Road Improvement Wish List

The recent discussion on vehicular cycling versus separated cycling infrastructure started me thinking about what could be done to improve conditions for cyclists on the existing roads and trails in my area. Here are a few things that came to mind:

  • Install traffic light sensors for cyclists at all intersections
  • Repair existing potholes and broken shoulders
  • Sweep streets and paths more frequently
  • Restripe bike lanes to current specifications (some are dangerously narrow)
  • Either restripe or eliminate bike lanes that abruptly end and unexpectedly place cyclists on narrow roads with no shoulders
  • Ticket motorists who park in bike lanes
  • Complete unfinished bike paths (You’ve heard of the bridge to nowhere? We have bike paths to nowhere…)

If I had to pick one, my top priority would be the stop light sensors. Because bikes trigger only 30-40% of the stop lights in the area and you never know which one is going to trigger, riders are put in the position of either taking the lane and, if the light doesn’t trigger, proceeding on red; or shuffling over to press the pedestrian crossing button. Neither of these options is particularly safe or convenient.

Most of the other items on the list (other than the bike paths) could easily be accomplished as part of regularly scheduled road maintenance if they were identified as priorities. Do you have similar repairs and upgrades that would improve cycling conditions in your area?

19 Responses to “Road Improvement Wish List”

  • MikeOnBike says:

    Signal sensors are a big deal. We had a citywide project a few years ago, using some regional bike/ped funding, to repair/replace/adjust/mark the sensors. The situation is much better now, but still not 100%.

    Sometimes the sensor works fine, if only the cyclist knows where it is.

    If there’s no other through traffic to trigger the sensor, and you’re not turning right, then in the lane is the right place to be, if that’s where the sensor is. After all, if you’re the only person there, you’re in nobody’s way.

    In California, if the sensor fails to detect you, CVC 21800 authorizes you to proceed on red when safe.

  • Vik says:

    The signal trigger thing isn’t an issue for me as the only time that causes me problems is late at night and I don’t have a problem riding through a red at midnight.

    If I had to pick a priority for improving cycling in my town it would be police enforcement of unsafe driving practices by motorists that impact cyclists. Two ways the police could do that is:

    1) ticket any driver they see doing something unsafe – at the moment you’d really have to do something amazingly bad right in front of a cop to get a ticket.

    2) put bike cops on the street [particularly downtown] in street clothes using unmarked bikes and ticket the drivers that drive unsafely.

    If drivers knew there was a high likelihood of getting a ticket for unsafe driving and any cyclist could be a cop I think we’d see a huge change in how cyclists are treated.

    safe riding,


  • Alan says:

    One other issue associated with traffic light triggers is the length of the green cycles. Some of our lights, even when triggered by a bike, are so short that you can only get partially across an intersection before the light turns red. In other words, the sensors don’t differentiate between bikes and cars. This is a particular issue where side streets cross 4-6 lane parkways. These “short lights” only happen when the light is triggered – the green cycles are longer on the regular light rotations.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    The length of the green light cycle thing is annoying. I am getting used to my hi-racer (corsa) and I need the time to cross as starting fresh at a light is one of my issues right now. It is annoying to get only half-way through an intersection before it is red.

  • Alan says:

    I hear you Duncan. When I had my Ti-Aero I always dreaded those short lights. For those who are unfamiliar with hi-racer recumbents, they have high bottom brackets and steeply reclined seats – starting and stopping takes more time than it does on an upright bike (for me anyway..).

  • Eddie says:

    An very effective upgrade would be to have the city hire a chief traffic engineer who is a bicyclist him/herself and an advocate of public cycling. Maybe that’s too much to hope for. I sometimes wonder just what the engineers were thinking when I see some of the inconvenient, even hazardous, solutions they come up with for bicyclists. It’s obvious they come from a cager-only background.

  • Alan says:

    We have a full-time cycling coordinator in our city, though he’s not a traffic engineer. I get the impression his biggest challenge is funding. We have road construction going on all around us, but he told me we may have to wait 10 years to see a badly needed bike/pedestrian bridge built.

