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

10 replies
  1. Dennis Hindman
    Dennis Hindman says:

    This is what is needed on Lankershim Blvd at the Vineland/Camarillo juncture. Currently, on a red light I position myself in the crosswalk in front of the cars on Lankershim Blvd and start through the intersection when the yellow light appears for the Vineland Ave traffic, which just proceeds the green light for Lankershim Blvd. This intersection is dangerous for people on bikes no matter what method you choose. Another selection is to cross the street as a pedestrian and then cross back over to proceed up Lankershim Blvd. But that only works if you head north and you have to be careful of cars that are headed south when you cross back over.

  2. Evan
    Evan says:

    For a concept like the last image in the post, I think that some sort of barriers (plastic poles) and signage are necessary to inform drivers that they must turn right. Look at this Google Streetview image from the Vista Street Bike Boulevard in Long Beach:,+long+beach&hl=en&ll=33.766269,-118.152279&spn=0.000918,0.001742&sll=33.766269,-118.152149&sspn=0.003692,0.006968&t=h&z=20&layer=c&cbll=33.76627,-118.152148&panoid=uCbyFbVYAEbS_dYuoqIvlg&cbp=12,270.12,,0,-3.33

    Note that the USPS van drives west on Vista instead of turning onto Redondo, as it is supposed to do…now follow the Streetview images to the east on Vista…the Google Streetview car also illegally continued on Vista across Redondo! A right turn arrow is not enough.

  3. Vivid
    Vivid says:

    Hello, my name is Vivid and i would like to use the picture of the close – up bike signals for a presentation. It will only be for educational purposes, do i have permission?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Mowery invited everyone to check out Yucca St., L.A.’s first Bicycle Friendly Street (BFS). We’re hopeful that the more people visit the street, the more Angelenos will request […]

  2. […] seen following the installation of traffic calming devices – particularly roundabouts and bicycle traffic signals. We hope to use this video (and others like it) at future neighborhood meetings to provide […]

  3. […] Friendly Street is check out our BFS tab by clicking here. You can also find previous posts on bicycle signals, signage, chicanes, round-a-bouts, loop detectors and other BFS treatments […]

  4. […] Anatomy of a Bike Friendly Street: Bike Signals (LADOT Bike Blog) […]

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