One thing just about every bike rider encounters (I almost said “runs into”) are signal lights that don’t respond to bikes.

Photo copyright Dan Burden

Photo copyright Dan Burden

What to do?

So here is the scenario; you roll up to a signal and there are no cars around to trigger the darn thing for you. You are faced with a close-to- never-ending red light. You have tried placing your wheels on the little bike stencil, you’ve placed your wheels over the wire sensor cut outs. You’ve even laid your darn bike flat, covering the entire sensor. There you stand. You are looking around and there is no one in sight and you are starting to feel duped by this unfriendly signal, you can almost hear it laughing.

So what can you do? You can act like a pedestrian; dismount, walk over and push the walk button, when it changes, walk across the crosswalk, hop on your bike and continue to your destination.

That is a lousy option. Just wrong for so many reasons.

Plan 2. You wait, and wait and wait. You determine that nothing is going to happen and the signal must be broken since it won’t pick you up. There are no cars coming along to trip the thing so you look both ways carefully and you procceed through when it is clear.

Do you know what happens next? Well, I’ll tell you what happened to Xintong last fall. She rides her bike to work along Humboldt Street.  She has come upon the light at Pacific Avenue a number of times and had to wait until a car or a pedestrian would came along and trigger the signal.  One day, after waiting an extended amount of time and knowing that the light’s sensor rarely picked up her bike she decided to treat it as if the light was broken, because it WAS broken. Inoperable traffic signals should be treated like 4 way stop sign intersections. You probably know what happens next. She gets pulled over and written a ticket for riding through a red light.

Xintong knows that this is wrong and carefully collects data to back her up, quotes from other riders who have had problems at the light, reports made to public works about it not changing for bikes and she shows up at court on her appointed date. After hearing the evidence the judge finds her not guilty. Whew, but what a pain.

To wrap up, I have a plea, actually two. One for the local police, know the rules. Such as what to do when facing a broken traffic signal, or that bikes need to be ridden with traffic, bikes need to be ridden to the right of traffic when going slower than traffic UNLESS the lane is too narrow to share or there is debris or other items on the shoulder (there is actually a number of other reasons you can read them here:, bikes need to be ridden out of the “door zone” which is generally at least 3 feet away from parked cars (to avoid hitting a door as it is opened as the cyclist rides past). Plea no.2, report broken traffic signals here: Help us fix this problem as much as we can. The Bike Coalition is working with W-Trans‘ Don Costa to get these signals dectecting bicycles.

But why don’t the signals work? Too many reasons. That will be for another day, check back.