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Governor Inslee signs the ‘Dead Red’ bill into law

It’s official. And Governor Jay Inslee even had a joke to go with it:

Basically, if a red light or turn signal cannot detect your bike and an entire traffic signal cycle goes through without changing, you can now run that light when you get a safe opportunity.

But don’t stop there! Help everyone else who uses that traffic signal by reporting the faulty signal to your local transportation agency. In Seattle, you can easily report traffic signals that don’t detect bikes using the Find It Fix It app and website.

For more details on the new law, see our previous post.

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22 responses to “Governor Inslee signs the ‘Dead Red’ bill into law”

  1. Peri Hartman

    That is really a simple but supportive change! Hurray Inslee!

    Now, what do you do if you’re at a light which doesn’t cycle until it is triggered? :)

  2. Uwe

    Very unfortunate, fixing light or enhancing detection is a better approach than allowing cyclists to run red lights, as this will be the result of this law. Naturally people will “interpret” this law to their own advantage and go through red lights even more frequently that it already happens. Enforcement is not happening in this region.
    The resulting effect will be that more cyclist getting run over and it will be seen as their own fault…
    This law is one of the many improvised attempts in this region to “fix” things, it is certainly not a holistic approach to address the many issues we have with shared roads.

    A knee-jerk reaction of sorts…

    BTW I am a bike commuter who has been riding Seattle streets for the last 17 years…

    1. Cheif

      You’re right, there should be an education campaign directed at private automobile users in addition to this law.

    2. Josh

      Fixing detection is a better approach, and it’s been the law in Washington for years. But very few cities make more than a token effort to comply. How many detector loops are marked with the standard bike-on-a-line symbol? How many cities and counties publicize their systems for reporting signals that don’t detect bicycles?

      Rather than bring their signals into compliance, scofflaw cities have been relying on cyclists to break the law themselves by running red lights.

      The new law doesn’t let cities off the hook, signals are still required to detect bicycles, and cities are still required to mark detector loops where bicyclists should stop for signals.

      But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for cities to obey the law.

      1. It’s particularly bad when brand-new intersections directly along major bike routes fail. The left turn lane on EB Points Drive at Lake Washington Boulevard lacks a proper marking, and using the middle of the lane doesn’t work.

        This is an embarrassment for the cities of Bellevue (where I believe the intersection is technically located) and Kirkland (it’s along a route to Kirkland so Kirkland should be paying attention), and WSDOT (it was rebuilt for the 520 project); this should not happen here in 2015. But it does, and we still need to get across these intersections. I’ve been ticketed in Santa Clara, CA, in exactly this situation; I’m happy to know that if I’m pulled over at this intersection I’ll have a clear defense.

      2. Cheif

        Unfortunately the police make a point of being only vaguely familiar with minor points in laws they don’t personally agree with. I doubt there’s a cop out there who will hear about this and then not give a ticket for jumping a broken light. So while you will have a defense, you’ll be giving to to a judge.

  3. Jeff Dubrule

    I look at this as kind of an important token-victory/trial-balloon.
    It passing means that we can get *something* bike-friendly through the Republican-controlled State Senate, and that they aren’t (on principle or on politics), completely hostile to our interests. This bill certainly has some benefits for suburban/rural riders & tourers, of course, but it cost nothing and there isn’t much in the way of a legitimate counter-argument to it.

    Now, at least, we can have some vague hope that we could advocate for something a bit more substantial, and it might actually get passed.

  4. […] police seize 60 bicycles after busting a bike chop shop, while Washington cyclists no longer have to wait forever for a dead red light to […]

  5. Augsburg

    Directly related to this issue of having your bicycle detected at traffic lights are a couple of other issues.

    1) I found the city is fairly decent at marking the location for the bike to stand at a red light and be detected. That is, the little “T” painted on the road. Unfortunately, many cyclists may not know that this marking means and the symbol itself does not convey the message. A more creative symbol would be better. Also, a lot of bikes may only have a limited amount of “iron” in their construction, and therefore are not so easy to detect. I find putting the bike’s bottom bracket over the symbol works, as even on aluminum bikes, the crank has the most iron located closest to the ground. I think the city suggests putting your wheel over the “T”, since your axel should have some iron in it too. One problem is the city is pretty bad at repainting the “T” when the paint wears out.

    2) The other related issue is Seattle is behind other cities in locating push buttons at the curb for cyclists. We use these regularly in Tucson where we bike when at our second home. I asked for one in the design for the new traffic light at SW 47th and Admiral due the extremely steep hill from Waite St. and the improbability that any cyclist approaching from SW Waite St. would ever choose to stop on the traffic detector instead of the flat closer to Admiral. The city said they would not do it. Too bad, a missed opportunity to be more creative in their approach to designing for the needs of cyclists.

    1. Josh

      That obscure “T” marking has been obsolete for more than a decade, it’s a shame so many are still around. The proper marking is a small bicycle on a line, which has been a national standard since 2003.


    2. Josh

      Pushbuttons for bicyclists are a half-measure that doesn’t work well for lower recumbent riders. While they’re better than nothing, I’d much rather see cities include automated detection for bicycles where the infrastructure is designed for people to be riding bikes near the curb instead of in the lane.

