Increasingly, towns have been adding signs and lines designed to allow bicyclists to trigger traffic lights. Whether the signs are well placed and easy to view varies from one location to another. Even so, the sign’s images usually attract a cyclist’s attention.
It’s clear that the signs are meant for cyclists and the words are clearly instructions. Yet the lines that appear on the signs can be confusing in many ways.
The signage varies in wording. Some signs say: “bicycles stop on line for green.” Others say, “to request green wait on line.” And a few contain half words and half pictures. The words say: “to request green wait on” and then there is a picture of a bicyclist positioned over a line. (See image at the top of this post.)
Now if a cyclist has seen the signs with full wording on them, the half-word-half-picture sign would be meaningful. But, for a novice cyclist who has seen few bicycle signs or someone visiting the U.S. for the first time, such signs might be difficult to interpret.
To complicate matters, the lines on these signs are positioned in different directions. The lines can be either horizontal or vertical.
The content of the sign gives a cyclist an idea of what is required. It connotes a line somehow wired to trigger the traffic light. Unfortunately, neither type of sign tells the cyclist exactly where to stand to trigger the light.
Every intersection has multiple lines. There is a stop line which tells vehicles where to stop. And there are two lines for the crosswalk. How is a cyclist to know exactly which line to stop on and how far from the curb to stop?
There is really no official source of guidance on this matter. A cyclist must experiment at every intersection. Moving the bike back and forth over the intersection lines is a good way to start.
If this doesn’t work, then moving the bike closer or farther from the curb is another way to test the “wait on line” approach to green light triggering. At some intersections, it is possible to determine the best spot to stop on, assuming that the cyclist is willing to put in the time and effort.
What makes this an extremely arduous task is that some of these intersections are not calibrated properly. No matter where the cyclist stops, the light will never turn green.
This creates quite a conundrum for the cyclist. Should he or she stop or go?
Ordinarily, a cyclist is permitted to travel through an intersection — through a red light — when there is no way to trigger a green light. It would be unreasonable to expect a cyclist to wait for a car to come along to trigger that light. So, in such cases, going through a red light is permitted.
But, with respect to a cyclist’s rights, what happens when the intersection contains a wait on line arrangement, and it does not work properly? Most cyclists who stop at red lights would wait a reasonable amount of time and then proceed through the red light.
In theory, this seems acceptable. Yet, if a police officer saw this action things might not be so clear. Could a cyclist be cited for running the red light in such circumstances?
In an ideal world, the answer would be “no.” However, ours is not an ideal world and many police officers are unfamiliar with the laws governing bicycle use. They admonish or ticket cyclists for imaginary infractions all the time. An example would be when they claim that a cyclist cannot take the lane.
Most, if not all, U.S. states permit bicycles to use an entire lane. Most cyclists know this. Large numbers of drivers and police are ignorant of this fact.
It’s highly unlikely that the same people would be sympathetic to a cyclist who ran a red light due to an inability to trigger a light where he was supposed to be capable of triggering it with his bicycle. They would want the cyclist to be held accountable for disobeying the traffic laws.
Even if a cyclist received a ticket for such an infraction, this would not be the end of the story. The ticket could be contested in court.
The only problem would be the difficulty of proving that the bicycle could not trigger the light. Testing and video footage showing the problem might be the only way for a cyclist to prevail in court. If that is not possible, eyewitness testimony might serve as a substitute.
A further complication would arise if a cyclist misunderstood the sign altogether. Misunderstanding what to do would not be unheard of for those signs with the vertical lines.
Intersections have no vertical lines. Not knowing where to position one’s bike to trigger a green light, in these cases, might be accepted as a valid excuse in court. Nonetheless, this would be left to the judge’s discretion.
Perhaps as more bicycle infrastructure finds its way into U.S. cities and towns, cyclists should take it upon themselves to monitor intersections with “wait on line” signs and to compile a database of those which do not work. Such a database could be used to prove one’s innocence in court.
Those cyclists who misinterpret the vertical signs, or who just do not understand the instructions on all of these signs, might find themselves at a judge’s mercy. As time passes, and more cyclists find their way onto the roads, these problems may become a thing of the past. In the interim, each cyclist will be forced to fend for him or herself, much like the way things were the wild west before the land was settled, and uniformity and order took hold.