Some intersections operate on a combination of timers and detection, and if nothing is detected it will change at the end of the timer. However many intersections have no such timer and if your bike is not detectable, than it will never change for you without the presence of a car. At some hours on certain low traffic roads (low traffic roads are appealing to cyclists) cars are seldom. At this point your left with the option of running the red light if it is clear, or getting off the bike and walking over to the cross walk button (which is even less realistic for the motorcyclist with trouble triggering a light). This can be frustrating particularly when you are trying to make a left turn and then have to cross the street from the middle of the road.
So I give a careful look both directions and run the light generally when this happens. This is not ideal, but on rides home at night, to stop and get off at the cross walk at every intersection would add considerable time and frustration to my trip. As far as I am concerned these lights are inoperative for bikes and so I treat them like stop signs. The legality of this is a little fuzzy as the definition of what is an inoperative light is somewhat unclear.
Some might question why make a fuss over signal detection, but I feel it is important for the convenience and legitimacy of legal road users who are not in giant metal boxes. Signal detection problems send a message to cyclists, motorcyclists and the users of scooters and mo-peds, that they are not legitimate forms of transportation. In fact section (b) of C.V.C 21450 specifies:
"Upon the first placement of a traffic-actuated signal or replacement of the loop detector of a traffic-actuated signal, the traffic-actuated signal shall, to the extent feasible and in conformance with professional traffic engineering practice, be installed and maintained so as to detect lawful bicycle or motorcycle traffic on the roadway."Addressing this problem is a pretty monumental task since it is just about everywhere in our road network. So I want to focus on where it is most glaring; streets with bike lanes or that are considered "bike routes". One might think that a road designed specifically to accommodate bikes would use sensors that can detect bikes, or at the very least always have a timer so non detected traffic can receive a green, but that is not always the case.
One such place in Santa Monica that fails to detect bicycles and has no timer, is 17th and Colorado. 17th St., which runs North/South has a bike lane and low motor vehicle traffic, making it a common place to spot bicycle commuters. This intersection is on my commute to and from home, so I know it well. Sometimes on my heavy commuter bike I can trigger the light if I ride straight for the ground loop and brake right on top of it, but usually it does not work. If I'm on my carbon racing bike, it's hopeless. The lack of proper bicycle detection and it's proximity to my home makes this the most common intersection where I have run red lights (stopping and looking both ways of course). Usually this problem is later in the evening with no cars in sight that can trigger the light for me, but even in the day there are times with few cars on 17th.
Santa Monica Successes & Failures Map (work in progress)
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If you know of any other intersections in Santa Monica on roads with bike lanes, or roads considered class III bike routes that lack detection or timers, I'd love to hear about them in the comments. I'm also looking for Santa Monica locals who would be interested in contributing data to the map I am building of these various cycling successes and failures in Santa Monica. Right now it is pretty incomplete, and I have limited time to fill it in. Ideally I would like a database I can later present to the Santa Monica City Council. So that I can very specifically point to where things are going right, and where they are going wrong and how they can fix it. Let me know if you are interested and willing to help out.