Bloomington ban on red-light turns in downtown a good step, pedestrian advocate says, but more work needed

At nearly 80 new spots in Bloomington’s downtown and Indiana University campus area, it will be illegal for a vehicle operator to make a turn after stopping at a red light.

An existing “No Turn on Red” location on 7th Street at College Avenue, looking east. You can’t turn south on red.

On a 9–0 vote on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council approved the ordinance adding to the list of no-turn-on-red intersections to the city code.

In the staff report submitted for review by the city’s traffic commission, the stated purpose of the additional no-turn-on-red intersections is “to reduce crash risk for vulnerable road users.”

Vulnerable road users include pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized means of transportation.

The new local law is a good step, Bloomington resident Greg Alexander told the city councilmembers, but said there’s a lot of work to be done.

Based on the memo in the meeting information packet, Bloomington’s police department would not see much of an impact on their enforcement activity.

This is an excerpt from a map showing locations of signals where a turn on red would be prohibited. Blue dots indicate signals where turns on red are already prohibited. Red dots are signals where turns on red are proposed to be prohibited. (Image links to meeting information packet containing the full map.)

The memo says, “All traffic regulations (stop signs, speed limits, etc.) require direct observation by a police officer in order to be enforced.”

The memo continues, “Bloomington Police Department does not anticipate prioritizing resources to specifically enforce these proposed turn on red restrictions.”

The memo concludes that most drivers will comply anyway: “However, it is assumed that a majority of drivers do not intentionally violate laws.”

Under Indiana law, vehicles are allowed to make a right turn when the traffic signal shows red, if the way is clear.

Left on red is also allowed—“if turning from the left lane of a one-way street into another one-way street with the flow of traffic.”

Responding to questions at Wednesday’s meeting about whether it is, in fact, safer for pedestrians to prohibit turns on read, city of Bloomington senior project engineer Neil Kopper pointed to evidence from the National Clearinghouse of Crash Modification Factors.

In the clearinghouse there were 18 studies cited, Kopper said. He continued, “Every single one of those 18 indicated that you expect crashes to increase if you allow turns on red.”

The three sponsors of the ordinance were Kate Rosenbarger, Ron Smith, and Steve Volan.

Screenshot of search results in the National Clearinghouse of Crash Modification Factors (NCCMF ). The image links to the NCCMF website.

According to the memo in the council’s meeting information packet, Bloomington’s director of public works, Adam Wason, has pegged the cost of the new signage at $50 per sign plus $50 for installation for a total estimated cost of $8,000.

Speaking in support of the ordinance during public commentary time on Wednesday, was advocate Greg Alexander. He said, “Right turn on red is one of the most destructive behaviors for pedestrian transportation.”

He added, “While making the turn [drivers] will be looking left. They will always be looking left. They will not look right.”

Alexander described how a driver completing a right turn on red killed a student downtown last February. The driver was headed south on Washington Street, stopped at a red light at 3rd Street, then turned right onto 3rd Street, and struck a pedestrian in the crosswalk, killing her.

Indiana University law school student Purva Sethi died from the Feb. 8, 2020 crash.

Two weeks after the fatal crash, Alexander delivered public commentary at the city council’s Feb. 19, 2020 meeting, stressing that the engineering of roads dictates where drivers look when they turn. Alexander described the crash site at 3rd and Washington this way:

The SUV driver was waiting to make a right turn on red at 3rd and Washington. And he was looking to the left.. It’s a two-way road. But it’s two lanes each way. So even though it’s a big SUV, … he is going to want to use two lanes, probably, to make that right turn safely. You want to make sure that there’s not something coming right ya. And so they made it real convenient for him. He looks to the left, because there’s two lanes of traffic and you have to look to the left. There’s so many things coming at you in those two lanes of traffic that you have to look at. And there’s no reason, no reason to look to the right, because of the oncoming traffic and the left turn lane there. Those are 40 feet away from him. And so he’s looking to the left looking to the left. He goes. And Ms. Sethi was under his tires, before he realized he should have been looking right. Because the engineer gave them no reason to look right.

Here’s an excerpt from Alexander’s public commentary given at the Feb. 19, 2020 city council meeting.


Looking south at the intersection of 3rd and Washington Streets. The image, from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s property lookup system, is dated April 20, 2020, two months after Indiana University law school student Purva Sethi was killed in a crash, while crossing 3rd Street.

On Wednesday, after praising the ordinance, Alexander wrapped up his public commentary turn by saying, “There are significant challenges in the engineering of many intersections, when it comes to pedestrian safety. Right-on-red is not the only problem that we face.”

“This is a good step,” Alexander said, adding, “But there’s a lot of work to be done.”