      1. Augsburg

        The curb-side push buttons I’ve used would be accessible from a recumbent. The button is mounted low and literally at the curb.

      2. Josh

        FYI, where there are official bike lanes, RCW 47.36.025 requires bicycle detection within the bike lane for any signals installed after July 2009.

        (4) All vehicle-activated traffic control signals that are design complete and put in operation after July 26, 2009, must be designed and operated, when in use, to routinely and reliably detect motorcycles and bicycles, including the detection of bicycles in bicycle lanes that cross an intersection.

    3. Kirk

      This thread shows there is still a lot of misinformation on how the detectors work. There is a common misconception that an object must be ferrous (include iron) to activate a traffic signal loop sensor, or that a ferrous object will perform better. The sensors don’t actually sense magnetism at all, they are induction loops. Inductive loop traffic detector systems operate by sensing disturbances to the electromagnetic field over a coil of wire built into the roadway. Bicycle rims lend themselves well to detection by inductive loop detectors because they provide an excellent conductive loop and are located close to the ground where the loop wires are. By positioning the rims over a straight leg of the loop wire pointed in the same direction, the magnetic field lines around the wire pass through the profile of the wheels.

      Knowing how the loop works makes it easier to know where to position your bike at a light. The only time I’m not sure where to place my rims is when the intersection is paved over the loop sawcuts.


      1. Augsburg

        This is good to know, but highlights the problem. Based on the information provided roadside, the average cyclist would need to possess a PhD in physics to travel across town and pass through a traffic light. From others, it sounds like there is a universal symbol to mark the road that may be helpful, if it was utilized.

        Now if the City would just take into account the proper placement of the road sensors for a cyclist is not necessarily the same for a car. That is, a cyclist is not going to stop in the middle of the road on a steep pitch a ways back from the intersection. A driver will do that in a car, but not a cyclist.

  6. ODB

    The article is a bit noncommittal as to whether carbon rims will activate the sensors. “Very few cyclists use carbon fiber wheels for general utilitarian or recreational use on public roadways, however, because of their very high cost and somewhat lower durability than metal wheels.”

    Governor Inslee appears to ride a carbon bike with aluminum rims (specifically, American Classic 420 Aeros): http://mcqview.blogspot.com/2012/04/chelan-wenatchee-cycling.html
    So, it would seem that carbon rims didn’t contribute to the governor’s recent tweeted frustration (unless he has upgraded to carbon, or has multiple wheelsets).

    Anyway, the question is: if carbon rims don’t reliably trip the loops, would the governor sign special carbon rim legislation, codifying a presumption of carbon rim non-activation and permitting Idaho stops for all cyclists with crabon rims? (Call it “Fred’s Law”: woo hoo hoo!)

    1. Josh

      Carbon rims with metallic brake surfaces on the sidewalls do trigger properly-tuned sensors.

      Carbon rims without metallic brake surfaces do not trigger inductive sensors, but some riders report success with copper foil under rim tape to create a conductive loop.

    2. Lack Thereof

      A quick google search confirms that carbon-fiber is significantly electrically conductive. Carbon-fiber rims DO distort the electromagnetic field around the loop like a standard metallic rim, and should trigger automated traffic lights, assuming they are adjusted properly.

      Aluminum wheels are the easiest to detect. Steel and carbon fiber wheels both are slightly harder to detect, but shouldn’t cause any problems for a properly adjusted traffic light.

  7. […] OK *now* I’m going to run some red lights on my […]

  8. Lack Thereof

    Forgive me if I am mistaken, but SDOT has been telling cyclists since the ’90s that any traffic light that does not recognize a bicycle should be considered a malfunctioning light. When you encounter one, SDOT has for years requested that you
    a) treat it as a 4-way stop once traffic has cleared, like any other malfunctioning light, and
    b) Immediately report the light to SDOT.

    These days I have switched from bicycles to motorcycles, and I can tell you that many of these lights which “ignore” bicycles on the loop are far enough out of whack to also ignore motorcycles (even when you can see the loops and stick your bike right on it) – this problem is not limited to bikes at all.

    In my experience, SDOT’s response time to a traffic-light complaint of this type is phenomenal. I’ve never reported a light and had it not be fixed within 24 hours. It is simply a matter of waiting for the citizen report to come in – SDOT does not do any regular surveying or testing of lights. Unless it is reported by a citizen, it will never be repaired.

    1. Law Abider

      My favorite is on Fremont Ave (AKA the Interurban) greenway, at 105th, the light doesn’t detect southbound cyclists after dark.

      I’ve written to SDOT about it a year or two ago, but it still doesn’t work. So I’ve been treating it as a stop sign if I don’t notice any indication of the light changing after 5 to 10 seconds.

      Compare that to northbound 9th crossing Mercer, where well after dark, with no other cars to help me trigger the light, the traffic camera detects me a half block away from the intersection, even in the bike lane!

      1. Lack Thereof

        I have found with SDOT trouble reports, that it pays to be exactingly specific. “The light doesn’t activate when I am in the right hand eastbound lane, but if I move to the left lane it activates normally” gets immediate attention, while “The light doesn’t work” sometimes gets ignored.

        it always brings back memories of interning in SQA and writing bug reports.

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