On January 1, bike traffic signals get the green light in Oregon

Expect to see more bike signals, like
this one at Broadway and Williams, in 2012.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Starting January 1st, cities throughout Oregon will get the green light on bicycle signals.

Bike-specific signals aren’t new in Portland, the City’s Bureau of Transportation has used them for years now; but technically they’ve been doing so on an experimental basis. This past legislative session, the City helped pass Senate Bill 130, which codifies bicycle signals into Oregon law and makes them official traffic control devices with as much legal weight and respect as standard signals.

To learn more about bike signals and the new law, we asked PBOT’s Signals and Street Lighting Division Manager, Peter Koonce (in photo at right) a few questions. Koonce rides a bike around town often and he brings that sensibility to his work. Last February, Koonce testified on behalf of SB 130, telling legislators that they should pass the bill because,

“Providing an exclusive signal display recognizes the differences between motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, and it separates bicycles from conflicting movements.”

Koonce answered a few of our questions below…

What does the law do?
Peter Koonce (yes, we’re
in good hands!).

“The law adds the green, yellow and red bicycle symbols displayed in bike signals to list of traffic control devices. Additionally, flashing yellow arrow symbols are defined in the law. These definitions were not in the Oregon Vehicle Code or the Uniform Vehicle Code, which most states use as the base from which to build their own state Vehicle Code. It allows Police to enforce violations of the displays at intersections as we do other traffic control devices.”

PBOT advocated for this new law. Why do you think it’s important?

“The City of Portland installed its first bicycle signal in 2004 at N Interstate and N Oregon. The bicycle signal has improved compliance, is intuitive and has been an effective tool to communicate expectations to users at the intersection. Perhaps the most important element of bike signals’ introduction is the improved safety performance. For example, we haven’t experienced any bicycle-related crashes at the intersection in the seven years since the signal began operating.”

PBOT has already installed bike-only signals, how could you have done that without this law in place?

“The City has worked closely with the Federal Highway Administration to develop experimental designs that allow us to test new traffic control devices such as the bike signal at N Interstate. The bicycle box study is another example of the City doing experimental traffic engineering to test yet-to-be-approved traffic control that looks promising. More information on the Federal process is available on their website.”

Are there any bike signal projects currently in the works?

“There are several locations where bicycle signal displays would reduce potential conflicts and remove unnecessary delay. We look forward to working get them installed under the new law.

For example, we are currently designing a bicycle signal for the westbound movement at the intersection of NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and NE Lloyd Blvd.

The Portland to Milwaukie Light Rail project is a large project for the region and we are incorporating bicycle signals to control some of the unique movements that will result to insure safe operations of people on bicycles, buses and light rail trains.

The new law clarifies the meaning of the signal display and allows enforcement with less ambiguity.”

Is this just a Portland thing? Or do you expect other Oregon cities to start installing them?

“There has been considerable interest nationally in our efforts. Denver recently implemented their first bicycle signal, Eugene turned on their first bicycle signal in December of this year, and Clackamas County, Ashland and Salem have designed bicycle signals for their localities.”

In some ways, this official recognition of bike-only signals is yet another way that Portland is moving toward more separation between transportation modes. Keep your eyes peeled for bike signals in 2012.

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