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Ask BikePortland: Can I go when the walk sign turns green?

Posted by on November 18th, 2014 at 11:18 am

A LPI in action

An LPI in action at N Williams and Killingsworth (note the crosswalk has a green while everyone else still has a red).
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Have you ever noticed how the “WALK” sign over in a crosswalk sometimes turns green while your signal remains red? This phenomenon has confused a few readers who aren’t sure if they can start riding when the walk sign turns green or if they must wait for the main signal.

Here’s our first question from Dave M.:

“Hi Jonathan. They have recently switched the signal at SE Division and SE 52nd (part of the new 50s bikeway). It now is a divided signal between North and South traffic, but on both sides the “Walk” pedestrian signal goes for longer than the actual green light (going North it triggers first and then the green, and going South the green is shorter than the “walk”). Are bike allowed to cross on the “walk” signal?

Some clarification from PBOT about what they are expecting cyclists to do would be great. I’m just not sure if I should go only on the green or on either “Walk” or green.”

And Fritz F. had a similar question:

“I have noticed that the light at N Williams & NE Killingsworth triggers the cross walk signs several seconds before the traffic light turns green for traffic on Williams. Several times, especially during the summer, I have seen riders go through the intersection in the bike lane while the cross walks are triggered, but not the traffic light. Normally I wait for the light to turn green before proceeding, but I’ve recently had people yell at me for not going. Legally who is in the right and why doesn’t the city place a cycle green light to avoid confusion at this light?”

To get some clarification, we got in touch with Peter Koonce, PBOT’s manager of signals, lighting and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).

Koonce said the intersections above have been given a treatment known as a Leading Pedestrian Interval — or LPI in wonky parlance. LPIs are installed to give people who are using the crosswalk a head start by giving them time to establish their right-of-way over people making right turns. Koonce says in the case of NE Killingsworth and Williams, the city did the LPI because, “We had historically poor compliance by motor vehicle operators — right turns on red were becoming failure to yield to pedestrians.”

lpinacto

LPI illustration from NACTO Design Guide.

According to the NACTO Design Guide, “LPIs have been shown to reduce pedestrian-vehicle collisions as much as 60% at treated intersections.”

But the question remains: Are people on bikes (who are not using the crosswalk) allowed to go early as well? The answer is no. An LPI is only for people using the crosswalk. As tempting as it is, if you are biking in the standard traffic lanes, you must wait for the signal to turn green.

Even though it’s technically illegal, I’ve observed many people on bikes think they can go on the green walk signal. Koonce noticed similar behavior on a recent study trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts where they’ve implemented LPIs at every intersection (it’s a major college town and there is a high volume of foot traffic). “People on bikes would use them… They’d just jump into the intersection.”

In Cambridge, Koonce said walkers get only a three-second head start. But in Portland, he tends to provide five to 10 seconds depending on how busy the intersection is and how wide the street is. The added green time for the walking movement means there’s less time for the other signal phases. That can make LPIs a difficult choice in very congested areas where Koonce says, “every second counts.”

Koonce uses LPIs selectively and reviews each request (which come from traffic engineers) individually. While not every request is approved, Koonce said he tends to err on the side of safety. “There still isn’t a lot of research to suggest they are proven countermeasures to conflicts, but I tend to think they do improve safety. I just worry that people disregard the signal when it’s congested.”

Koonce estimates there are about 30-40 intersections in the city with LPIs. (There’s a new one at N Williams and Alberta and also one at SE 39th and Clinton.)

Next time you come across this situation, try and resist the urge to jump the signal even though the crosswalk sign has turned green. And if someone behind you gets impatient with you, just turn around and tell them, “Chill out man, it’s an LPI. I read about it on BikePortland!”

— Answer more of your burning bike questions in the Ask BikePortland archives.

UPDATE: Commenter Chris Monsere (who also happens to be a noted researcher at PSU) shared that Washington D.C. passed a law in 2013 allowing bicycle riders to cross with the LPI.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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PJ Souders
Guest

I get that there’s what LEGAL. But when I’m driving a car I’m frustrated when bikes don’t jump the green on that walk signal. It clears the intersection faster for everyone.

