Signs And Lines

To Request Green Stop On Line Sign

 

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.

Needham Street Bicycle Sign

Bicycle Stop On Line For Green Sign, Needham, MA – Courtesy of John S. Allen of bikexprt.com

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.

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12 Responses to Signs And Lines

  1. The “To Request Green, Wait on [picture of bicycle straddling a line]” sign is the US standard R10-22 “Bicycle Signal Activation sign”, defined and described in FHWA’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), Section 9B.13. However, to be most effective the sign should be accompanied by a pavement marking — also standardized in the MUTCD — that shows where to wait (on an inductive detector loop, or in the area of the lane that is best for being detected by a video image detector camera). That marking, called the Bicycle Detector Symbol, is described in MUTCD Section 9C.05 and depicted in MUTCD Figure 9C-7. It consists of two “tire tracks” showing where to place your wheels, with a bicyclist icon between.

    Note that the device and section names follow MUTCD-speak and so can be misleading. Thus:

    * The R10-22 sign is not just for use at Bicycle Signals (which are in California’s MUTCD but not yet in the US MUTCD)

    * The marking is not just for detectors specific to bicycles, as might be present in a bike lane, and not just for inductive (loop) detectors.

    The US (FHWA) MUTCD is on the web. MUTCD Part 9 includes many bicycle-related devices (signs, markings, and someday signals):

    http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009/part9/part9_toc.htm

    John Ciccarelli
    Bicycle Solutions
    San Francisco
    Member, National (NCUTCD) Bicycle Technical Committee
    Member, California Traffic Control Devices Committee (CTCDC)

    • John,

      Thanks for the detailed information; it is very enlightening. However, other than well-qualified individuals like yourself, how many people do you think have read the MUTCD or would go through it in enough detail to understand what the “To Request Green, Wait on [picture of bicycle straddling a line]” sign means?

      Here in Massachusetts, we do not have the pavement marking that you refer to. I have never even seen one. Without it, very few people would understand what the sign means or where to stop.

      The photo at the top of my post is of a brand new road redesign. The sign was hung about a month ago. I have not seen any other signs with that design in this area.

      Most of the signs in the Boston area have the horizontal line with the cyclist above it, as shown in the photo in the middle of my post. So, without reading the MUTCD, which the majority of cyclists are unaware of, how would we know what this new sign means?

      All of the other bicycle road signs are clear, even to someone who does not ride a bike. Don’t you agree that a sign is only useful if the content on it is self-evident?

      A cyclist should not have to be a Uniform Traffic Control expert in order to comply with the traffic laws — and to safely travel through an intersection. We really need to find a way for cyclists to easily access information about how to trigger a light, and we need standardization of the bicycle road signs to avoid confusion.

  2. When the Bicycle Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) first proposed a bicycle detection sign in the late 1990s, no less than six different designs (using different layouts and messages) were proposed, tested, evaluated, and discarded (due to unintended messages or inability to convey a clear message) before developing the sign design that is now the R10-22 in the US MUTCD (seen in the uppermost photo). It’s dismaying that agencies have chosen not to use the national sign, and are creating non-standard signs that, as noted above, can lead to confusion.

    Some states and local agencies have modified their laws to state that a traffic signal that fails to detect or change for a road user after a specific period of time may be treated as “malfunctioning”, and can allow a movement after a full stop and if no conflicting traffic is present. But many states and other jurisdictions haven’t recognized this in their laws.

    • “Some states and local agencies have modified their laws to state that a traffic signal that fails to detect or change for a road user after a specific period of time may be treated as “malfunctioning”, and can allow a movement after a full stop and if no conflicting traffic is present. But many states and other jurisdictions haven’t recognized this in their laws.”

      Richard,

      As far as I know, we have “unofficial” laws to this effect in Massachusetts. Many of the traffic lights are old and the intersections do not have inductive loop detectors; these lights take forever to turn green. Drivers sometimes go through such lights before they turn green, out of confusion. While drivers might get ticketed if caught doing this, cyclists could use the argument you’ve set forth to justify their behavior at intersections where the inductive loop detectors don’t sense their bikes.

  3. Nonstandardization of signs is a particular problem in Massachusetts, where the examples are taken from. The brown directional sign in the first photo is another example: that sign should be green — brown is supposed to be used on signs identifying parkland points of interest.

    The second photo, by the way, is one I took, and was “borrowed” from my own Web page about “bicycle stop on…” signs. Attribution of the photo and a link to that page would be most appreciated. OK, here’s a link.

    • John,

      I found the photo on another site where there was no information about who authored that page. Without any identifying information on the page, the photo did not appear to be copyrighted. If you believe that it came from the photo you took, then I would be happy to give you credit for taking it (since I have no idea where it came from).

      I agree with the non-standardization of signs problem in Massachusetts. They may have made the sign in the first photo brown because it is on a “parkway,” which they thought was “close enough” to parklands points of interest. Other aspects of the road design are equally creative. The lights are timed terribly and left turning cars, in both directions, are now competing with one another to determine who goes first. This should be interesting to watch around the holidays since this intersection is next to a shopping center, where there will likely be a large amount of traffic.

  4. > Here in Massachusetts, we do not have the pavement marking that you refer to. I have never even seen one. Without it, very few people would understand what the sign means or where to stop.

    That’s why the MUTCD Section reads, in its entirety:

    – – – – –

    Section 9B.13 Bicycle Signal Actuation Sign (R10-22)

    Option:
    01 The Bicycle Signal Actuation (R10-22) sign (see Figure 9B-2) may be installed at signalized intersections where markings are used to indicate the location where a bicyclist is to be positioned to actuate the signal (see Section 9C.05).

    Guidance:
    02 If the Bicycle Signal Actuation sign is installed, it should be placed at the roadside adjacent to the marking to emphasize the connection between the marking and the sign.

    – – – – –

    The “U” in MUTCD is “Uniform”. The reason so many volunteer practitioners stay engaged in the (long, drawn-out, at times glacial) collaborative, debate-laden process of adding TCDs (Traffic Control Devices) to the Manual is that a well-designed device with effective application guidance — along with state and local agencies that understands and applies it correctly — really does enhance traveler understanding and experience, and hopefully safety.

    MUTCD section 1A.02, Principles of Effective Traffic Control Devices, says:

    – – – – –

    To be effective, a traffic control device should meet five basic requirements:

    Fulfill a need;
    Command attention;
    Convey a clear, simple meaning;
    Command respect from road users; and
    Give adequate time for proper response.

    – – – – –

    “Homebrew” signs, markings and signals — however well-intentioned — often fall short.

    John Ciccarelli
    Bicycle Solutions

  5. Dwight Kingsbury says:

    The nonstandard BICYCLE STOP ON [transverse] LINE FOR GREEN sign is confusing. Is the transverse line a stop line behind which the bicycle should be positioned, as the placement of a bicycle symbol marking suggests? Or should the bicycle be stopped over (“on”) the line, as the sign implies? Will stopping anywhere over the line be sufficient to call the signal, or should the bike approximately bisect the line, front wheel beyond the line, rear wheel behind it?

    Most cyclists don’t have time to stop and experiment with various positions to determine what actually works. That was the motivation for developing the standard sign and marking in the MUTCD.

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  7. Far beyond the issue of standardization, nonetheless, there is debate between bicycling advocates and standards-setting bodies in regards to the appropriateness of share-the-road indications and markings. Some can easily be misinterpreted as and thus bicyclists should get off the beaten track of motorists. Others are simply just confusing.

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