  • MikeOnBike says:

    In California, as long as you enter the intersection before the light turns red, you’re legal. (CVC 21453)

    Exception: There has to be room on the far side of the intersection for you to cross. (CVC 22526)

    If the light turns red while you’re still crossing, cross traffic will be generally starting from a stop. Ideally, traffic engineers can make the all-red interval longer.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Legal and feeling safe are two different things. I hate the exposure of being in the middle of the road with opposing traffic on a green light. If I am feeling week at the light that this happens at, I often do a pedestrian crossing via the crosswalk and ped signal. I don’t like what the crossing does to my confidence.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the information. When I’m riding with a group, we’re often in single file, or at most two wide, which means the folks in the back of the group may get caught on the red, even if we all accelerate immediately on the green. The safer thing would be for the people in the rear to wait for the next cycle, but usually everyone crosses on the same cycle, red or not. These are *really* short lights – I may not make it more than half way across the intersection before they go yellow, and I often have cars rolling behind me before I clear the intersection.


  • Opus the Poet says:

    Well lights that change without waiting for a car to show up is a big problem around here in TX, finding the sensor is another pain in the tush as sometimes they change the control box which requires new antennas for the sensor which requires new road cuts which confuses the heck out of the bike riders who don’t know which of the now 9 different lines on the intersection to place their bike. Another problem we have is no parking, why ride somewhere if there’s no place to lock up the bike when you get there?

  • David Hembrow says:

    On some of those wished from a Dutch perspective while keeping in mind how different it is from the UK.

    Traffic light sensors were a pain in Britain too. Here they always work.

    Potholes could take months or even years to be filled in the UK (though that has improved at bit in some places). Here they are repaired very quickly. What’s more, cycle paths which don’t have heavy vehicles on them tend not to get potholes in the first place.

    We have special road sweeping, gritting etc. vehicles for bike paths and the standard of maintenance is very good.

    Bike lanes are quite rare here. Completely segregated paths work much better.

    Motorists hardly ever park on bike lanes or paths here.

    We have a few bike paths which go to nowhere here too. However, this is actually positive. Where the new industrial estate is to be built over the next few years, the cycle path network was put in first. Cycles should always be in at the first stage of planning so that proper facilities can be included from the start.

    Otherwise, the rate of progress here is remarkable. Things are built very quickly and finished off properly. I’ve known Dutch people complain about the speed at which things are done, but they’ve not lived in the UK. It took nearly 30 years for a needed pedestrian and cycle bridge to be built to cross a dual carriageway near where I used to live, and now that they finally have got around to it, it is a little too narrow for comfort, has no segregation between cycles and pedestrians, and has bollards and dangerous junctions at both ends.

    You might also add road works. In the UK cyclists were basically completely out of luck if there were road works. Not so here. In fact, we get a chunk of the road if the cycle path is being dug up. It’s viewed as important to make sure that cyclists always have their routes preserved as you wouldn’t want people to stop cycling as the result of road works. A few examples are shown here:

    This is even to the extent of building temporary bridges for cyclists only, as seen here:

    You really need to set high standards to get cycle usage high. It’s no good if cyclists are treated as second class citizens, or given just a narrow bit of tarmac and a spot of paint.

  • torrilin says:

    My main wish list item is (as always) a no turn on red law and enforcement stings. Madison has a real problem with people running red… and it isn’t just cyclists. You will on occasion see drivers run red from a complete stop.

    There are some lights where the green phase is really too short. Not a little too short either. At these intersections I can enter on the start of green and not even get to a median before the light is yellow. It isn’t all the time thankfully, and most of these intersections are easily avoided. But it’s still a really dangerous situation. The really charming part is that those same intersections offer an inadequate pedestrian light as well. There’s about two or three of these double whammy intersections tho, and *every* lighted intersection has troubles with red light runners.

