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Traffic lights for bikes?

An experimental project has had traffic signals added on New Hampshire Avenue to shepherd cyclists across 16th Street, and if it's successful, more lights for cyclists could be on the way on U Street.

The signals look like regular traffic lights, only with bicycle shapes on the lights. New Hampshire Ave has a designated bike lane, and as part of the experiment at the intersection, bicyclists also have marked "boxes" in which to wait in front of cars for the light to change, making them more noticeable to drivers. (Drivers in the area should stop further back from the light than they normally would.) Some of the bike lanes in the area are new "contraflow" ones, running against traffic on one-way streets.

"We know that this is already a very popular route for many cyclists, but it can be treacherous getting through the intersection," DDOT Director Gabe Klein said in a statement. "These changes will make it safer without impacting other traffic."

By Luke Rosiak  | August 12, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Biking  
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Maybe now more bikers will stop for traffic lights.

Posted by: bikes-everywhere | August 12, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

I wouldn't count on it. They don't stop for regular stoplights - why would they stop for bicycle stoplights?

Posted by: mavanyo | August 12, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I looked at the pictures and had to laugh at the sign that said "Stop Here on Red Except Bicycles." Some cyclists will say that this sign legitimizes the behavior they already display, i.e., ignoring red lights, even though that's not what the sign is supposed to mean. "It says 'Except Bicycles,' so that means we don't have to stop."

I've seen these sorts of bike signals in European cities (I believe Copenhagen was the one that had the best-developed separate bike lanes) and they seemed clear enough there. Who knows how they'll be here. In the first couple of DCDOT pictures in that link I had trouble picking out where the bike light was. Hopefully it's easier to see when you're facing it.

Posted by: 1995hoo | August 12, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I've seen in work in western European countries (Germany, specifically). Was fascinated by the urban design focusing on non-vehicular transportation and adherence to the rules.

I think the setup in NW is... quaint. The struggle isn't so much about technology, rather it's about getting individuals (drivers, riders and pedestrians) to equally respect the rules already set forth and courtesy on a societal level.

Posted by: LastCommaFirst | August 12, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Can we also get the cyclists to wear helmets, not wear headphones, not ride on the sidewalk downtown, and just plain pay attention to where they're going and the other traffic? I know, I'm asking way too much. Maybe Darwinism will prevail and the helmetless, i-Pod listening cyclists will disapppear into the pavement.

Posted by: blankspace | August 12, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I go to East Potomac Park a lot. There's an intersection where, as you approach, you see two big stop signs, and underneath each is another large notice that says "BICYCLES MUST STOP AT SIGN." Suffice it to say that I've seen zillions of bicyclists go through that intersection and I have NEVER seen one stop, or give oncoming traffic more than a passing glance. Bicycles are good things, but I don't know why so many bicyclists feel the need to be obnoxious.

Posted by: coryanderx | August 12, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Bicyclists don't follow the law as it is, why waste money telling them something else that they'll just ignore? They're better than everyone else, remember? I think it's the wedgies.

Posted by: jiji1 | August 12, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

According to an FHWA study, cyclists follow the law more often than drivers. And, according to DDOT data, are in fewer crashes than drivers. So scofflaw and dangerous cycling is not really an issue. What is an issue is poor driving which kills the majority of cyclists, pedestrians and drivers - and also kills a lot of pets and destroys personal property.

Also, helmets are shown to do anything more than reduce skin abrasions. Whatever advantages there are to wearing a helmet when biking certainly exist for those who are walking and motoring. Do you wear a helmet when you walk or motor?

Posted by: cranor | August 12, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I had to go into DC earlier today, so I went a little out of my way and drove past this intersection to try to have a look at what they've done. The bike box isn't painted on the pavement yet, at least not in a way that was noticeable to me (and admittedly I was dealing with a doofus in the other lane who seemed lost). The signs on the right side of the road about stopping before the bike box were clear enough, it's just that there was no box. I assume it's just a case of the painting not being done yet.

En route I also happened to go through the Barnes Dance intersection downtown and I noted that the common complaint--drivers improperly turning right despite the "No Turns" signs--seems justified. Nobody turned left, which is a good thing, but two drivers were waiting to go right. I noticed that both of them appeared to be foreign. I cite this factor because the signs saying "No Turns" are in English. Of course I have no way of knowing how well those drivers speak English, but I couldn't help but wonder to what extent our word-based signs may start becoming a problem due to the increasing number of drivers for whom English is not their first language. (Given that the DMV lets you take the knowledge test in Spanish, it would appear that learning to speak English is not required to get a driver's license.) It seems like it would make more sense if there were a symbol sign denoting "No Turns," such as maybe the standard slashed-circle symbol with BOTH a right- and left-turn arrow in it.

Posted by: 1995hoo | August 12, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

This is becoming a very complicated intersection. For some reason a few months ago, the traffic light pattern was changed so that it sends cars turning south onto 16th from U Street westbound first, and then, while cars are still turning with the arrow, sends pedestrians across in front of them. It's very dangerous and leads to many conflicts between pedestrians and cars every day. Someone will certainly be hit (or shot or beaten) there very soon. There doesn't seem to be a good reason for the change: cars didn't seem backed up waiting to turn onto 16th street.

Posted by: S2MCDC | August 13, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

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