As more North Americans seek healthier and greener lifestyles, cycling continues to grow in popularity. But for all the upsides, there are serious risks for those on two wheels, ranging from injuries to fatalities. As a cyclist, I’ve become hyper-aware of both sides of the clichéd fence…and road.
The responsibility for road safety is a mutual obligation: drivers can be thoughtless, refusing to share the road. Similarly, cyclists can ignore local laws or not learn them, including the important use of hand signals. Regular traffic signals can present another peril in that they don’t give cyclists enough time to clear an intersection.
The installation of special bicycle traffic signals can reduce accidents and improve traffic flow. Predictability is an important factor in street safety and the combination of bike lanes and bike signals give all street users a more predictable environment – we know who is going where, when.
While not a new concept in European cities, bike traffic signals are becoming—fortunately—more common in North America. Leon Kaye, a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com, writes about progress in Salem, Oregon, where statewide legislation has added bicycle signals to the state’s required traffic control systems.
“The bicycle-specific traffic lights are a cost-effective way to keep traffic moving and all commuters safer,” Kaye explains. “Their average cost is about $1,000 per light; new traffic lights can cost a minimum of $80,000.” This investment makes sense.
In California, bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles. The city of Davis, CA, changed its municipal code to clarify that at intersections with bicycle signals, riders should only obey the bicycle indications.
Bicycle signals can be incorporated into regular traffic signals or can stand alone. Some are pre-timed, while others are activated when a cyclist approaches the intersection. Bikes will typically get a few seconds’ head start through an intersection; their signal will turn green before the vehicles behind. This gets bikes out in front of cars in the traffic flow, so that they are more visible to drivers of cars.
The Prudent Cyclist applauds the bike signals installed in Vancouver. “At some intersections, right turns by motor vehicles have been disallowed. At other intersections where there’s demand for right turns by motor vehicles, traffic is separated by alternating phases of traffic lights,” he explains. “On a green light for bicycles and pedestrians, right-turning motor vehicles have a red. When motor vehicles’ right turn signal switches to green, the light for bicycles and pedestrians turns red.”
Watch for more bike signals to appear across North America as more citizens comprehend the benefits of bicycling, and the benefits of bike safety.
Are there bicycle traffic signals in your community? Where are bike signals needed most?
photo credits: Science Museum (UK); theprudentcyclist.com; City of Alexandria, Virginia; LADOT Bike Program
Guest Author Bio
Professional writer and researcher Shannon Kernaghan has created great content in many print and online forms, for industries and professional groups across the U.S. and Canada.
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