WAR
Guest
WAR

NOOOPE

ricochet
Guest
ricochet

PJ Souders
I get that there’s what LEGAL. But when I’m driving a car I’m frustrated when bikes don’t jump the green on that walk signal. It clears the intersection faster for everyone.
Recommended 0

OH NO I HAVE TO WAIT AN EXTRA FEW SECOND IN MY MOTORBOX

Zaphod
Guest

This particular intersection has ZERO possible conflict to roll straight on the bike-only part when the walk signal happens so it is hard to resist the urge because there is no safety impact. What would be a dream situation is if a bike signal were added for the straight route. A luxury to be sure but it reminds me of when a standard lane has a left turn signal happening and the people making a right turn really don’t need to stop at all (assuming no pedestrians) and would benefit from a right arrow signal to match/mirror.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Yet another case where Idaho’s stop sign and stop light laws clearly make far more sense. In Idaho it is perfectly legal once you have come to a complete stop to continue on through a red light if there is no conflicting traffic, which would be allowed for a cyclist going straight in the case where pedestrians are taking advantage of the NPI. Idaho’s treatment of cyclists as something in between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian just makes sense.

Geoff Grummon
Guest
Geoff Grummon

This wouldn’t be a source of confusion if bicycle infrastructure was given the same level of care as motor vehicle infrastructure. At the Williams/Killingsworth intersection, each motor vehicle lane has a signal. Each crosswalk has a signal. The bike lane does not have a signal. So waiting bicyclists end up making a choice to go on either the pedestrian signal or the motor vehicle signal.

stacia
Guest
stacia

This is good information (thanks!) but I’m not sure I’ll stop using the walk signal to cross E Burnside at 20th (on my regular commute route). Drivers seem to love to pass too closely on 20th, and I appreciate the extra few seconds to get out ahead of them, make sure I’m visible, and either take the lane or (depending on the presence/absence of parked cars) find a safe line to the right of the car lane. Is there a good/safety argument for waiting that I’m missing?

Also, would moving into the crosswalk and riding at “walking speed” (which I believe is legal anywhere it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk, i.e. anywhere that’s not downtown) make this legal, technically speaking? (Not that I think it would be a good/safe idea.)

Yellow Vest
Guest
Yellow Vest

stacia
Also, would moving into the crosswalk and riding at “walking speed” (which I believe is legal anywhere it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk, i.e. anywhere that’s not downtown) make this legal, technically speaking? (Not that I think it would be a good/safe idea.)
Recommended 0

also wondering this

Champs
Guest
Champs

As much as I hate the Idaho Stop, this might be even worse. No cross traffic, no conflicts. Notice that PBOT doesn’t even bother with a rationale.

Why didn’t the ongoing safety project there add a bike signal for clarity, and separately, what happened to all the signs PBOT put up on the sidewalk? There might be one left standing.

Laurie
Guest
Laurie

There’s a new one of these at 52nd and Division that gave me pause recently. The three traffic lanes are, left to right: Left turn lane, bike lane (going straight), right turn lane for all vehicles except buses. Typically there’s no conflict and I have no problem waiting for the green. Last time I was at this light there was a bus to my right that would also be going straight on green. After a few seconds of consideration, I opted to go on the walk signal so that I could be well ahead of the bus on green. Can anyone disagree this was the safest choice?

oliver
Guest
oliver

in the case of NE Killingsworth and Williams “We had historically poor compliance by motor vehicle operators.

well that and the rest of everywhere.

William Henderson
Guest

While it is illegal, I think there is more to why people on bikes run LPI’s than them just being in a rush. Consider:
– Bikes going straight want to get out into the intersection for the same reason that pedestrians do – to avoid a right hook. Unless there is an open bike box or you are taking the lane, right hooks are a danger.
– Bike lanes end at intersections, sometimes permanently. The extra times gives you a chance to merge safely or to get across the intersection to where the lane continues.
– Bikes want to get out of the way of cars to avoid getting buzzed or other confrontations. That extra 3-10 seconds is time during which you can be across the intersection and out of the way. I think this is a reason folks also run lights and stop signs.

All that said, I cannot see any safety justification for bikes using an LPI to turn right. Moreover, in this case bikes pose the same type of risk to pedestrian that cars do.

What if in this situation bikes were allowed to enter the intersection with pedestrians *as long as they are not turning*? That seems like a win-win, although implementing such a scheme might be complicated and expensive. Still, if bikes are doing it right now, shouldn’t we consider it as an option, at least for future LPI’s?

