Hello Mr. Singh,
As a person who uses a bicycle as almost my only form of transportation, not being detected by traffic signals often makes me feel like some kind of outlaw, even though I am very explicitly operating my vehicle within California law. This difference between the letter and the implementation of the law contributes to the mistaken perception, by drivers, law enforcement officials and cyclists alike, that bikes somehow have both fewer legal rights and less responsibility to obey the rules of the road.
It has come to my attention that there is nobody on the California Traffic Control Devices Committee (CTCDC) who represents the interests of the non-motorized elements of traffic, though there are multiple representatives from the state’s automobile clubs. Under AB 1581 (now CVC 21450.5) bicycles are entitled to be detected by the devices that CTCDC oversees, but with no representation on the committee it seems unlikely that the decisions it takes will reflect our needs. Many other jurisdictions (e.g. Copenhagen, Denmark) that have decided to incorporate cycling meaningfully into their transportation networks have successfully solved the technical problems associated with detecting and directing the flow of bicycle traffic, and so I do not feel that “we don’t have the technology” is really a viable excuse. What we lack is the political will, and I think that having some direct representation of non-motorized traffic on the CTCDC would help facilitate finding that political will.
Update: August 12th, 2009
Remarkably, Devinder Singh took the time to call me back this morning regarding my letter. He said that he would pass my comments on to the rest of the committee, and that he had received a similar comment a couple of weeks ago. Apparently it’s well worth the effort to find a particular person deep in the organization to communicate with. I mean, the Caltrans bureaucracy oversees a transportation network larger than that of most nations, and I got a personal call?
He also suggested that indeed, bicyclists are represented on the committee, which has the following makeup:
- Caltrans (1 vote)
- California Highway Patrol (1 vote)
- the League of California Cities (2 votes)
- the County Supervisors Association of California (2 votes)
- the Automobile Club of Southern California (1 vote)
- and the California State Automobile Association (1 vote)
A total of 8 voting members. The people who are supposedly representing the cyclists are the city and county organizations. I suggested to him that one might just as easily make the argument that those people represent the motorists as well, rendering unnecessary the membership of the automobile clubs. He suggested that other interest groups, in particular the automotive industry, had tried to get membership on the committee as well, and had been rejected, as allowing membership to increase would effectively render the committee unable to agree on anything, because its decisions require a 2/3 supermajority. Of course, the automobile associations are little more than front groups for the automotive industry, so they’ve got their representation, and with the supermajority requirement, it would require unanimous opposition to them to get any recommendation passed that they don’t like.
And ultimately, that’s all this committee does: make recommendations. Caltrans then has to decide whether to take the recommendation or not, and they get input from other committees as well, including CBAC (the Caltrans Bicycle Advisory Committee), which is why I CC’ed Ken McGuire, who is on the bicycle side of things. I’m sure not all committee inputs are created equal in the eyes of Caltrans, and I suspect that the CBAC gets less say than I’d like, but at least there’s someone up there who supposedly has our interests in mind.
Another interesting thing to note in all this is that, for no reason I can fathom AB 1581 (now CVC 21450.5) has a ten year sunset clause. That’s right: after January 1st, 2018, traffic devices in California will no longer be required to detect bicycles. Given the infrequency with which roads are re-paved, and traffic signals replaced, and how loth cities and counties are to spend money on this kind of mandate, for what they consider fringe users, I would be very surprised if a significant portion of the state’s traffic signals had been upgraded to detect bikes by then. Doubly surprised since everyone knows they can just wait the trouble and expense out. I mean, it’s been 20 months already, and they have yet to even release any kind of draft standard describing what a conforming device would be.
However, Mr. Singh did indicate that the release of this standard was imminent. We should keep an eye out for it.