Anatomy of a Bicycle Friendly Street: Bicycle Signals

(Ed Note: Most information on Bicycle Friendly Street treatments come from the Technical Design Handbook in the 2010 LA Bike Plan. Though we are happy to present it in bite-sized pieces, we highly recommend you download it yourself and have a good read. You can download the Technical Design Handbook here. For a refresher on what a Bicycle Friendly Street is check out our BFS tab by clicking here. You can also find previous posts on signage, chicanes, round-a-bouts, loop detectors and other BFS treatments here.

We’re back with another installment in our long running series “Anatomy of a Bicycle Friendly Street.” Today, we look into the particulars of the traffic control device known as bicycle signals. Bicycle signals are basically traffic signals for bikes. They provide bikes (and by extension pedestrians) with their own dedicated signal phase, which allows them to safely cross intersections. The Bike Plan’s Technical Design Handbook dictates that bike signals in the City of Los Angeles may be used to improve an identified safety or operational problem involving bicycles making them ideally suited for utilization at busy intersection along the Neighborhood Network. More on bike signals below the fold.

Close up of bicycle signal head


Where can Bicycle Signals go?

According to the Bike Plan’s Technical Design Handbook (TDH), the ideal locations for bicycle signals are at intersections with heavy bicycle traffic where significant conflicts with motor vehicles exist. Intersections with unique geometry and intersections between busy roads and off-street bicycle facilities are also ideal candidates for bike signals.

Bike signals have been used around the world in places like the Netherlands, England, Germany, and China. Right in our own backyard, the City of Davis pioneered their use within the United States, while the City of Long Beach is the first municipality in Los Angeles County to have them. You can click here to see a YouTube video from the City of Davis Bicycle Signal Head Project, where they summarize their findings on bicycle signal placement. You can skip to 6:20 if you want to just hear the findings of their report.

Bicycle signals have been shown to be effective in the following situations:

  • High volume of bicyclists at peak hours
  • High numbers of bicycle/motor vehicle crashes, especially those caused by crossing paths
  • At T-intersections with major bicycle movement along the top of the T
  • At the confluence of an off-street bicycle path and a roadway intersection
  • Where separated bicycle paths run parallel to arterial streets (cycle track)
Bike Signals at a protected bike lane
A local bicycle signal example from Long Beach, CA compliments of LA Streetsblog photostream

Advantages of Bicycle Signals

Bicycle signals improve intersection safety by separating conflicting movements. By giving bicycles and pedestrians their own dedicated phase, the chance of conflicts with motor-vehicles decreases, which improves both real and perceived safety at high conflict areas (the intersection). Bicycle signals can be coordinated with other signals in the surrounding network so that signal phasing will be in-sync throughout the corridor. This basically means that bicycle signals will activate in accordance with other traffic signals and not just turn on immediately after a pedestrian or bicycle triggers it.

Bicycle signals can be activated by a number of different devices including bicycle sensitive loop detectors, microwave detectors, infrared detectors, video detectors, or push buttons. Per the Bike Plan TDH, the City recommends bicycle signals activated by bicycle sensitive loop detectors, video detectors, or push buttons.

Don’t Forget the Signs Please

Because bicycle signals are a relatively foreign concept here in Los Angeles, it is recommended that they be accompanied by the appropriate regulatory/instructional signage. For example, the City of Davis has used a “Bicycles Must Obey Bicycle Signal” sign with its bicycle signal treatments. The City of Los Angeles will arrive at its regulatory/instructional signage selection following input from the local community. We close with what by now has become the familiar image of a draft concept for a bicycle signal right here in L.A.

Highland / 4th Concept

Draft concept for Highland Ave/4th St


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