It’s not legal in California to roll through stoplights yet – though the “Idaho Stop,” as they call it, may become legal soon – so while cycling, you’re still required to obey traffic signals. But sometimes you are cycling and you get stuck at a red light that just won’t seem to turn. Crossing the intersection during a red light would be dangerous, and there are cars building up behind you. How do you get the light to change?
Traffic signals are triggered not by weight, but by an electrical current induced by the metal of your bike. So, if you have metal wheels or a metal frame, the signal should be able to detect you. However, you have to be in the right place. Sometimes, you can look at the pavement and see the cuts the city made to lay down the wires. If the cuts are circular, your best bet of being detected is to place your tires at the edge. If the cuts are diagonal across a square or circle, place your tires in the center. Remember: “Tires to the wires.”
Some traffic signals use video detectors. For these to detect you, it is best to place yourself in the center of the lane. If the signal doesn’t seem to notice you, you can flash your light at it.
None of This Worked! How Do I Cross Safely?
If the traffic light has not detected you after what you perceive to be two cycles, treat it as though it is malfunctioning. Yield to any oncoming traffic and proceed through the red, treating it like a stop sign. Be very cautious – incoming traffic may be moving faster than it appears, and you’ll need some time to get your momentum up to cross the intersection.