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  1. #1
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    Legal to run red lights in California?

    Somebody recently told me that it is legal, in California, to run a red light on a bike if the coast is clear and the sensor in the road doesn't trigger the light.

    He says that he did this in front of a cop, and the cop did nothing. I know that this is not proof, as the cop could have just let him go.

    I've tried a few Google searches about this, and all I can find is the regular section in the vehicle code about bikes, which does not include this claimed law.

    Anyone have any insight?

  2. #2
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    You checked this?

    http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/ca...odesection=veh

    Specifically here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/di...le=21450-21468

    21450. Whenever traffic is controlled by official traffic control
    signals showing different colored lights, color-lighted arrows, or
    color-lighted bicycle symbols, successively, one at a time, or in
    combination, only the colors green, yellow, and red shall be used,
    except for pedestrian control signals, and those lights shall
    indicate and apply to drivers of vehicles, operators of bicycles, and
    pedestrians as provided in this chapter
    .

  3. #3
    Kamek ralph12's Avatar
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    If the light never turns green, I'm pretty sure it's legal everywhere to "run it", after being sure no one's coming. I mean, otherwise you'd be stuck there forever. Or until a car came by to set it off; if it's a crowded area where you can expect a car to come, I'd just wait for the latter. If it looks like no one's going to come and set the sensor off, I'd just go ahead and go through.

  4. #4
    Senior Member cman's Avatar
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    It is not legal to run red lights anywhere, but it may be okay to procede through a redlight after stopping. In Idaho you may do this and treat stop signs as yield signs.

    Here is the California code: http://www.bikeleague.org/action/bikelaws/ca.php It only spells out that you must operate like a motor vehicle, so your friend would be wrong as there is no specific exemption.

  5. #5
    Back in the Saddle
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    In Pennsylvania, there is a provision:

    http://www.dot.state.pa.us/Internet/...e?openframeset

    Section 3112. Traffic-control signals.
    (c) Inoperable or malfunctioning signal.-If a traffic-control signal is out of operation or is not functioning properly, vehicular traffic facing a:
    (1) Green or yellow signal my proceed with caution as indicated on subsection(a)(1) and (2).
    (2) Red or completely unlighted signal shall stop in the same manner as a stop sign, and the right to proceed shall be subject to the rules applicable after making a stop at a stop sign as provided in section 3323 (relating to stop signs and yield signs).

    Comment: Standard traffic signals sometimes do not detect bicycles, You may be unable to pass through a signalized intersection because the green signal is never received. When faced with this problem, you may treat the signal as malfunctioning and take the following steps to safely proceed though the intersection. First, determine that the signal will not detect you. Try to position the bicycle directly over the saw cuts in the pavement behind the white painted "stop bar" at the head of the lane. These cuts, which often take the shape of a elongated hexagon, contain the loop wires that detect vehicles. If no cuts are evident, you may have to guess their location. Wait for a complete cycle of the signal through all legs of the intersection. If you still believe that the signal will not detect you, treat the red signal as a stop sign and proceed through the intersection only after yielding the right -of-way to all intersecting traffic (including pedestrians) that may be close enough to constitute a hazard during the time when you are moving across or within the intersection or junction of roadways.

  6. #6
    yes
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    There was talk of a provision like this in NC last year. I don't know if it went through. In the MSF course (it also happens on motorcycles), they said that you are supposed to turn right and find a place to turn around.

  7. #7
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CentPARider View Post
    In Pennsylvania, there is a provision:

    http://www.dot.state.pa.us/Internet/...e?openframeset

    Section 3112. Traffic-control signals.
    (c) Inoperable or malfunctioning signal.-If a traffic-control signal is out of operation or is not functioning properly, vehicular traffic ...

