Trail Signals

Question

Harry asked: How can it be legal for a DOT to install a traffic control device, which some people are incapable of obeying?

FDOT is redesigning a road crossing on a rural shared-use path because it installed traffic signals for motorists at the nearby intersection. As part of the redesign it plans to install pedestrian signals to control the movement of all trail users including bicyclists who comprise some 98% of the people crossing the road at this location.

These signals are designed and timed for pedestrian speeds, typically no more than 4 feet per second. The WALKING PERSON phase (when people are permitted to begin crossing the road) is followed by the flashing UPRAISED HAND phase (when people are not permitted to begin crossing the road). There is no warning when the WALKING PERSON phase is going to be terminated—it’s an instantaneous change.

Because pedestrians can essentially stop on a dime, compliance with this instantaneous change is practical for them, but for people riding bicycles this is usually impossible. Although I can find no studies which specifically address this issue, I believe FDOT’s Plans Preparation Manual’s “minimum stopping sight distance” (8.6.8.2) of 134 feet at the trail’s design speed of 18 mph is a helpful guide. It takes into account that bicyclists need a certain distance in which to react to new information (in this case the instantaneous change of the signal) and bring their bicycles to a controlled stop.

I have discussed these problems with a number of transportation officials, but none of them seem to care. The project’s engineer told me that engineering standards require him to install pedestrian signals at this crossing on the shared-use path regardless of the type of user. Another official told me that bicyclists just need to learn to anticipate when the signal is going to change by slowing down prior to reaching the crossing so they can stop instantly if the signal changes. And a law enforcement officer told me that they don’t care about the flashing UPRAISED HAND phase anyway and will never enforce it.

There is, however, a solution to this dilemma: the MUTCD has (finally!) granted interim approval for the use of special bicycle signals to control the movements of bicyclists. These provide bicyclists with the familiar yellow signal indication which warns them that the green phase will soon be terminated. If timed properly they give bicyclists time to come to a controlled stop if possible or permit them to legally enter and clear the crossing if they can’t stop in time.

But an engineer told me that FDOT’s standards forbid their use on shared-use paths, and even if he was permitted to do so, it would be too expensive!

Answer

To begin, I can’t support your basic premise that “some people are incapable of obeying”. As the official pointed out, bicyclists have the option of slowing as they approach the intersection, so they are capable of obeying the signal. It may be that they feel they can do what they have been doing on the trail as they cross the roadway. FDOT’s trail design speed doesn’t necessarily apply in the crosswalk.

I assume this is a marked crosswalk. Otherwise, they must yield to all traffic on the roadway. In a crosswalk, bicyclists have the rights and duties of a pedestrian.

s. 316.2065 – Bicycle Regulations

(9) A person propelling a vehicle by human power upon and along a sidewalk, or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk, has all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.

In the crosswalk, whether marked or unmarked, bicyclists must comply with pedestrian signals.

s. 316.130Pedestrians; Traffic Regulations

(1) A pedestrian (A bicyclist in a crosswalk) shall obey the instructions of any official traffic control device specifically applicable to the pedestrian unless otherwise directed by a police officer.

(2) Pedestrians (Bicyclists in crosswalks) shall be subject to traffic control signals at intersections

FDOT periodically adopts the MUTCD, which means it follows that manual. FDOT probably has not adopted the interim special bicycle signals you mention.   FDOT doesn’t always adopt all MUTCD language. For example, the MUTCD uses “exclusive and preferable” for bike lanes. You will note in the PPM that FDOT uses only ”preferential”.

If you feel strongly about this, I suggest trying to get organizations such as bike clubs to back your position and pursue it formally either through a lawsuit or other means.

I’m afraid I won’t be of any help in that regard. I used up all my energy fighting FDOT about installing bike lanes in Palm Beach County. They believed they had unfettered discretion about when they were to be installed, even though a statute stated that they “shall“ install bicycle ways when there was any change to a state roadway. Their own directives stated the same. Bike lanes were opposed by very wealthy residents and their municipalities. We lost the political battle when the county commission agreed with the cities. We sued the FDOT and lost the first round, but prevailed after five years at the Court of Appeal, establishing a precedent that I have since used in another location.  The Court essentially said that “shall” means “shall”.  See Rosenzweig v. FDOT and this post with the imbedded links.

http://flbikelaw.org/2015/05/required-bike-facilities-and-exceptions/

In that case, we were very confident due to the language in the statute and the wording of FDOT’s own design directives. We also had a large law firm that did the work pro bono. I believe you will have a substantially more difficult task than we did. I am not aware of any statutory basis for your position.