John Lascurettes
Guest

Note the subtlety of the article stating:

As tempting as it is, if you are biking in the standard traffic lanes, you must wait for the signal to turn green.

What it doesn’t say is that if you’re operating as a pedestrian while on a bike (and the inherent rules around that), you could go through on the LPI.

There in an LPI light at NE Knott where it crosses Killingsworth. On my westbound trip to work I will wait for the LPI and for the full green light before I go because I’m in the traffic lane. But coming home, I’m on the sidewalk with my wheel in the crosswalk – I go when the LPI goes, before the green light (and there is no green light from the sidewalk looking east anyway). Perfectly legal.

Here’s where it gets gray … once I’ve established myself in the crosswalk, but I want to go faster than “a normal walking speed”, I exit the crosswalk and continue through in the intersection and pick up NE Knott east of Killingsworth in the traffic lane, not the sidewalk. I’m assuming that’s perfectly legal as there is no guidance in the ORS saying that a bike in a crosswalk must maintain traversal of the intersection in the crosswalk. I’m assuming as soon as the bike leaves the crosswalk, the operator has gone from pedestrian to vehicle operator. Yes?

Dave
Guest
Dave

If I’m riding a bike I’m on a vehicle; I will obey the vehicular signal. Simple. I’m riding; I ain’t walking.

sd
Guest
sd

Not a fan of places where bikes are routed through crosswalks.
Thinking of the new SW waterfront route.

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone

Many of the street signs on what was SE/NE 39th Avenue have come down, now that the dual-signing period has expired. Soon people won’t know what street you’re talking about.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

A number of downtown intersections along Morrison and Yamhill Streets also have Leading Pedestrian+Train Intervals. When a MAX train is leaving the platform the green is delayed, with the vehicle signal remaining red while the train gets to go and the WALK signal lights. This interval is pretty long, seemingly more than half of the normal (already brief) green phase, often giving you only a few seconds to clear once the green does light.

On my bike I usually proceed with the WALK under these circumstances, even though the light is red, especially uphill on Morrison. Here is why:
– Not only is the shortened green phase reallyshort, but because it is also delayed and the signal at the next intersection is NOT delayed, you really have to stomp on the pedals to make the next light and not get delayed an additional cycle.
– The few cars on Morrison get impatient with being behind a bike that might not make the next light because of the green delay, particularly because it illegal and difficult for them to pass. I’d rather stay out ahead of them.
– If I do wait for the green, some cars race around anyway in an attempt to catch the next light, often delaying ME at the next intersection (about half end up turning within a block or two) while they prepare to turn, often waiting for pedestrians in the adjacent crosswalk.

As suggested above, I will often cut over into the crosswalk to pull this maneuver. Unlike at 39th, it is illegal downtown because you can’t ride on the sidewalk there, but I do it anyway because a lot of drivers don’t know that and it still makes my reason for doing it more clear. And if I got a ticket it would be for sidewalk riding, not running a red.

JJJJ
Guest
JJJJ

The current problem is that traffic engineering professionals are trapped in tiny little boxes. While some actual reasoning will reveal that in the top example, there are zero conflicts for a bike going straight during the LPI, and in fact its more dangerous not to…the BOOK says not to.

So the solution is to change the signal to allow biked to go during LPI.

To those stating they should add a bike signal head to do so…

Problem: Theyre insanely expensive for very little benefit.
Solution: A $20 “Bikes use ped signal” sign

Like this one
http://goo.gl/maps/kIVf3

Problem solved!

Because the SIGN says it’s ok, the traffic engineer is happy!

dan
Guest
dan

This situation comes up at SE 39th and Lincoln, and most cyclists cross when the crosswalk flips. I don’t see a single good reason to wait, and agree with the other posters who indicated from a throughput and safety perspective, it makes much more sense for bikes to cross with pedestrians.

Carl
Guest
Carl

In order to cheaply get neighborhood greenways across busy streets, the City of Portland is increasingly relying on pedestrian treatments. Look at the 20s bikeway plan: rapid flash beacons, “crossbikes,” and signs showing bikes and peds side-by-side. They all encourage drivers to treat people on bikes like pedestrians.

As long as THAT’s going on, who really cares if it’s technically illegal to start pedaling when the walk signal kicks on? It’s a gray area the city is already exploiting. If the city wants to distinguish between vehicles and pedestrians, they need to be a lot more consistent with these treatments and expectations elsewhere.

