A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Bill could help cyclists at lights

Written March 16th, 2015 by Hasso Hering
Not here, but in Albany traffic signals can be a problem for cyclists.

Not here, but in Albany traffic signals can be a problem for cyclists.

The Oregon Senate has passed, without dissent, a bill intended to help motorcyclists and bicyclists when they are stuck a traffic signals that refuse to detect them standing there. The House now has the bill, and it could do something to make it even more helpful before passing it too.

The problem is that the wire loops buried in the pavement at intersections don’t always detect motorcycles, and they sense bicycles even more rarely. So the riders sit there until they lose patience and go through the red light.

Fourteen states including Washington already have laws that allow motorcyclists to proceed at red lights, and 13 states allow the same for bicyclists, according to an analysis of the Oregon bill. These so-called “dead red” laws — an unfortunate phrase — allow cyclists to proceed through red lights if there’s no traffic and they have stopped for a set period of time.

Similarly, Senate Bill 533 would permit motorcyclists and cyclists to proceed through a red light, with caution, once they have come to a complete stop and waited for the signal to “complete one full cycle.” That’s the phrasing that made me scratch my head.

On Oak Street at Ninth in Albany, where on the bike I sometimes get stuck, the signal does not complete a full cycle when there is no car coming north on Oak. If the signal had completed a full cycle, there would no problem. So even though it is intended to be helpful, the bill as written would not help.

What the bill ought to say is that once a rider has waited at a red light that fails to detect him, he is free to proceed with caution when there is no more traffic approaching on the cross street. That’s what I do at that intersection now when the signal stays red no matter how long I wait.

It would be nice if before final passage the bill could be changed to account for the problem it is intended to solve. (hh)

4 responses to “Bill could help cyclists at lights”

  1. peg richner says:

    I support your sensible suggestion regarding traffic light laws. I also believe other vehicles should be able to proceed when there is no traffic and the driver judges it to be safe. I get frustrated in the very early mornings waiting at stoplights when there is no approaching traffic.

  2. Shawn Dawson says:

    This seems like a reasonable bill. It is unfortunate that it takes a bill, as this should be a matter where the officer on the street uses discretion and doesn’t hand out tickets in such instances. I do recall a time back in the 80’s when I was in Albany, stopped at a red light on my motorcycle. A police car was directly behind me, and we were stuck in this situation. As it cycled through a few times, I didn’t go, because I did not want to run a red light and get a ticket. Eventually, I heard the loud voice of the officer, using some sort of PA system in the car, telling me to go through the light, which I did.

    However, not all officers use such discretion.

    On a related note, I would like to see a law enacted which allow bicyclists to only ‘slow down and check for traffic’ at stop signs (not stop lights). This is effectively what bicyclists and skateboarders do now, they do not come to a complete stop. The reason is evident, it takes a lot of energy to bring a bike to a complete stop and then start again, so a slow roll is just as safe as a complete stop as long as one can clearly see the cross traffic.

    When I mention this to friends, it has been an amazingly dividing proposition though. Those against it feel that 1) bikes must stop completely just as cars do (or it is somehow unsafe) and 2) bikes will be flying though stop signs without looking and causing accidents, then blaming the car. I find both objections as uncreditable. Regarding 1) it is not unsafe to do a slow roll through a stop sign on a bike. Regarding 2) the law could be worded such that if a bike rider rolls a stop and causes an accident, then the bicyclist would be in blame for not verifying the safety of the cross traffic.

    Also, I do not propose the above for stop lights, where in general, there is much heavier traffic, but rather at stop signs, especially the hundreds in residential districts.

    The above comes to mind because of an article in the Democrat Herald (or perhaps a letter to the editor) from some years back where, as I recall, a Corvallis officer was handing out tickets to bike riders going through stop signs.

    • James Carrick says:

      I saw an Albany police officer “pull over” a bicyclist for a “slow roll” at a stop sign on an almost deserted street. I don’t know the cyclist’s outcome, but I agree that, as always….common sense must prevail.

      I also find those motorists that do not ride bicycles are usually the one’s most vocal about strict enforcement for bicycles. Stop lights? Yes….STOP. Stop signs in residential districts? If the rider uses caution and looks both directions, a complete stop is not necessary in my view.

  3. Bill Kapaun says:

    A chance for the state legislators to break their string of only passing stupid laws!


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