I would suggest slowing before entering the intersection and complying with the pedestrian signals as required by law.

Posted in Ask Geo, Bike Paths, Rights & Duties, Sidewalks & Crosswalks
11 comments on “Trail Signals
  1. There is a >technical< problem in that a path-riding cyclist who arrives at the crossing just as (or soon after) the flashing orange upraised hand interval begins cannot stop immediately and will perforce begin crossing the road, thereby "disobeying" the meaning of the flashing hand indication as defined in the MUTCD (meanings of pedestrian signal symbol indications have never been defined in the Florida Uniform Traffic Control Law).

    If this "violation" is not enforced by law enforcement officers, though, is there a practical problem for path cyclists?

    Per MUTCD 4E.07 P07, the duration of the flashing hand indication "should be sufficient to allow a pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk who left the curb or shoulder at the end of the WALKING PERSON (symbolizing WALK) signal indication to travel at a walking speed of 3.5 feet per second to at least the far side of the traveled way or to a median of sufficient width for pedestrians to wait."

    Cyclists ordinarily travel much faster than 3.5 fps (a cyclist who chose to ride at the mentioned path design speed of 18 mph on the approach to the crossing would be moving 26.5 fps). Approaching riders who choose not to slow during a WALKING PERSON interval and enter a path crossing during the initial seconds of the flashing UPRAISED HAND interval typically have ample time to complete their crossings before the steady upraised hand is displayed. Riders who arrive late in the flashing interval may not have enough time to cross, but should have had ample time to notice the flashing hand and prepare to stop.

  2. Harry says:

    Permit me to provide the broader context to my question:

    This shared-use path parallels a highway for many miles but is far enough away that it can not be considered a sidepath. However, at this crossing FDOT is realigning the trail and bringing it very close to the signalized intersection where it will cross the road in a marked crosswalk. It plans to install pedestrian signals at the crossing.

    You wrote, “To begin, I can’t support your basic premise that “some people are incapable of obeying”. As the official pointed out, bicyclists have the option of slowing as they approach the intersection, so they are capable of obeying the signal.”

    Following this line of reasoning, traffic signals do not need a yellow indication either because motorists have the option of slowing as they approach an intersection so they would be capable of obeying the signal when it abruptly changed from green to red. However, transportation officials figured out many years ago that does not work and there needs to be some method of warning motorists that their permission to enter the intersection is about to be terminated—the yellow indication does that. Its inclusion in the traffic signal allows traffic to flow freely when there is a green signal and facilitates a controlled interruption to that flow when the signal changes to red.

    But bicyclists will not be afforded that type of consideration on this shared-use path and will be required to obey pedestrian signals which were never designed for them. Consequently, many if not most bicyclists will disregard and disobey this signal just like they do in droves at other signalized crossings on shared-use paths which I’ve observed. It’s not that bicyclists are scofflaws, it’s that planners won’t address the needs of bicyclists.

    You wrote, “FDOT’s trail design speed doesn’t necessarily apply in the crosswalk.” Indeed! That gets to the heart of my complaint. Most road crossings on shared-use paths are designed for pedestrians, not for bicyclists whose speeds are usually much higher and who often comprise the vast majority of users.

    A shared-use path is actually a bizarre facility where sections with a design speed of 18 mph are interrupted by short sections (road crossings) with a design speed of 2.5 mph (pedestrian speed of 3.5 feet per second). Bicyclists are not warned of these abrupt and dramatic changes in design speed and that the traffic control device which they face was not designed for their approach speed. (There are also other consequences which are outside the scope of this discussion.)

    I submit that the installation of pedestrian signals to control bicyclists on a bicycle facility (such as a shared-use path) is contrary to the MUTCD’s guidance that traffic control devices should command respect from users and give adequate time for proper response (Section 1A.2,P2,D and E).

    If our society wants to treat bicyclists as equal users of our transportation system (which includes shared-use paths) planners at the top level with huge resources such as at FDOT need to design shared-use path road crossings for bicyclists as well as pedestrians. Because bicycle signals have now received interim approval by the MUTCD there is no longer an excuse for not incorporating them into the design of shared-use path crossings at signalized intersections or for not changing the meaning of the flashing UPRAISED HAND for bicyclists.