  • Geoff says:

    Putting police officers ‘in street clothes’ on unmarked bikes in downtown areas to cite auto drivers doing stupid things is NOT A GOOD IDEA. If I was a car driver and some guy or gal wearing spandex or “normal street clothes” tapped on my driver’s side window and told me to pull over because they were a “police officer” and wanted to see my license and registration, I would think they might be pulling a possible armed robbery. NOT a good idea here!! Better to have the police officers on bikes VERY plainly decked out in some kind of uniform, riding a well-marked bike, and equipped with a police radio. Anytime they approach a car, they should be cautious — radioing in the vehicle tag number and description first, THEN approaching the driver….just in case some altercation occurs. Let’s not put our street officers at risk…there are too few of them now willing to get out there and put their lives on the line for our’s.
    G. Steele

  • Elaine says:

    Repairing potholes and better sweeping of the bike lanes, shoulders, and bike paths, definitely. We have some pretty horrifying spots around here. (When all the leaves fell, riding on the bike trail was very intimidating for a while, esp in the dark. Last week they finally came through and did some cleanup.)

  • Nate Briggs says:

    Plus 1 for Vik’s idea of “stealth” bicycle riders. The Salt Lake City PD uses the same concept for pedestrian crosswalk enforcement.

    But whoever is writing the citation needs to be in uniform, with the full weight of traffic authority behind them.

    Also – considering that every bicycle rider who ignores traffic laws is casting a vote in favor of bicycles LOSING their status as “vehicles” – these cops also need to be writing citations for bicycle riders who feel that traffic laws do not apply to them.

    The other topics that occur to my mind are:

    – Streets with bike lanes need to be swept much more frequently.

    – Talking on a cell phone while driving a motor vehicle should be outlawed. It’s the same as driving partially blindfolded. Great Britain has already done this.

    – On street parking of vehicles needs to be eliminated. This would give motorists and bicycle riders a lot more room to work with.

    – The idea of a driver’s license as a “God given right” needs to be changed. 20% of motorists cause 80% of the accidents. These drivers need to be identified, and their licenses taken away.

    Nate (Salt Lake City)

  • Ernie Greenwald says:


    Here’s the exact wording I find at:

    (d) (1) The driver of any vehicle approaching an intersection which has official traffic control signals that are inoperative shall stop at the intersection, and may proceed with caution when it is safe to do so. This subparagraph shall apply to traffic control signals that become inoperative because of battery failure.

    I’d like to believe I could convince a police-person or judge in California that a traffic signal that failed to detect my bicycle was “inoperative.” But I doubt I would succeed in most cases.

    My first wish for a change that would improve existing conditions for cyclists is that VC21800 include SPECIFIC WORDING allowing cyclists to treat non-triggerable red lights as stop signs when it was safe to do so. (Not an original idea, but worth repeating).

    My second wish is that Law Enforcement would be much more aggressive in warning or ticketing BICYCLE RIDERS doing things that are blatantly illegal. I imagine I’ll get flamed for this, but I’ll take the heat. I’m not talking about rolling through a stop sign at midnight with no cars in sight. I’m talking about riding against traffic; about running stop signs at full speed in the daytime; about riding at night, wearing dark clothing, with no reflectors or lights.

    Riders who ignore traffic laws make things worse for all of us. Parents who do not explain safe and legal riding to their children are also to blame.

    Bicycle riders will not get respect equal to that given automobile drivers until we are equal followers of traffic law.

  • Alan says:


    “Riders who ignore traffic laws make things worse for all of us. Parents who do not explain safe and legal riding to their children are also to blame.”


    “Bicycle riders will not get respect equal to that given automobile drivers until we are equal followers of traffic law.”

    Even though I’m in full agreement that we cyclists (myself included) would do well to obey traffic laws, I’m not sure doing so will garner the respect we crave. Respect on the road seems mostly to be a matter of power and numbers as expressed in horsepower, tonnage, and the ubiquity of the automobile.

  • Ernie Greenwald says:


    I must humbly agree with you. Your reasons for the respect given to the automobile in our society are undeniable. If we all obeyed every traffic law, at all times, the automobile would still “rule” in America. Re-reading my post, I seem to say that our perfect obedience of traffic laws would quickly abolish the widespread disdain for cyclists. If only that were true! The best I should assert is that maybe it would help–a little.


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