It came out of the West, from the birthplace of fast food and "Have a Nice Day," rolling silently across the nation, enveloping cities, counties, even entire states, until even the federal government could not ignore it. And when the federal government finds something it cannot ignore, it is either taxed or made mandatory.
In such a way has Right-Turn-on-Red (RTOR) come to Washington.
The phenomenon of RTOR shares a common genesis with fast foods: Supporters of both are in a great hurry. Ask someone to wait several minutes for a hamburger to be grilled to order or 15 seconds for a light to change and the answer is likely to be "Why should I?"
Edibility and safety have joined the Snail Darter as endangered species.
RTOR legitimizes what has long been accepted as fact -- the automobile has more rights than the pedestrian. It used to be that a pedestrian who wanted to safely cross a street was supposed to look left-right-left. This was considered adequate to guard against errant automobiles. Now, however, pedestrians have to look left-right-left-right-left-right-left as they scurry across the street to guard against drivers who consider a red light as nothing more than a merge sign.
To be fair, the fear of some that RTOR would turn the District into a bumper-car arena has not occurred. There are several reasons for this:
Maryland and Virginia drivers were practicing RTOR in the District for months before it became legal here. These drivers did everything they could to make it realistic by not stopping and not looking before turning and by turning right on red at horrifying locations such as Washington Circle at rush hour.
District drivers have long engaged in several other deviant driving practices to keep pedestrians on their toes. Such as "straight-ahead-on-red" and "driving against the flow" on one-way streets.
The District currently prohibits RTOR at nearly all of its intersections. This was done to taunt the Department of Transportation officials who ordered RTOR.
(Note: The intersection at New Hampshire Avenue and M Street NW southbound does not have a "No-Turn-on-Red" sign. This must be the intersection to which federal officials are brought when they complain about the District's lack of compliance with RTOR).
Someday, however, many of these signs will come down and District drivers and pedestrians will be able to experience RTOR in all its splendor. At its worst, this is a city version of merging onto the Beltway. There are, however, few pedestrians trying to cross the Beltway.
And while RTOR, is now allowed , it is not required. It can be difficult to explain this difference to the driver behind you who is leaning on his horn and cursing at you to go through the red light. Please . . . it takes longer for some of us to adjust to mid-life changes in the basic rules of civilization.
This, then, is the state of RTOR. But those who are still not satisfied might consider lobbying for:
Changing all Stop signs to Yield signs.
Changing all traffic signals to flashing yellow lights.
Taking down the walk/don't walk signs and replacing them with signs that have only one message for pedestrians: "Run like hell!"