Wednesday, May 14, 2008


It's Bike to Work Day in Saint Paul. Convoys formed at various points around the city and rode downtown to food and prizes and speeches. I don't work downtown, though, and am hoarding vacation time for other purposes, so just rode to work by myself.

I stopped at the dry cleaners to drop off some trousers to get cleaned and pressed for my clerical duties at this weekend's Three Speed Tour. I rode down Hoyt and took Hamline north up to Larpenteur, where I got in the left turn lane. A motorcycle pulled up next to me in the straight-through lane. Crossing traffic stopped, southbound Hamline traffic got the advanced-left signal and began going, I got poised to start, and....cross traffic started up again.

Neither I nor the motorcycle were heavy enough to trigger the traffic light.

Now, there was a segment on Channel 5 IMissedIt News a week or two ago about cyclists' running red lights and stop signs. Now here we were, me and the motorcyclist, obeying the traffic semaphores as cars stacked up behind us. If we strictly followed the law, nobody would go anywhere, ever.

I checked to make sure no cars were filtering forward to right-on-red, and rode over to the pedestrian crosswalk button and pushed it, then rode back into my left turn lane. Half a minute went by and cross traffic stopped. This time the southbound traffic got the advanced left again, but our lights turned green and we got to go. I hope that the motorists stacked up behind us noted that traffic signals don't always work for cyclists and that sometimes we have to take a liberal interpretation of their meaning or nobody goes anywhere.

I saw a couple of other riders along the way. I rode up Hamline rather than my usual Lexington to work, so am not sure if these folks are regulars or not, but a couple looked well-equipped (panniers, attire) and waved as they went by. No speeches at work, no free food, no prizes, just another day riding past the gas stations with their $3.72 signs up. With those kinds of prices, and possibly worse to come (a story last night on the news noted that many older gas pumps don't go past $3.99 a gallon, a faint echo of the late 1970s or was it early 1980s when older pumps wouldn't go past 0.999 a gallon), there may be more of us on the road. Give them a wave when you see them.


Hōkan said...

Motorcycles have an "affirmative defense" for running a light that's not changing. Many folks feel that a judge would permit the same defense for a bicyclists.§ion=169.06

169.06 Subdivision 9

brother yam said...

Traffic control devices are triggered by inductance loops, not weight. A bike or a motorcycle don't create enough of a magnetic field to register a change in current, so you sit. And sit. And sit, until you get spotted by Channel 5's crack news team.

Hōkan said...

Brother yam,

It is true that vehicles are not detected by weight, but MOSTLY by inductance loops.

On some of the newly rebuilt intersections on East Lake Street in Minneapolis the city is installing optical detectors instead. Those work better at detecting bicycles.

Matt said...

At a lot of intersections I can see the cuts in the concrete where the loop is and trigger the light change. At this particular one, I couldn't see the loop outline at all. It must be particularly insensitive to miss my steel-framed bicycle and the motorcycle as well. I think of these types of situations as the "My Friend The Car" moments, when a car pulling up behind or next to me triggers the lights.