Martin
Guest
Martin

This article never mentions what the danger is of crossing through the intersection at williams/killingsworth with the LPI. I do it because all the auto traffic is stopped and the bike lane doesn’t cross the pedestrian traffic on the crosswalk. It doesn’t seem dangerous at all.

It seems adding a bike signal to this intersection would allow bikes to do this legally and would not slow down any of the other modes. This idea also wasn’t mentioned in the article. Perhaps Koonce should require the traffic engineers to add bike signals to the intersections where the is no extra risk to bikes before approving new LPIs.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

People who blow red lights are bad enough but cyclists who make turns without signaling continuously for 100 feet are the absolute worst!

This kind of flagrant law-breaking makes them hate us and is the reason cycling has stagnated in portland! When people in a cars frown at me (very frightening) it’s the fault of all you law-breaking entitled scofflaws who do not signal your turns according to the *LAW*.

http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/814.440

Chris Monsere
Guest
Chris Monsere

It makes sense for bicycles to use the LPI, it is just tricky as commenters have pointed out since bicycles are treated as vehicles in the code. Interestingly, Washington DC passed a ordinance allowing people on bicycles to use the LPI last year
http://dccode.org/simple/sections/50-2201.04d.html

kittens
Guest
kittens

OMG its called common sense. GO!
I GO when it is safe. It hurts no one’s feelings.
I get out of their way, they get out of mine.

We are all happy.
Maybe Mr. Koonce isn’t.

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

It’s a trick question! The walk signals doesn’t turn green, they turn white!! (What do I win?)

Britt G.
Guest
Britt G.

That particular intersection on Killingsworth has two lights that are designated left turn only or right turn only. In other parts of Portland (such as around the PSU area), signs are placed to tell bike riders to use the pedestrian signal presumably because there isn’t a designated light for them to follow. I thought the crosswalk on Killingsworth, where both lights are designated to only turning lanes, the default would be to follow the crosswalk signal. Is it okay to use crosswalk lights ONLY if a sign says to do so?

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

When driving a car I like it when the lights allow peds to go first – the ped comes clearly into view before I get to go. I also like the peds first signals when I’m walking because it’s much safer – to have left-turning vehicles crossing the path of pedestrians is very dangerous (I’d call it negligence on the part of traffic engineers.) – I’ve almost been hit many times – frequently because the left turner is trying to beat oncoming traffic and just doesn’t have time to see me (the ped).

When I’m riding on sidewalks I hit the ped crossing buttons and go on walk signal – it works.

Don’t need to waste money on bike signal lights or signs – just change the law to allow bikes to go on “walk” – doesn’t cost much to do that.

Joe L.
Guest
Joe L.

I think the safest situation is one in which everyone knows what the rules are and thus knows what to expect of others. Surprises are not safe situations in traffic. The clearest thing for me is to follow the same rules as the rest of vehicular traffic when in the roadway and to follow the same rules as a pedestrian when in the crosswalks.

This is why the crossing at MLK and Going is so confusing to people. There’s a sign with a ped and a bike. The bikes in the roadway have a stop sign and should wait for traffic to clear. Cars are supposed to stop for peds in the crosswalk, but not bikes in the road regardless what the signs may seem to suggest.

Half the bikes stop, half think cars should stop and keep going. Half the cars stop, the other lanes keep going. Nobody knows what to do and the signs and solid striping on the road just confuse people.

I personally think we need a tunnel.

Scott Kocher
Guest

It makes a ton of sense for people on bikes to use the LPI. Technical compliance would require riding in the crosswalk, and going walking speed “when approaching or entering” the crosswalk as Charley notes. ORS 814.410.

James
Guest
James

Instead of LPIs, I would prefer that Portland followed NYC’s model and outright banned right-turn-on-red for motor vehicles.

Any pedestrian crossing a busy intersection is well aware that pedestrian right-of-way is meaningless when exercising that right means stepping into the path of a speeding two-ton tank. Doubly so for “unmarked” intersections.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Why is this confusing? It reads walk and we are not pedestrians on bicycles. We are to obey all traffic laws as a car would. I often float into the crosswalk in that situation. But a red light is a red. Duhh!

Denis C. Theriault
Guest

I’ll probably still cross on the walk sign—mostly because of the way that intersection’s configured: There’s no conflict between pedestrians and bicycles, even if they cross at the same time. And because cars can never continue straight on Williams across Killingsworth.

