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” (220.127.116.11) 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!
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. 316.130 – Pedestrians; 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.
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.