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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Missouri? Progressive bicycle legislation - story from Missouri Bicycle Federation

News organizations across the state are writing about a new law, set to take effect Friday, August 28th, that will allow bicyclists and motorcyclists to proceed through a red light that won't change for them.

Motorcycle advocacy groups proposed the law because motorcyclists often have the same problem bicyclists have--too many traffic signals just don't detect them. Unless a car comes along to trigger the light to change, you can sit literally forever waiting.

MoBikeFed then worked to have bicyclists included in the law as well, since they face the same problem even more often than motorcyclists.

Every sensible bicyclist or motorcyclist in that situation will wait until it is clear the light is not going to change, then wait until it is safe to proceed, and then go.

And now, thanks to this new law, you can do that without fear of getting a ticket for running a red light.

It is thanks to your ongoing support of MoBikeFed that common-sense changes like this are taking place in Missouri.

It has taken over three years work in the Missouri legislature to get this small, simple law passed--and it is your support of MoBikeFed that allows us to continue this sort of long-term advocacy based on our presence in Jefferson City with the legislature and our personal relationships with legislators and staff there.


Blowing through red lights is still completely illegal!
Contrary what headlines at many news organizations might make you think, this law absolutely does not allow you to just run through a red light without stopping or whenever you like. To proceed through the red light, you must:
1. Stop.
2. Wait an unreasonable amount of time. That would be AT LEAST as long as one normal traffic cycle--until it is clear the signal has failed to detect your presence.
3. Wait until traffic is clear and it is safe to proceed.
4. Then proceed cautiously through the intersection.
Traffic engineers comment--they'd rather fix the signals
One reason MoBikeFed has worked for this law is to bring to the attention of the traffic engineers what a serious problem it is when the traffic signals do not detect bicycles.

All modern traffic signals that actuate on traffic should be capable of detecting bicycles and motorcycles. Almost all installed traffic signals in Missouri are capable of detecting (most) bicycles and motorcycles.

In Columbia as part of the GetAbout Columbia project, officials have been re-calibrating traffic signals to detect bicycles and putting down pavement markings to show where to position yourself so as to trigger the signal.

They have found that essentially all existing traffic signals can be calibrated to detect bicyclists. It just takes some work going around to each signal to adjust it, and know-how about how to do it properly.

For that reason, we are happy to hear that traffic engineers around the state are now saying it would be far better to simply adjust the traffic signals to actually work for bicyclists and motorcyclists:
  • Newman says he would rather the traffic industry do a better job in stoplight detection than laws allowing motorcyclists to make their own judgment on when to go. (KSPR, Springfield)

  • "Anytime you have people making judgments…it might increase the opportunity for a crash," said Leanna Depue, director of highway safety for the Missouri Department of Transportation. . . . "We’re hoping with the technology that’s out there, there’s going to be fewer intersections that aren’t going to recognize the motorcycle," Depue said. (KCSTAR)
I would disagree with MoDOT's John Miller, who says: I think where we have detection in place, you're probably going to get the vehicle 90 percent of the time."

In the experience of most bicyclists, the amount of traffic signals that fail to detect bicycles is far more than 10%.

Nevertheless we are very pleased that MoDOT is so horrified about the possibility of people running through their traffic signals because they are not functioning properly.

It is indeed a very serious safety issue and now that MoDOT has clarified exactly how important it is, we look to them to work with the bicycle and motorcycle communities and undertake a comprehensive initiative to make sure all their traffic signals detect bicyclists and motorcyclists properly.

The law codifies current practice
KCStar's Brad Cooper (who did an excellent job covering this issue) sums up the issue well:
"As a practical matter the police have always applied that," Gard said. "If a stop light is obviously malfunctioning or hasn’t detected (a vehicle), they’re not going to write you a ticket for proceeding through an empty intersection."

Hugh believes bikers can proceed safely if they make sure cross traffic has cleared, but said a better solution is for engineers to ensure that signals recognize bicycle riders.

The Federal Highway Administration doesn't have jurisdiction on the issue and says research is limited. But it sides with Hugh on the signal issue.

"We would strongly urge states to look at traffic devices and to adjust them and make sure they work before they implement such laws," said spokeswoman Nancy Singer.
Thanks to the bill's supporters in the General Assembly
Thanks to Senator Bill Stouffer, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, who has spent years shepherding this bill through the Missouri General Assembly, and to other who supported the bill over the past several years.

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