A regulation permitting motorists in the District of Columbia to make right turns at specified red traffic signals was officially adopted yesterday by the D.C. Transportation Department.
Starting early next year, the new rule will permit such turns only at intersections where signs are posted saying they are legal. This is the opposite of a rule adopted by most states, including Maryland and Virginia, that permit turns on red lights except where they are specifically prohibited by signs.
Douglas N. Schneider Jr., D.C. transportation director, has estimated that such turns will be permitted at only about 200 of the city's 1,400 signaled intersections, probably none of them in the congested downtown area.
Such a relatively small number is dictated, Schneider say, by the city's unique layout, with so many diagonal streets and traffic circles, and by the large number of streetside trees that restrict visibility.
In adopting the new rules, the transportation department also wrote a new traffic regulation requiring that any motorist preparing to make right turns on red lights must yield the right-of-way to any pedestrians walking in crosswalks. Before turning, the regulation says, motorists must come to a full stop, then proceed cautiously.
The District was one of the last governmental units in the nation to adopt the rule, which is mandated by a 1975 energy law passed by Congress.
Sen. Dale Bumpers ;D-Ark.), who promoted the national rule as a gasoline-saving measure, forced the issue locally by persuading Congress to withhold $400,500 in federal energy funds from this year's D.C. Transportation Department budget until the city complied. Schneider said such a budget cut would have, required the firing of about 25 departmental employes.
At a hearing last May, Bumpers voiced irritation at having to stop and wait to turn while commuting between his Bethesda home and Capitol Hill.
Adoption of the rule will not bring an end to the controversy, since the procedures adopted by the city require that all proposed intersections be reviewed by the affected advisory neighborhood commissions and by recognized community organizations.
Schneider has speculated that many proposals to install the rule will be attacked by ANCs as potential hazards to neighborhood children.
Under law and court decisions, the city is required to give serious consideration to ANC recommendations. US. Department of Energy rules require, however, that the city must permit the turns at "substantially all safe intersections," limiting the leeway for arbitrary restraints.
Under the adopted procedure, city traffic engineers will check all signaled intersections to see which ones meet the guidelines for permitting right turns. The review will start on arterial streets, to be followed by a check of residential neighborhoods. ANCs will be given 30 days to review the lists of proposed installations.
That timetable would indicate that it will be next spring, at the earliest, before the new rule actually will begin to have an effect on traffic flow.
The primary requirement for selecting intersections for right turns is visibility. Under the guidelines, for example, a driver entering a street with a speed limit of 35 miles an hour must be able to see 220 feet without obstruction.
Right turns on red will be prohibited at intersections where:
The street and sidewalk layout causes vehicular or pedestrian conflicts.
"Significant" numbers of children, the elderly or handicapped regularly cross.
There is a "high volume" of pe- [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
There is an exclusive pedestrian "walk" signal.
Under D.C. procedure, Schneider published the proposed right-turn rule in the D.C. Register, the city's weekly compendium of legal notices, on Sept. 29. Only three citizens commented, all opposed. The rule became effective with the publication of a formal notice in yesterday's edition of the register.