  3. Harry says:

    I’m not so sure Florida Statutes have not defined the meanings of the pedestrian signal indications. Consider that F.S. §316.130(2) references §316.075 which in §316.075(1)(a)(3), §316.075(1)(b)(2) and §316.075(1)(c)(2)(b) all reference §316.0755, which references the MUTCD (Section 4E.02).

    It’s rather convoluted, but if bicyclists can’t be convicted under Florida law of violating the flashing UPRAISED HAND indication, they can’t be convicted of violating the steady UPRAISED HAND either. And if police officers are going to wink at the disobedience of the one indication, why would they not wink at disobedience of the other?

    Besides, the traffic engineer with whom I’ve been discussing this crossing pointed out to me that at each “pedestrian crossing”, a R10-3b through R10-3i series regulatory sign is posted which clearly describes what the various indications mean. Bicyclists might legitimately argue that they did not notice the small sign from their vantage point of approaching the crossing at the design speed of the trail, but if they receive a warning that excuse will not work the second time.

    I think it is bad policy for engineers to install specific traffic control devices based on the whims of law enforcement officers. Maybe they don’t enforce them today, but what about tomorrow?

  4. S. 316.0755 might come closest to implying that pedestrian signal symbols in Florida have the meanings described in the MUTCD. Strictly speaking, though, it is written as a requirement for the “indicators” (“When pedestrian indicators are installed, such indicators must conform to the requirements of the most recent Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices”). The statute says nothing about how a pedestrian is to comply with such conforming indicators; anyone who wanted to know that would have to look up the information in the MUTCD.

    A few other states whose road rules I’ve checked do spell out what pedestrian actions the symbol indications allow or prohibit.

    The next edition of the MUTCD will probably include bicycle signals as an option.

    From a legal point of view, main risk of the use of pedestrian signals at trail crossings might be that, if a two-party crash involving a cyclist who began crossing during the flashing hand interval were to occur and a civil suit were to occur, the other party might argue that the cyclist violated meaning of the flashing hand. If a bicycle signal’s yellow indication had been displayed, though (instead of pedestrian signal with flashing hand), would it have made a practical difference? An experiment done on the Cherry Creek Trail in Denver in the late 2000s found little difference in actual cyclist crossing behavior; the difference was that, with a yellow indication, the cyclists who began crossing were nominally in compliance.

  5. Geo says:

    Harry,
    Believe me, I share your frustration in dealing with officials and the police in some of these matters. (See my comments about the FDOT law suit) I have been dealing with these issues for 15 years and am now pretty much worn out.
    You won’t get satisfaction on this site except maybe from some who agree with your points. We are not the proper forum for achieving change. We just discuss the laws and try to inform.
    I recommend joining advocacy groups who are trying to address these issues. If you aren’t presently a member of FBA, i recommend joining and participating in their efforts. They maintain a legislative agenda and lobby FL officials to make productive change to the laws and policies. We have had some success in changing laws to the benefit of cyclists. We have also been instrumental in getting clarification of policy at the DMV about gas-assist motors on bicycles. You can see these items on other posts on this site.
    I also recommend participating in your local Bike/Ped Advisory Committee and speaking about your concerns to your county and city commission meetings.

  6. Harry says:

    Dwight,

    You wrote, “The statute says nothing about how a pedestrian is to comply with such conforming indicators; anyone who wanted to know that would have to look up the information in the MUTCD.” Maybe that is why engineers install various R10-3 regulatory signs at all newer pedestrian crossings I’ve seen in Florida? Maybe the Statutes are not clear about the precise meaning, but the signs certainly are.

    And the Florida Pedestrian Law Enforcement Guide published by FBA does not seem to leave any doubt about the meaning of the flashing UPRAISED HAND either: “flashing UPRAISED HAND (symbolizing DONT WALK) indication: pedestrian shall not start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal indication…” (pg 19)

    However, the flashing UPRAISED HAND indication must be among the more misunderstood laws I’ve come across in a very long time. For example, in a recent presentation I gave to a group of bicyclists and transportation officials which included traffic engineers and police officers, not one person agreed with me when I showed a slide with that precise language—not one! (FWIW, I think the MUTCD’s definition of this indication shows how out of touch that august body is with the needs of people who do not drive motorized vehicles because it ignores the fact that people do not all walk at precisely the same speed.)

