Bike Signals Get the Green Light From Engineering Establishment

Think of it as a Christmas gift: On December 24, the gatekeepers who determine which street treatments should become standard tools for American engineers decided to add bike signals to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, sometimes called “the bible of traffic engineering.”

Cities will no longer have to undergo expensive additional engineering studies to install bike signals. Image: ## Bike Portland##
Cities will no longer have to perform expensive engineering studies to install bike signals. Image: ## Portland##

The decision should lead to more widespread use of bike signals, which can be used to reduce conflicts between people on bikes and turning drivers, give cyclists a head start at intersections, or create a separate phase entirely for bicycle traffic. They are often used in tandem with protected bike lanes.

Prior to the Christmas Eve vote by the committee that updates the MUTCD, bike signals were considered “experimental.” Communities seeking to install them first had to fund expensive engineering studies.

But no longer. In a memo regarding the approval, Federal Highway Administration officials noted that bike signals have been shown to improve safety outcomes as well as compliance with traffic rules by cyclists. Crash rates involving cyclists have been reduced as much as 45 percent following the installation of bike signals, FHWA reports.

Michael Andersen at People for Bikes’ Green Lane Project notes that bike signals reduce the risk to cyclists at intersections, which are where most collisions occur.

9 thoughts on Bike Signals Get the Green Light From Engineering Establishment

  1. Adding protected (or even unprotected) bike lanes to roads with busy intersections, without their own protected light cycles, (bike-ped traffic signals have long been used in Europe) has long been a dumb idea, as it directly leads to unprotected conflict situations that are exacerbated by the separation of bike and motor traffic into their own worlds. I’m not surprised that crash rates go down very significantly when these are added. Assuming compliance, of course.

    What they improve in safety, though, they may cost in reduced level of service, since one cannot invent time, but slice the existing pie smaller. But if one is to add protected lanes, one has to protect the cyclist in the intersection!

  2. The problem is that theyre just standard traffic signals with a bike stencil on them.

    Actual bike signals, ie, much smaller and located at cyclist eye level rather than 20 feet up, needs to happen in the US as well.

  3. Perhaps by lowering the bike light, there would be less chance for confusion, but giving cyclists their own duty cycle goes a long way towards, at least in theory, mitigating the problems of having separate bicycle facilities entering intersections.

  4. @Jass – Check out the approval. It notes that bike signals of 4″ diameter (1/2 the smaller 8″ indication and 1/3 of the standard 12″ vehicle head) are acceptable and that the mounting height may be lower.

  5. My concern is that it can be easy to confuse a bike stencil with a right turn arrow if your vision isnt great.

    Cyclists, of course, do not need to pass a vision test to ride.

  6. What they should have created is a frame of a given color that could have easily distinguished bike traffic lights from others.

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