But I won’t be the person who sighs or wheedles whoever doesn’t go on the walk sign (probably just 40 percent of people), now that there’s been an official ruling.

Cairel
Guest
Cairel

If we had real separated cycle tracks, then both the bike and pedestrian lights would be timed to go before the cars. We still have a long way to go…

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“First rule of road use for people on foot, also referred to as pedestrians, is to not step out onto the road, crosswalk or otherwise, in front of oncoming vehicle traffic, until they’re certain vehicle traffic is stopping for them.
If people on foot do so, as is their responsibility, they can avoid collisions with someone driving, and not sufficiently watching for people walking.”

“…as is their responsibility…” ?? According to whom? You’re making up your own rules.

The only time it is a pedestrian’s responsibility not to step out in front of moving traffic is when such traffic is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. Otherwise, the rule, i.e., law, is that a pedestrian must step into the street or they have no right-of-way, even at a crosswalk. Are you really also suggesting that pedestrians be responsible for predicting whether a driver stopped at a red light will commence driving into them while attempting to make a right on red at an intersection with an LPI?

“Prohibition of right turns on red offers no certainty that every person driving, or riding, will wait until the green light before turning.”

Well, as much as you’d like it to be the “rule” that pedestrians be “certain” that motor traffic will (in the future) stop and remain stopped for them before they step into the road, you’ve hit the nail on the head here in noting that “certainty” is not possible.

“[Dealing with] People that…ignore the law…is the situation vulnerable road users in particular, have to come to grips with…”

So if one is a vulnerable road user, this is just a fact of life—motorists (and others) will nonchalantly jeopardize your life, nothing you can do about it but be hyper-defensive. You, as the VRU, must “come to grips” with the fact that motorists will break the law.

Ah, but if I am a motorist, do I not need to “come to grips” with the fact that I am charging around in a 2-ton missile, and that vulnerable road users might make mistakes, or—heaven forbid—break the law in my presence?

I sense a confusion between self-preservation and legal requirement. Yes, self-preservation is generally considered to be a good thing, but when you talk about “responsibility”, to whom are vulnerable road users being “responsible” when they follow your rules to go above and beyond legal responsibility, giving up their rights and right-of-way at every turn to cede ultimate dominance of public ways to motorists? Some would say that this notion of “responsibility” is inverted.

Kathy
Guest
Kathy

When I ride, I try my absolute best to be a good bicycle PR person – I’m almost a little crazy about it and it’s gotten me literally rear ended by other cyclists before (when I stop at a 4 way stop sign for a car that got there first to go and they bump into me from behind.)
I’m that earnest and possibly annoying cyclist you see signaling and stopping for everything. When other cyclists or drivers yell at me I smile and wave at them. I’m trying hard out there! Because we all need some better PR!
HOWEVER, in the past year, I’ve made a few specific exceptions for both my personal safety and also in the interest of letting the people behind me make a light.
There’s a bike light at NE 22nd and Glisan/Sandy for bike traffic heading south. When I’m heading north and someone across from me gets the bike light, I go too. Why? Because I’ve been riding this commute for years now and contention for the lane going straight onto 22nd is HAIRY and potentially maiming. I’ve had cars try to squeeze by me on the left side and nearly kill me and a cyclist in the opposite direction lane. This is a rule I used to NEVER break but now after a lot of bad experiences, I always break the law here. Better for me to break the law and get out of there with my limbs intact than to get into a no-win “race” with a car.
On my way home, I have two turns: one is right turn only and one is left turn only. I haul ass through those intersections and therefore cannot safely signal. But since I have to take the lane, I figure the cars behind me know where I’m going (the lane goes in only one direction) and they would rather I haul to let them make the light than to slow down to signal and make them miss the light.

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

Kathy said: “….When I’m heading north and someone across from me gets the bike light, I go too. Why? Because I’ve been riding this commute for years now and contention for the lane going straight onto 22nd is HAIRY and potentially maiming…”

I would consider just riding onto the sidewalk at such a narrow street. Maybe slow down, go to the next intersection where you can get back on the street in a safe manner. Just a thought……OR is there a better place to cross Sandy? Look on Gobble Earth for a birds eye view.

Teddy
Guest
Teddy

When I encounter LPIs on my bike I get off my bike, walk across the intersection, and get back on my bike when finished crossing