Legislative Update: Bicycle Bills Moving in State House

After a positive hearing on our vulnerable roadway user legislation just a PEAC_Studentscouple weeks ago, we are pleased to report that LMB’s other legislative priorities are also gaining traction as we pedal into fall. On Tuesday, October 1st, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee took up two of our bills, HB 4866 and HB 4265.

Right Turn Signal Legislation (HB 4866)
HB 4866 is a simple bill that would update the Michigan Vehicle Code to allow bicyclists to point to the right to signal a right turn. Currently bicyclists must signal right turns by extending an upturned left arm.

Pointing to the right to indicate a right turn tends to be more intuitive for bicyclists and is what many bicyclists already do, many unknowingly that this is not technically a legal way to signal. This method of signaling is also more likely to be perceived correctly by motorists, who have been known to mistake an upturned left arm as a friendly wave. The alternative method is easier to teach bicyclists, especially children, as one simply need to point in the direction one intends to go.

32 states have already made this common sense revision. None of theses states, however, have outlawed the upturned left arm method as a legal signal. HB 4866 follows this trend, so for you die-hards out there who don’t want to learn a new trick, don’t worry, you can keep signaling as you do know. (And for those who don’t use hand signals at all…come on…you are making us all look bad!)

The hearing included supporting testimony from Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC) and League of Michigan Bicyclists, with supporting cards submitted by the Michigan Fitness Foundation and the Michigan Environmental Council.

After hearing compelling testimony from PEAC students Shawn Kohsmann and James Kleimola, Chair Wayne Schmidt surprisingly called a vote on the matter even though the bill was only scheduled for testimony only. HB 4866 passed unanimously with recommendation and now awaits action on the House Floor.

Malfunctioning Traffic Signal Legislation (HB 4265)John-Lindenmayer-Testifying-Trans-Committee

The second legislative priority that was taken up at Tuesday’s hearing was HB 4265, a bill that would allow bicyclists to legally go through malfunctioning traffic signals, once they deem it safe to do so.

This bill helps to remedy the problem bicyclists encounter at automated traffic signals that are not properly calibrated to detect bicycles, or when at an intersection that is not adequately marked to indicate where within the roadway a bicyclist should place oneself in order to trigger the signal.

The Michigan State Police were the only opposition to the HB 4265. Dwayne Gill is a legislative liaison for the State Police told the Detroit Free Press that the bill concerned the police:

“It’s giving the green light to run a red light for those types of vehicles,” Gill said. “A driver in a car may see that and want to go through a red light, too. It sets up a very dangerous situation and a dangerous precedent.”

A malfunctioning signal, however, leaves bicyclists in an uncomfortable position: he or she must sit at the intersection indefinitely in hopes that the light will eventually trigger. In this scenario, vehicles behind the bicyclist also become trapped at the intersection, which certainly can frustrate motorists and pose potential safety concerns.

Representatives Petallia and McCready questioned if there could simply be a technical fix to this problem. LMB addressed this issue in our testimony stating that we support a combination of approaches in addition to the legislation, including road agencies routinely adjusting sensors to detect bicyclists and installing signs and road stencils indicating the optimal stopping position for bicyclists to actuate sensors.

Since an otherwise well-engineered system can still completely malfunction, and many road agencies may be slow to check signals or reluctant to invest in these fixes, the legislation serves as an important catchall. We also expressed the problem of placing the sole burden of reporting malfunctioning traffic signals on the average bicyclist since one may not know if that particular road is controlled, by the state, county, or locally. It is also not always easy to even know how to report these issues since most road agencies have yet to embrace smart phone enabled reporting systems through tools such SeeClickFix.

LMB received many comments on our Facebook Wall from sharing locations of traffic signals that do not trigger properly for bicyclists. We shared a number of these examples with the Committee to highlight how wide spread this problem is. If you have additional locations to share, please post them to our Facebook Page or shoot us an email ( john@LMB.org)

While this problem primarily affects bicyclists and motorcyclists, non-functioning traffic signals also affect automobile drivers. LMB thus suggested modifying HB 4265 to allow all road users, including automobiles, to proceed through non-functioning traffic signals.

HB 4265 did not receive a vote on Tuesday, but is expecting to be up for a vote next week in Committee.

Read Detroit Free Press coverage of both of these bills here.

Supportive comments to the story are always appreciated.

Photos: Top – Representative Wayne Schmidt, Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Representative David Rutledge
talk with PEAC after voting out the turn signal legislation. Bottom – LMB Advocacy & Policy Director John Lindenmayer testifies before Committee in support of HB 4265 and HB 4866.