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Follow the yellow arrow, Pa. drivers

Greg Gross
  • Flashing yellow arrows aim to reduce crashes while also improving air quality
  • The signals may pop up on East Market Street in Spring Garden and Springettsbury townships next year

A new, safer way of turning left is coming to intersections in Pennsylvania.

The state Department of Transportation recently unveiled the flashing yellow arrow, which allows motorists to make a left turn when there's no oncoming traffic.

Traffic lights are shown at the intersection of Memory Lane and East Market Street in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, May 25, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert  photo

"It's different. That seems to be the preferred alternative," said PennDOT spokesman Mike Crochunis.

Several states already use the flashing yellow arrows, which have resulted in a 20 percent reduction in crashes at those intersections, according to PennDOT.

The signal is used at intersections with a left-turn lane. A green circular light indicates other traffic is stopped to allow left turns, while the flashing yellow arrow allows left turns if oncoming traffic is clear. Drivers  previously faced a red light in that lane.

The state's first flashing yellow arrow was installed earlier this month just off Route 15 in Cumberland County, but don't expect to see the new signals in York County anytime soon.

Locally: Municipalities are in charge of signals in their territory and would have to apply to PennDOT to install the new signal, Crochunis said.

That hasn't happened yet in York County, but county officials are pushing for municipalities to consider the flashing yellow arrow when updating old signals or installing new ones.

The York County Planning Commission is targeting a stretch of East Market Street between Belmont Street in Spring Garden Township and Mount Zion Road in Springettsbury Township as an area where the new turn signals could be installed, said Will Clark, the commission's chief of transportation planning.

The traffic signals in the area are slated to be updated next year.

"We are currently trying to educate these two municipalities about the benefits of the yellow arrow on this project. We started the conversation with them and will hopefully have a decision in the near future," Clark said in an email.

Apart from improving traffic flow, the signals also improve air quality since vehicles aren't idling at red lights for long periods of time, Clark and PennDOT said.

Intersections that have a high volume of traffic for short periods of time, versus those with high volumes for long periods of time, would best benefit from the flashing yellow arrows, Clark said.

"If a municipality is upgrading a signal, we would recommend that they evaluate this in each upgrade," he said.

— Reach Greg Gross at or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.