Background: December 10th I wrote about the upcoming Annual City Bicycle Plan Meeting and a question I was prepared to ask it.
From “REVISED ORDINANCES City of SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA”
Section 10-34 - Every person driving a bicycle shall have all of the rights and all the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle by this Code…
So, there you go. It is the duty of every person driving a bicycle to follow all the applicable ordinances. Section 40-116 says vehicle drivers must obey traffic controls. Section 40-119 even bothers to provide the definition of a red light. It’s not just a color.
I ride through some red lights.
One of the ways cities try to improve vehicular traffic flow is to cut down on the number of red lights on high volume roads. A way to do that is to install what I call “switched traffic controls.” These traffic controls tend to be used for intersections where high volume roads meet significantly lower volume roads. The control stays green for the dominant road, until a switch is activated on the less dominant road.
The switch is activated for cars by metal detecting sensors embedded in the pavement in areas where they’re likely to stop for the red light. The switch is activated for pedestrians by pushing a button usually located in areas where they’re likely to stop. For bicycles, well…yeah that’s the thing.
At previous city bicycle plan meetings the request to make these sensors stronger to detect bicycles has been dismissed on the grounds that stronger sensors introduce the problem of phantom red lights caused by cars passing by the sensors, not specifically stopping and expecting the light to change. I’m no rocket scientist but I think it’s arguable that phantom red lights isn't just a traffic flow problem, it's a psychological one too. An increase in phantom red lights correlates to an increase in ignoring red lights. A “never cry wolf” problem.
The answer to the problem for cyclists, given to us by representatives of our city, is literally to get off the bike, walk to and push the pedestrian switch, and get back on the bike. My answer to the problem is to wait at the red light until the road is reasonably clear and cross against the red light. Hopefully, to a reasonable reader, reading that I ride through these red lights seems like a reasonable thing to do. If you don’t, I'd really like to know your better suggestions.
I acknowledge a problem with my choice of behavior. I experience intersections like these all the time. I know which ones they are. I know that they are not going to change for me, no matter how long I wait. When I come to one of these I stop. If it’s clear, I go. I can’t find every possible observer and explain to them what I’ve described above so that they know I’m making a carefully thought out and reasonable decision to break the law. Therefore, a driver, pedestrian, or child, observing me, would think that I had just completely disregarded the red light.
It's also a psychological problem for me. I already go through lights that I know won't change for me. What about lights at intersections I'm not familiar with? How long do I wait to determine whether or not this traffic control will switch for me? I'm pretty sure an independant observer would probably find that the number of minutes I'm willing to wait to find out if a traffic control is going to switch for me is linearly connected to the air temperature at the intersection.
Stay tuned for Red Lights/Red Mist Part 3: Rights