Back-Seat Driver

Can traffic engineers teach old drivers new tricks?

A new Raley's store is under construction at the site of the former Hubacher Cadillac dealership on the northwest corner of Fair Oaks Blvd. and Howe Ave.
A new Raley's store is under construction at the site of the former Hubacher Cadillac dealership on the northwest corner of Fair Oaks Blvd. and Howe Ave. Ed Andersen

If you’re driving on Howe Avenue, you may run into a traffic signal you’ve never seen before – a flashing yellow arrow, pointing to the right, where drivers angle onto Fair Oaks Boulevard toward the H Street Bridge.

Why is it there, and what exactly are you supposed to do?

Now that a new drugstore is going in at that corner – the old Hubacher Cadillac site – traffic managers want drivers to be more cautious.

Formerly, you could make that turn without even stopping. Now, the turn is governed by a signal light, for pedestrian safety and to reduce crashes while merging. Sometimes, you’ll get a red arrow. That means stop and wait. But, in addition to turning green, the light offers a flashing yellow arrow. Your job: “Proceed with caution.”

Howe Avenue won’t be the only place in the region where drivers will see flashing yellow arrows. Sacramento traffic chief Hector Barron said he and his counterparts in other cities are talking about adding flashing yellow arrows for left turns at some intersections.

Typically, drivers can turn left on a circular green light. But that can be dangerous when traffic is flying at you from the other direction.

Barron said engineers think adding flashing yellow arrows at some signals would be a good way of warning drivers to be careful as they make the left turn.

The yellow arrow idea may be useful as well in making some intersections more efficient by letting drivers make cautious left turns where they now must wait at a red light.

“It can ease congestion and eliminate folks idling at intersections,” Barron said.

The region’s traffic officials will be cautious themselves about any potential changes, he said. They want to coordinate an education campaign beforehand. They know that a confused driver is a bad driver.

Tahoe’s into roundabouts

Tahoe traffic is going in circles, and that’s a good thing. Placer County just won a national award for taming traffic in Kings Beach, the bustling little beach town on the Lake Tahoe north shore. The county built a couple of roundabouts, reducing roadway lanes, and added bike and pedestrian areas.

Roundabouts are designed to slow traffic, reduce chances of crashes, and eliminate the need for cars to line up at stop signs. I think it’s working. Traffic does seem less congested this summer through Kings Beach. It’s definitely easier to scurry barefoot across the street.

Next up, officials expect to start construction later this summer in Tahoe City on a new Fanny Bridge and a new bypass bridge over the Truckee River a few hundred yards downstream for pass-through traffic on Highway 89.

Sadly, historic Fanny Bridge is crumbling, and Tahoe officials felt it was not worth saving. The adjacent replacement one will look like the old one but be wider with more room for pedestrians and bicyclists.

This project outcircles the one in Kings Beach: It’ll have three roundabouts.

What will arena transit cost?

Sacramento Regional Transit has been hoping to work a deal with local businesses for sponsorships that would allow it to offer free light-rail rides to people attending arena events this fall.

That deal has not yet come together. The agency is looking into an alternative: Creating a discounted arena-user pass. In either case, the bus and rail agency’s idea is that a big boost of new arena riders will lead to more everyday riders, more money and improved services for all down the road.

It’s unknown, at this point, just how many Kings and concert fans will choose light rail. My bet is 2,000 per game in the first season. RT is planning for double that amount, just in case.

Henry Li says Sacramento RT needs a major overhaul right away to improve service and regain its financial footing.