    Comment: Standard traffic signals sometimes do not detect bicycles, You may be unable to pass through a signalized intersection because the green signal is never received. When faced with this problem, you may treat the signal as malfunctioning ...
    That is my position, as well, and what I would argue in a court of law. However, I am pragmatic enough to use a pedestrian button if I can reasonably, even if awkwardly, do so, particularly if I need to cross a fast prime arterial.
    "Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell, and advertise." -- George Stahlman
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  8. #8
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yes View Post
    There was talk of a provision like this in NC last year. I don't know if it went through. In the MSF course (it also happens on motorcycles), they said that you are supposed to turn right and find a place to turn around.
    Quote Originally Posted by John E View Post
    That is my position, as well, and what I would argue in a court of law. However, I am pragmatic enough to use a pedestrian button if I can reasonably, even if awkwardly, do so, particularly if I need to cross a fast prime arterial.
    I do both of these depending on the situation ..... but I have also discovered that if you ride across the diamond just right, there's a reasonable chance a person on a bicycle can trip the lights.

  9. #9
    `````````````` CaptainCool's Avatar
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    Interesting: http://www.bikernation.net/stoplightbill.htm

    Looks like CA tried to introduce such an exception to the law but failed.

    Though, honestly, California has some of the best and most consistent traffic sensors I've used. Big and new intersections tend to have the loops with diagonal lines that can basically detect a bike wherever it is in the lane. If the sensors have been paved over, and there are no cars in sight behind you, get into a traffic lane and weave slowly back and forth for the last fifty feet or so. I've never had this fail.

    Otherwise, it's reasonable to go if the light is obviously not detecting you. If you're sitting in a left turn lane, you basically have no other options. It might not be legal but it is reasonable.

  10. #10
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    My $0.02 regarding traffic sensors:
    1) The CalTans type D circles are the best. Stop with each wheel over a point on the last circle before the intersection, and lower a pedal over a third point on the circle. Rock the bike back and forth a bit.
    2) As mentioned by the last two posters, one can often trip a diamond-shaped sensor, particularly one filled in with a hash network of wires.
    3) If you cannot trip a local traffic signal, report it to your traffic engineer. Be polite, but be persistent. I have had pretty good luck with Carlsbad CA, where I work, and moderately decent luck with Encinitas CA, where I live.
    "Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell, and advertise." -- George Stahlman
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  11. #11
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John E View Post
    3) If you cannot trip a local traffic signal, report it to your traffic engineer. Be polite, but be persistent. I have had pretty good luck with Carlsbad CA, where I work, and moderately decent luck with Encinitas CA, where I live.
    +143

    This is advocacy that everyone can do from the comfort of ones phone and with the utility of a phonebook and/or internet and a note pad (as you will probably get redirected thru a chain of contacts until you find who is responsible)

    Also note that a single aluminum front wheel can often trigger properly tuned dipole sensors when placed on the 'double' loop point. I've tested in my neighborhood and 4/4 of loops tested worked. In other places I've had near 100% success with my bike.

    Remember it may take several minutes until you get a response from the light after it is triggered. Many are not instant response (The ones exiting my neighborhood take 3:30 to trigger when in my car if they had just recently switch from green to red and there is no other cars waiting. If there are two other cars behind me in or waiting in opposing direction, then it will trigger much quicker)

    Al

  12. #12
    Dagger Boy Extort's Avatar
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    "Traffic Signal Blackout. If a traffic signal light is not working, proceed as if the intersection is controlled by a stop sign in all directions." - Page 19 of the CA DMV Handbook
    Women think they're so clever because they can fake an orgasm for the sake of a relationship, but men can fake a whole relationship for the sake of an orgasm.

  13. #13
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    red lights were invented to deal with traffic congestion caused by motor vehicles, almost everywhere in the USA the rule is not enforced for bicycles... I'm so dreading the day when they start to enforce it.

    if you're stopped at an intersection on your bicycle it's very easy to see if it's safe to proceed in spite of the signal, unlike in a car where your vision is somewhat limited

  14. #14
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ekitel View Post
    if you're stopped at an intersection on your bicycle it's very easy to see if it's safe to proceed in spite of the signal, unlike in a car where your vision is somewhat limited
    It is just as easy to see from a motorcycle, and a motorcycle can get you across a gap in traffic even quicker.

    What about a convertible top down car? That gives a very good view of x-traffic in the distance.

    Even a regular caged in car at some intersections can give a long view down each way of the x-street.

