Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

VIDEO: D.C.'s new bicycle traffic light. Let's call it a work in progress.

August 25, 2010 - 12:15 PM
Text size Decrease Increase

Correction: We originally said Hoagland was volunteering his time at the light. He's actually a paid employee of WABA.

A couple of weeks ago the D.C. Department of Transportation unveiled a new traffic light system for bicycles at the intersection of 16th Street, U Street, and New Hampshire Avenue NW. Part of an experimental pilot project, the light is the first of its kind in the city. Last week we headed over to U Street during a morning rush hour to see what it’s all about.

We had the good fortune to run into a terrific guy named Daniel Hoagland, who works as a bike ambassador for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Hoagland had been stationing himself at the intersection on recent mornings to educate cyclists on how the light works. He was gracious enough to let us mic him up for his tutorials.

Like drivers and pedestrians, cyclists are creatures of habit. As you'll see in the video, getting them to change their ways is not an easy task. When we first asked Hoagland how it was going, he said, “I’m just waiting for someone to use it the right way.” In traffic safety discussions, cyclists are routinely hammered by drivers for not obeying traffic laws and rolling through red lights and stop signs in particular. (Full disclosure: We here at On Foot have been known to break a law or two while biking.) So we wondered: How would cyclists take to a traffic system designed specifically for them? Would they pay heed to a traffic light if it happened to be shaped like a little bicycle?

Overall, the light shows some great promise. But we did notice a few problems:

• Eastbound traffic on U Street can legally turn left to head northbound on 16th. Drivers often wait until yellow or even red to make this turn, which puts them directly into the bike path during the bike sequence. We saw many cyclists who had to yield to turning cabbies and buses when they in fact had the green.

• The light sequence for cyclists is very brief. We clocked it at six seconds for green and another three seconds for yellow. If you’re daydreaming, you’ll miss it. And even if you’re paying attention, you may still miss it: When a half-dozen or more bikes are stacked up in the queue, the cyclists in the back sometimes don’t have enough time to get out of the gate before the light hits yellow.

• Waiting for the green takes a fairly long time. That’s to be expected; we’re at a hairy intersection here. But the wait can be so long as to discourage cyclists from hanging around. We saw a few of them head towards the queue but then veer off to the U Street crosswalk where they could proceed immediately.

If you’ve had any interesting experiences at the new light — as a cyclist, a driver, or a pedestrian — drop us a line at djamieson@tbd.com.

Read More:

No comments