Despite the signs on roads entering Washington, "Right Turn on Red Not Permitted in D.C.," such turns will be permitted sometime within the next 10 months at more than 50 per cent of the city's intersections with traffic lights, according to the District's transportation department.
Last fall city officials insisted right-on-red turns would not be allowed here - even though all 50 states now permit such turns and the city, by refusing to go along, jeopardized $300,000 in federal grants - because the Nation's Capital is too congested with cars and pedestrians.
This week, however, Douglas Schneider, the city's transportation department director, said "we will comply with the Energy Conservation Act and right-on-red will be in the plan we file in late March" with the federal Energy Administration.
A right-on-red law is one of five mandatory energy-saving measures that states and the District must adopt by Jan. 1, 1978 in order to share in $77.5 million in federal energy conservation funds.
Designed to help states, and the District, achieve a 5 per cent energy saving by 1980, the funds are available only if they have lighting efficiency standards for all public buildings, a program to promote carpools and mass transit, heating standards for new and renovated buildings and procurement policies to promote energy efficiency - and of course a right-on-red law.
The District has already received $52,000 and expects to receive another $320,000 over the next two fiscal years under the program.
Schneider says his staff is very conservative on the subject of right-on-red because there is already a very high pedestrian death rate here and they think allowing such turns might make life even more hazardous for those on foot. The pedestrian death rate in Washington reached an all time high last year when 34 pedestrians were killed, 57 per cent of the city's 60 traffic deaths.
But Schneider says studies have shown right-on-red does not increase accidents significantly, and that no fatalities have been attributed to it although it's been in effect for many years in many states - beginning with California in 1937.
Although the city transportation department could, on its own, order right-on-red here it has deferred to the City Council. The Council last year introduced but failed to act on such a law and it has been introduced again this session by Councilman John Wilson.
Wilson's proposed regulation would give the District a permissive right-on-red law, similar to that in Virginia and most other states, which allows such turns only if a sign is posted.
Schneider testified at Council hearings on right-on-red last year that he favors the permissive law, with the additional regulation that motorists must first yield the right of way to all pedestrians. That is also a requirement in most states.
But he said it should be prohibited in Washington's downtown central business district, around schools and in several congested parts of the city. The District has about 1,150 signalized intersections and Schneider has estimated right-on-red turns probably would be permitted at a little more than 50 per cent.
The council has set no dates for hearings on the present right-on-red bill.