    In your last paragraph you wrote, “…the difference was that, with a yellow indication, the cyclists who began crossing were nominally in compliance.” Maybe that gets to the heart of my concern: when engineers install traffic control devices which meet the needs of bicyclists I have little doubt the majority will obey them. Pedestrian signal laws were not designed for bicyclists and my observation is that they are seldom obeyed.

    Unlike, for example, STOP sign and red light laws in Idaho where bicyclists’ compliance, from what I’ve been told, is extremely high.The reason? The Idaho stop law addresses the specific needs of bicyclists. However, I’m certain that the physical actions of cyclists there are similar to those in the 49 less enlightened states, but in Idaho the cyclists are operating legally.

    • Harry,

      The hundreds (thousands?) of instructional plaques that agencies have installed next to pedestrian pushbuttons in Florida go ignored, unread, misread, or read but not credited or accepted by many crosswalk users. Some people believe a pedestrian may begin crossing as long as a parallel traffic signal shows a green ball; some believe a pedestrian is supposed to be out of the crosswalk as soon the orange hand indication begins flashing.

      Where pedestrian countdown indications have been provided (and a pedestrian crossing sequence has been called), late-arriving pedestrians are often observed to pay little heed to a flashing hand indication and to begin crossing during this interval, adjusting their pace if little time remains.

      As you observed, “in a recent presentation [given] to a group of bicyclists and transportation officials which included traffic engineers and police officers, not one person agreed with … a slide with that precise language” (quoted from the Florida Pedestrian Law Enforcement Guide, i.e., that a pedestrian shall not begin to cross when flashing upraised hand indication is displayed).

      The NCUTCD and FHWA are well aware that most pedestrians walk faster than the 15th percentile pedestrian pace that the recommended timing of the flashing hand interval accommodates; the choice was deliberately made to adopt such timing so that even (most) slow-moving pedestrians would have time to finish crossing as long as they began during the WALKING PERSON interval. That such ample timing contributes to non-compliance with the flashing indication (in states that have adopted the common US rule about the meaning of the flashing indication) by faster pedestrians–and crosswalk-using cyclists–is a recognized undesirable side effect.

      Some observers have proposed that the common US rule (never adopted in Florida code) that a pedestrian shall not begin crossing during the flashing hand interval be changed to some wording that would allow a pedestrian to begin crossing where a pedestrian countdown is displayed, if they can finish crossing by the end of the countdown. At this time, none of the states that have adopted the common rule have made such a change, to my knowledge.

      I assume the fear is that, under the more permissive condition, crosswalk users might show (more) poor judgment about their ability to finish crossing in time. Proponents of the rule change argue that, with the advent of pedestrian countdown indications, the current rule already lacks credibility and encourages pedestrians to use their own judgment–and the same can certainly be said of crosswalk-using cyclists. As the Cherry Creek Trail study showed, cyclists already tend to treat the first part of a flashing hand interval as the first part of a very long yellow light.

      The MUTCD does not make pedestrian crossing rules; it describes the meanings of pedestrian signal indications intended to convey the pedestrian signalized crossing rule set forth in the model road rules of the national Uniform Vehicle Code, which rule has been adopted by most states, Florida excepted. Given Florida’s requirement that when a pedestrian “indicator”l is installed it must “conform to the requirements” of the most recent MUTCD, Florida agencies have to use MUTCD-compliant pedestrian signals and it no doubt has seemed best to post the little signs that explain the rule >assumed< to be in place; in quoting the rule, the authors ofFBA's Pedestrian Law Enforcement Guide reached a similar conclusion.

  7. Geo says:

    Harry,

    Perhaps the compliance is due to a common sense approach. The Idaho statute recognizes and legitimizes some common cycling practices which are not legal in Florida. The applicable portion of the statute is:

    Idaho Statutes Title 49 – Motor Vehicles CHAPTER 7 – PEDESTRIANS AND BICYCLES 49-720. STOPPING — TURN AND STOP SIGNALS.

    (1) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.

    (2) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to other traffic.

    Here’s a justification for their laws:

  8. Harry says:

    Dwight,

    As you peel back more layers of this onion I’m beginning to feel a little disorientated. Permit me to make the following observations and request that you correct me if I have it wrong:

    • The MUTCD makes it clear that a regulatory sign must give notice of traffic laws or regulations which are in force at that location: “Regulatory signs shall be used to inform road users of selected traffic laws or regulations and indicate the applicability of the legal requirements” and “The signs shall clearly indicate the requirements imposed by the regulations…” (Section 2B.01, P1 and Section 2B.01, P2 respectively).

