Red Lights aren’t Supposed to be Forever!

So there you are, cruising down the road on your bike.  Enjoying the day, maybe running an errand or two, and you come to a traffic signal that turns red! Being the law-abiding cowboy (or cowgirl) that you are, you come to a complete stop, unclip from your pedals and wait for the light to turn green.

Now at this intersection you can see for MILES in either direction.  Nope no cars coming, but you are a law-abiding cyclist and you are going to wait for the light to turn.  Trouble is, this is a light with a sensor in the road that tells the light a car is waiting, and then it should turn green.  Now I ask, what is the key word in that last sentence. Yep, the key word is car (give the lady in the back row a cupie doll for coming up with it!)

The sensors in the roads are calibrated for cars.  I don’t know if its weight or a magnetic field, but it takes a car to trip them.  I’ve just recently learned that sometimes even motorcycles have troubles at these intersections.  Our law-abiding bike rider could starve to death waiting for the light to turn.

I’d like to take a second to Praise Port Townsend, WA, they have installed, and clearly marked, bike sensors for JUST this reason.  Must have been too many bikers starving to death waiting in town.

But in most towns, a cyclist has a few options:

  1. Bounce up on to the sidewalk and push the cross walk button
  2. Look both ways and run the red light
  3. Turn around and go home

The first option is annoying, and I have gotten glares from drivers and pedestrians since bikes aren’t really supposed to be on the sidewalk.  It also gives fodder to those people who say “You damn bikers, you make your own rules, sometimes you are vehicles, sometimes you are pedestrians, you do whatever is most convenient for you!” (For the record, there was one intersection that even in a car it wouldn’t work, I had to jump out, run to the button and sprint back!)

The second choice gives you the distinct possibility of a ticket from your friendly neighborhood police officer.  (And YES, cops will pull over people on bikes.  I have been pulled over for not stopping at a stop sign and for speeding (Yep speeding, doing 30 down a steep hill that was a 15 mph zone in a state park)  Both times I got lucky and just got a warning!)

Third option kinda limits your riding, and what happens if you hit another red light on the way home?!  You may never be seen again!

I bring all this up because there is a man representing motorcycles (but is including bikes as well) testifying before the Washington State Legislature asking for a change in the law.  He wants both motorcycles and bikes to come to a complete stop at these lights, but if the light does not turn green, he wants permission to treat them like a stop sign and go when traffic allows.  I heard this while driving to work this morning, and try as I might, I can’t find the name of the person doing this, so I can’t give him credit here.

I LOVE this idea!  While searching for the man’s name, it looks like Illinois and Kansas, as well as maybe Pennsylvania already have this law on the books.  To me it just makes sense!  It would cost big money to install bike sensors at every intersection, and many of us are doing this now already.  It would keep us all from running the risk of getting a ticket!

Most of us are smart enough (and those that aren’t Darwin will take care of) not to do this in dangerous intersections.  I already know of a couple I will still have to hit the cross walk button to have any chance in crossing (Sadly this is along the Interurban Trail the best route to Seattle from my house).  However, there are many MANY others that this would work perfectly on!  As I’ve said, I know this because I already do this at these intersections.

Now I fully admit, there will be issues.  How long should a person wait, how does a police officer know she waited, should some intersections be exempted?  I think all of these can be worked out if we just get the chance!

So, for the other cyclists out there, what do you think?  Would this work?  What do you do at intersections like this?

Like I said, red lights aren’t supposed to be forever!

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