Mats Jarlstrom seeks to increase yellow-light interval times

A Beaverton man who’s spent several months on a crusade to change yellow-light timing intervals at city intersections upped the ante this week by filing a civil complaint in federal court against the city.

The lawsuit claims the yellow sequence in city stoplights — particularly intersections equipped with automatic “red-light” cameras — are too short to allow drivers to safely navigate intersections. Mats Jarlstrom filed the complaint on Tuesday morning at the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Portland, in conjunction with a news conference at the office of his attorney Michael E. Haglund.

If successful, the case will require the city’s yellow-light intervals to be lengthened to at least 3.5 seconds, a standard Jarlstrom claims most intersection signals don’t meet.

“This is first and foremost a lawsuit about safety,” Jarlstrom said in a news release he issued before the media event, which attracted two local TV stations along with the Beaverton Valley Times. “The city of Beaverton’s yellow-light intervals are so short that the driver who is too close to the intersection to stop safely when the yellow light illuminates is not able to clear the intersection before the light turns red.

“This exposes both pedestrians and drivers who are moving across the intersection with the green light to the risk of injury or death due to the illegally short yellow-light intervals,” he added.

Jarlstrom has taken his concerns and complaints to the City Council for months since his wife received a red-light camera ticket last fall at Southwest Allen Boulevard and Lombard Avenue in Beaverton. Video footage provided by the city clearly shows his wife’s vehicle entering the intersection after the light already turned red.

Jarlstrom didn’t dispute this at the news conference, explaining that his goal goes beyond the resulting $260 ticket he and his wife paid. He hopes his efforts will increase pedestrian safety while “dramatically” reducing the number of tickets issued from the red-light cameras.

“I can’t do anything about my wife’s citation,” he said. “I’m trying to investigate this issue further.”

Haglund, who is seeking information from the city regarding accident patterns, violation numbers and other data, plans to file a motion seeking summary judgment on the suit within three to six months.

Bill LaMarche, the city of Beaverton’s public information manager, stressed that traffic-signal intervals are determined by the Oregon Department of Transportation. The lawsuit, he noted, is misguided based on Jarlstrom’s own stated goals.

“Mr. Jarlstrom should not have filed this lawsuit,” he said. “His real aim is to change state law regarding yellow-light timing at intersections. Instead of filing a lawsuit against Beaverton, he should have taken this matter to the state Legislature.”

City Attorney Bill Kirby is reviewing the complaint document.

“All the time, energy and effort would be much better served at the legislative level, rather than wasting Beaverton taxpayer money to defend against this lawsuit,” LaMarche said, defending the city’s red-light camera program as safety-enhancing technology benefitting residents and visitors. “Beaverton has followed Oregon law and is in compliance with ODOT standards for yellow-signal timing ... We take the safety of our residents very seriously.”

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