    So perhaps the law should be changed that if you have a good view, say 200 yards in each direction, while at a red light then it is OK to run it.

    Al

  15. #15
    Dominatrikes sbhikes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ekitel View Post
    red lights were invented to deal with traffic congestion caused by motor vehicles, almost everywhere in the USA the rule is not enforced for bicycles... I'm so dreading the day when they start to enforce it.
    What planet do you live on? They enforce this every day. They even have constant letters to the editors, silly news reports and police stings of cyclists disobeying red lights. The rule is indeed meant for cyclists and enforced for them. Get with the program and stop running lights and making the rest of us look bad.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    What planet do you live on? They enforce this every day. They even have constant letters to the editors, silly news reports and police stings of cyclists disobeying red lights. The rule is indeed meant for cyclists and enforced for them. Get with the program and stop running lights and making the rest of us look bad.
    OK sorry I guess it's just in New York City where they don't enforce this. Anyway if you want to sit at a red light with no cars coming in either direction just to demonstrate your blind obedience then you're making yourself look bad, don't blame me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam View Post
    It is just as easy to see from a motorcycle, and a motorcycle can get you across a gap in traffic even quicker.

    What about a convertible top down car? That gives a very good view of x-traffic in the distance.

    Even a regular caged in car at some intersections can give a long view down each way of the x-street.

    So perhaps the law should be changed that if you have a good view, say 200 yards in each direction, while at a red light then it is OK to run it.

    Al
    I mean that you have the whole hood of the car in front of you and you're sitting at a lower level. There's no good way to change the law so I'm just glad they don't enforce it (here). At least some places have traffic lights that just flash after a certain time at night which eliminates some unnecessary waiting time for everybody...

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    Here's a useful discussion of the issue: http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/10/1...r-not-to-obey/

  19. #19
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ekitel View Post
    I mean that you have the whole hood of the car in front of you and you're sitting at a lower level. There's no good way to change the law so I'm just glad they don't enforce it (here). At least some places have traffic lights that just flash after a certain time at night which eliminates some unnecessary waiting time for everybody...
    I didn't realize motorcycles have a hood. For vehicles that do and/or sit lower or higher this does not mean for many intersection that the driver can not see far left and right while still being stopped behind the stop line.

    Al

  20. #20
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    My nickel (inflation and a weak dollar):

    I was stopped for running a red light after I had waited for three minutes. The officer turned onto the street across from me as I was proceeding though the intersection and had not seen me wait for the light to change. Traffic was reasonably light so I did cross safely. I argued my point in court that the stoplight was not functioning properly as the sensor could not detect my bike, nor was it equipped with a pedestrian button. The officer did testify that he had only see me ride through and never saw me wait. the judge threw out the ticket.

    There is a bill before the South Carolina General Assembly to strengthen current cycling specific laws, but there is also a similar bill for motorcycles, so everything here is in a bit of limbo.
    Bikes use brakes to stop.

    If your bike has breaks, don't ride it.

  21. #21
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    If the pedestrian button works and is available (although the cyclist must dismount and step on sidewalk to press it) can that (not should that) be considered a functioning traffic light?

    Or in localities where bicycling advocates have pressed the city to install push buttons mounted on the curb facing the road/bike lane, which are to be pressed to activate signal. If a cyclist is making a left turn and is in left turn lane, but the sensor there is not working, is that considered a malfunctioning traffic light. After all the intersection has been provided with the facilities asked for by cyclists.

    Al

  22. #22
    -=Barry=- The Human Car's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam View Post
    If the pedestrian button works and is available (although the cyclist must dismount and step on sidewalk to press it) can that (not should that) be considered a functioning traffic light?
    [rant]

    Pedestrian buttons and ped lights are one of the biggest jokes traffic engineers have ever done and who ever promoted and signed off on current designs standards should be shot or at least publicly ridiculed for such an affront on “intelligent” design.

    Intelligent design flop #1 – Button location
    Lets put the button on a poll next to the curb so cyclists can call for the light as well. And lets make this button activate the light to the cyclists left and not the one going straight.

