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Cyclists and Traffic Signals

by on June 6, 2013

I’m a cautious driver.  I adhere to the speed limit.  I come to a full stop at stop signs.  I use the passing lane for passing.  I drive with my headlights on.  I use my turn signals every time.  I’m not very tolerant of aggressive drivers.

But most of that goes out the window when I’m cycling.

  1. Coming to a full stop at a stop sign and re-starting is hazardous to a cyclist.  When coming to a complete stop the cyclist has to unclip, place a cleated foot on the ground (which often is pretty slippery with that cleat), push off and then clip in again.  This entire process puts the cyclist in the intersection for a very long time.  I’ve fallen performing this ballet of motion.
  2. The inductive coils at traffic lights frequently do not register a bicycle.  This is particularly frustrating at times of very low traffic flow.  Unless massive amounts of steel are present, the light will often not change for a cyclist.

Therefore, I ride with these rules in mind:

  1. A stop sign = a yield to all traffic.  I will slow down.  I will be hyper vigilant.  I will stop if there is other traffic, even if they are going my same direction.  But when there are no vehicles around and I approach a stop sign, I’m usually going through it unless visibility is poor.
  2. A Red Traffic Light = Stop.  But after stopping, depending on the circumstances, I’ll move through the intersection against a red, particularly if it is a red left turn arrow and no vehicles are nearby to trigger the sensor in the road.
  3. Speed limit signs = challenge.  There is no greater thrill on a bike than to exceed speed limit signs of 25, 30, 35, 40, or 45 mph.  This will usually not be sustained long.  If there is a radar sign indicating speed, the bragging rights of exceeding the speed limit is doubled.
  4. Be visible.  A flashing rear red light on the bike is a must.  A headlight, steady or flashing when riding in traffic is important.  Bright clothing.  Eye contact with drivers.  A rear view mirror used often.  All these contribute to being visible and seeing the ever-evolving traffic patterns.  I will take the lane if necessary in order to be seen.  In low light conditions, plenty of reflective gear is added.
  5. In unfamiliar areas or where traffic is heavier, I’ll lean more toward following the letter of the traffic rules.
  6. I use arm signals for turns.  Vehicle drivers understand those.  They do not understand the signals for slowing or stopping.
  7. A predictable cyclist is a safer cyclist.

Vehicle drivers often forget that cyclists also drive cars.  We know the rules of the road.

But this is the driving force between different “rules” for cyclists than for drivers of other vehicles … more than 2,000 lbs.  In a bike vs. a motor vehicle collision, the cyclist will always be the loser and more often than not, carry the scars of that encounter for life.  If that means that I have more momentum and options to avoid a collision in an intersection because I ran the stop sign, so be it.

I don’t break the rules because I’m arrogant, as many vehicle drivers think.  I do it for safety.


From → Cycling, Tips/School

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