. What the report doesn’t explain is the safety benefits to be gained from increased red light enforcement.
In Ramsey County, the proposal for a recent large deployment of blue lights came from traffic engineers, not police.
“Our county safety highway program conducted by MnDOT indicated a lot of right-angle crashes related to people running red lights,” said Ramsey County Planner Joseph Lux. “These are typically the accidents with the severest injuries.”
As part of the statewide Towards Zero Deaths (TZD) initiative in July 2013, MnDOT worked with counties to develop safety plans that emphasize low-cost, high-value safety improvements.
A federal grant is helping fund the installation of 128 blue lights at 49 intersections in Ramsey County (see locations) over the next two weeks. Deputies will begin enforcement later this month, but the hope is that the blue lights will be so effective, active enforcement won’t be necessary long-term.
A blue light, positioned on each of the four corner intersection poles, turn on whenever the opposite signal light turns red.
“The comments we’ve received from local police is they don’t want to write tickets; they just want people to quit running red lights,” Lux said.
The blue light indicators allow a police officer to view an infraction from many viewpoints, instead of having to pursue the offending vehicle through the intersection. Also only one squad is required to patrol an intersection; not two.
The blue light indicators have been shown to increase traffic safety. In Florida, crashes due to people running red lights fell by 33 percent, according to a low-cost safety improvement pooled fund study conducted on behalf of MnDOT and 37 other states.
Unlike Florida’s blue lights, Ramsey County’s are being placed on the signal pole, instead of the masthead. They’re more prominent than a couple indicators the county tried previously at accident-prone intersections in Little Canada and Maplewood.
“They’re bright and noticeable to the public, but not distracting, like the ones Florida puts on the masthead,” Lux explained.
According to WCCO-TV, the blue lights are funded by a $120,000 federal grant, with $13,000 in matching local funds.
Temporary signs will be put up by Ramsey County to notify the public of the new indicators.
A few other Minnesota communities — including Blaine, Crystal, Olmsted County and Dakota County — have also installed blue light indicators in recent years.
Lux explained that Ramsey County is installing blue lights on intersections that are easily enforced by law enforcement, as well as those that aren’t, in hopes that the public will obey them all because of the heightened presence.