    Intelligent design flop #2 - User Interface & Queuing
    By way of an example lets design calling for elevator the same way as a pedestrian calls for a crossing light. So to get an elevator call button up to speed we need to first remove all visual feedback clues, no light that comes on when you press a button and no floor indicators.

    Next we need to install a queue timer to maximize efficiency of the elevator and allow sufficient time for people to gather on the floor being served, that is to say make people wait at least a minute and half before an elevator even starts to move to their floor. Efficiency of the elevator is of the utmost importance which makes queuing also the utmost importance so even if the elevator is already on the floor people must wait, so have the elevator serve other floors before serving the floor it was resting on. (If you pressed a ped button just after the main light turned green you have to wait a full cycle for the green ped light to come on.)

    Intelligent design flop #3 – Lack of automation
    On intersections of major and minor roads they simplified the design by having the pedestrian signal automatically activate for the road that is the easiest to cross and does not really need a pedestrian signal but for the road that is harder to cross safely they make it harder to get the pedestrian signal as well (which only goes to encourage unsafe crossings.)

    Acknowledgement of intelligent design flops
    I believe in all states it is illegal for a pedestrian to cross the road while the ped signal indicates stop. Yet most courts and police officers acknowledge that a pedestrian can cross when the ped green light should have been on.

    Additional comment
    Most do not see the ped light problem as a “big” issue as there are so few pedestrians. In Baltimore pedestrians are only 5% of the transportation modal share but account for 36% of traffic fatalities.

    [/rant]
    Cycling Advocate
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  23. #23
    RACINGMIX illnacord's Avatar
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    This thread WINS

    @extort: key point!!! I am fighting a ticket tomorrow for running a red and yes, waiting cycles without detection. Crossing safely and looking in all directions. Only time I felt unsafe was the police cruiser chasing me down and locking into a four wheel brake skid into the curb in front of me.

    Lots of great info provided in this thread, good job OP. You know, I don't mind that lights aren't timed, retrofit and equipment is unnecessarily expensive and quickly faulty anyways, but please --- police chiefs and transportation planners ---- please use wise judgment, discuss, and do not penalize bicyclists and pedestrians who are actively using their freedom of choice for alternative modes of transportation that benefit the environment, community and its health.
    Single Speed 925 N.Californicus

  24. #24
    Bicikli Huszár sudo bike's Avatar
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    As has been mentioned, there is usually a provision in the law that you may proceed if the light "isn't working" (there is for sure in CA). A cop will probably still ticket you if s/he's around, and you'll probably have to take it to court. I have not (aside from the one post in this thread) met anyone who had actually taken it to court and fought it. I tend to think if you're polite and explain that you had no other reasonable means to proceed, and point out you were merely following an exception to the law that you felt applied to your situation, a judge would throw it out; then again, I have been called an optimist.

    Also, a big +1 to the suggestion to contact the city and let them know. I don't know if it's a state provision or just something most cities have, but most are supposed to be set off by bikes, and if they are not something is either wrong or it's an old intersection. I've had good luck with this as well.

    Luckily, most intersections in Fresno this isn't a problem anyway; the city paints the picture of a bike with two vertical lines in the lane, which is cool because it simultaneously shows cars you are supposed to be there and shows where to put your wheels to best set off the sensor (the vertical lines).
    Last edited by sudo bike; 03-15-11 at 03:38 AM.
    "The bicycle is the noblest invention of mankind. I love the bicycle. I always have. I can think of no sincere, decent human being, male or female, young or old, saint or sinner, who can resist the bicycle."

    - William Saroyan

  25. #25
    24-Speed Machine Chris516's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by darksiderising View Post
    Somebody recently told me that it is legal, in California, to run a red light on a bike if the coast is clear and the sensor in the road doesn't trigger the light.

    He says that he did this in front of a cop, and the cop did nothing. I know that this is not proof, as the cop could have just let him go.

    I've tried a few Google searches about this, and all I can find is the regular section in the vehicle code about bikes, which does not include this claimed law.

    Anyone have any insight?
    Why in the world would it matter? You should stop at ALL red lights.

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