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Road Rage Traffic Signal Raising Ire
No right hand turn on red?

Riverbank residents and visitors have long been irritated by a traffic sign on northbound Oakdale Road at the Patterson Road intersection that forbids a driver to turn right so long as the traffic signal is red even after stopping and yielding to cross traffic as the California law allows.

The sign has led to awkward situations where the first motorist waiting in line pays attention to the sign and stays stopped at the corner until the light turns green. Meanwhile, the people behind who cannot see the sign or don't care about it grow angry at a blockage apparently caused by a driver ignorant of the state vehicle code and begin honking or even indicating their displeasure with rude hand gestures.

The topic was raised at the Nov. 22 Riverbank City Council meeting by resident Ramon Bermudez, who frequently takes the stand to discuss city issues.

Called on for comment, Public Works Director Dave Melilli explained the sign was posted to reduce the danger of a driver turning right from Oakdale Road colliding with another making a U-turn from westbound Patterson Road.

Such U-turns are frequent because the earlier left hand turn from Patterson Road into the shopping center at Jack In the Box has been blocked by a raised median and cones, Melilli added. So drivers bound for the shopping center must continue west to the lights and either make a U-turn or go left onto Oakdale Road and then turn left again into the center.

Because Patterson Road is also State Route 108, it is controlled by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and not the City of Riverbank, which can only make proposals and negotiate with Caltrans.

Responding to questions from the council and the public, Melilli said city officials have frequent talks with Caltrans on highway traffic problems.

Caltrans was forced by state regulations on maximum traffic flow to cut off the often-dangerous left-hand turn across Patterson Road into the shopping center. It is unlikely to reopen that route. In fact, the department plans to eventually extend the median east as far as Estelle Avenue.

Caltrans has agreed, however, to reexamine the traffic problem at the lights. This could take several months.

Melilli suggested the prohibition against a right-hand turn on the red might be modified to a yield sign, noting the vehicles making a U-turn on Patterson have the lights in their favor and right of way over a right-turning vehicle.

He also suggested the sign, set about six feet high, is too far up to be seen by some vehicles once they are close under it. He also proposed there be an earlier, warning sign raised on northbound Oakdale Road or even a sign across the street at the Chevron gas station to inform drivers approaching the intersection.

"We're caught in a Catch 22 situation. Be careful what you wish for. You may get it," he said, adding his department gets frequent calls from a public that wants change but is seldom happy with the consequences.