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Bike signals cause motorist confusion in Paris?

The Telegraph reports that legislators in Paris have given cyclists to proceed through red lights at intersections under certain conditions.

A new government decree has just authorised cyclists in the French capital to go through red lights, after road safety experts deemed the measure would cut road accidents.

Under the new system, which will be first tested on 15 crossroads in the East of the French capital, cyclists are allowed to turn right or go straight ahead even when the lights are red.

They must, however, make way for pedestrians and incoming traffic on the left and will be held responsible in the event of an accident.

The most interesting part of this development is the reasoning behind the new rule:

The text for the new rule, approved by Paris councillors last week, justifies the measure by saying: “Experience shows that adding specific traffic lights for cyclists can create confusion for motorists.”

Here in the US, we have been particularly reluctant to deploy bike signals. Minneapolis only recently installed its first bike traffic signal,  and only at a very low-volume T-intersection where the opportunity for confusion by motorists is minimal. There are only a handful of other US cities that have installed such signals.

Aside from concerns that bike signals aren’t explicitly included in the most common engineering guidance manuals, the reasons given by many agencies reluctant to embrace the signals is that they are concerned about motorist confusion.

The common response from bike advocates is that they are commonplace in parts of Europe, and they don’t experience motorist confusion. They argue that it’s a chicken and egg problem, and that if we would just start installing them, motorists will quickly figure them out.

It’s interesting to see that the same discussion is happening in Paris*, and also to see that their response (allowing cyclists to proceed through reds) is quite a bit different than we would expect to see from agencies here in the states.

*I should point out that while I have been to different parts of Europe on several occasions and experienced many bike signals as a touring cyclist (though never as a motorist), my travels have never included Paris – or any part of France. I may be, unfortunately, terribly ignorant about the current state of cycling in Paris.

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