    • “The signs shall…be designed and installed to provide adequate visibility and legibility in order to obtain compliance.” (MUTCD Section 2B.01, P2) I have never been able to read the R10-3 signs posted near the push buttons at the speed at which I normally ride my bicycle on the shared-use path.

    • You called the R10-3 regulatory signs “instructional plaques”—I assume you chose your words carefully. Am I correct in reaching the conclusion that you do not believe they are regulatory signs in this situation because they do not give notice of any laws which you can find in Florida’s Statutes?

    • The Florida Statutes require a yellow light to be an integral part of every traffic control signal: § 316.075(3)(a): “No traffic control signal device shall be used which does not exhibit a yellow or “caution” light between the green or “go” signal and the red or “stop” signal.” The pedestrian control signal FDOT plans to install on this shared-use path to control the movement of bicyclists does not have a yellow or “caution” light between between the “go” and “red” stop indicators.

    This leads me back to my original question, although from a different direction: I wrote that people riding bicycles at a normal speed for the shared-use path sometimes can not comply with the instructions of the pedestrian control signal because there is no yellow phase. If I understand you correctly, you are saying there is no law in Florida which requires pedestrians and bicyclists to obey pedestrian signals.

    If that is the case, pedestrians and bicyclists in this situation are obligated to obey the traffic control signals on the nearby road. Which may be a problem here and is certainly a problem at some locations due to the complexity of the intersection and the number of lights.

    Maybe I should have asked, “If a law enforcement officer chose to write me a ticket because I entered the road from the shared-use path while the UPRAISED HAND (whether flashing or steady) was displayed, what law would he or she cite?”

  9. Harry,

    To see what’s missing re pedestrian signal compliance in Florida’s code, we can inspect the codes of other states. For example, § 40-6-22 of the Georgia Code states:

    “Whenever special pedestrian-control signals exhibiting the words WALK or DON’T WALK or symbols so directing a pedestrian are in place, such signals shall indicate as follows:

    (1) Word or symbol message WALK. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal. Every driver of a vehicle shall stop and remain stopped for such pedestrians; and

    (2) Flashing or steady DON’T WALK. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, but any pedestrian who has partially completed his crossing on the WALK signal shall proceed to sidewalk or safety island while the DON’T WALK signal is showing.”
    https://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/gacode/

    Florida has no such provision. S. 316.130(2), F.S., provides that “Pedestrians shall be subject to traffic control signals at intersections as provided in s. 316.075”, but that section explains only how drivers and pedestrians are to obey traffic control signal indications (green, yellow, and red); it notes that the color indications do not apply to a pedestrian who is “otherwise directed by a pedestrian control signal”–whose directions are nowhere explained.

    I don’t know what section an officer who wanted to cite a crosswalk user for beginning to cross during the flashing hand interval would cite. I suspect they would cite s. 316.130(2) and, if the case came to court, argue that a little sign posted near each end of the crosswalk explained the “don’t start” meaning of the flashing indication.

    Technically, when used in Florida the little R10-3x signs (MUTCD 2B.52 calls them “educational signs”) are not in compliance with MUTCD 1A.08 P03 (http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009r1r2/part1/part1a.htm#section1A08 ), which requires that “All regulatory traffic control devices shall be supported by laws, ordinances, or regulations.”

  10. Harry says:

    Dwight,

    Ok, I admit I’m a little slow: You wrote very clearly in your first response, “…meanings of pedestrian signal symbol indications have never been defined in the Florida Uniform Traffic Control Law”, but this was incomprehensible to me. Consider that the moment I set my foot or roll the wheels of my bicycle onto a public way there seems to be hundreds of laws which regulate my every movement. Yet you wrote that pedestrian signals which I’ve seen by the thousands (and have “obeyed” hundreds of times) seem to be little more than engineering suggestions.

    I feel like you have whispered a closely guarded secret into my ear and I’m suddenly among a tiny group of people who are in the “know”!

    As my initial question made clear, I was concerned that I would not always be able to comply with the instructions of the new traffic control device the DOT is planning to install on the shared-use path I ride. Now I learn there is no need to worry—the “thing” doesn’t have teeth!

    Thank you for taking the time to guide me through this legal mess.

Leave a Reply