Tilting at City Windmills


I recently sent an email to the Public Works Dept of the little town I commute through to/from work. Actually, I commute through 4 jurisdiction: the county (where I live), the city of Huntsville, AL, the city of Madison, AL, and finally, federal property, Redstone Arsenal. The little town in question is Madison.

I noticed that the induction loop detectors (the sensors in the asphalt that tell if a car is waiting at a red light) weren’t sensitive enough to detect a bicycle. I pointed out two intersections and have subsequently found a third. The email I sent was to ask if something could be done to increase the sensitivity or put in a button. Even though there are no crosswalks there, a button like a pedestrian crossing request would work the same.

The response I got was, “Treat the red light like a stop sign and proceed with caution.” So the Public Works Dept is giving me permission to break the law and piss off all the traffic on Mill Rd. by stopping, then running a red light. I doubt a copy of the email is going to hold much weight with the Police Dept or the drivers I cut between. But Church and Mill is just a small T-intersection on a two-lane road.

This intersection (Hwy 72 and Hughes Rd.) is a completely different animal. Hwy 72 is a four-lane, 45 MPH, divided highway with multiple turning lanes at the intersections. There is no hope of treating this like a stop sign when the cross traffic isn’t going to stop.

But I took that intersection out of my commuting mix and replaced it with this one at Hwy 72 and Nance Rd.

It’s still just as wide with multiple turning lanes, but I hadn’t had any trouble with the lights…until Friday, 28 April 2017. I think my morning commute is blessed because I can’t see any traffic sensors on the north side of the intersection. That tells me the through light is on a timer and will always turn green eventually. The south side, the side I’m on in the afternoon, is a different story. It has a sensor, probably because this side of the road mostly goes to residential streets, so isn’t as heavily traveled. It even has a little bicycle icon painted on the pavement. I don’t know what that’s for. I thought maybe it was a “stop here” symbol to trigger the lights, but after waiting through 2 lights last Friday, I gave up and pulled a tricky maneuver to continue my journey.

I peeled left across the south side of the intersection crossing two lanes, carefully moved against eastbound traffic on the shoulder, repositioned my bike in a parking lot, crossed the two eastbound lanes into the northbound, left turn lanes where I was in the company of several cars and got a green left-turn arrow. It should be noted that none of these intersections have pedestrian crosswalks, either. Apparently, you go by car or you just don’t go.

I replied to the email I received, thanking them for their permission to break the law and pointed out that their advice was moot at the Hwy 72 intersections. I told them I understood that I was the only one complaining about this, so my lone voice probably didn’t count for much. Maybe they will listen when a news crew covers some fatal accident at one of those intersections. It won’t be me. I’ll cross safely if it takes an hour. I also included the city council member of the district the Nance Rd. intersection is in with my reply.

Their attitude is a little puzzling because they just spent the better part of a year redoing a road on the other side of the city with beautiful, segregated, mixed-use cycle/pedestrian paths. They obviously understand the need for cycling safety. Maybe they just ran out of money after redoing County Line Rd.

They say you can’t fight city hall, but damn it, you can have fun trying.

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