Ride On: Bike Traffic Lights & the Most Cycling-Friendly Cities


Plus: Everything you need to know about insurance for your bike or pedicab

Example of bike traffic lights
7 min read

As cities and towns across the country are bolstering their efforts to reduce traffic congestion and pollution by becoming more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, new initiatives and policies like city-sponsored bikes and protected bike lanes are increasingly becoming a part of a city’s infrastructure. To keep both cyclists safe and motorists safe on their shared roadways, some cities are upping the ante with bike traffic lights.

Austin Introduces Bike Traffic Lights

Austin, Texas will soon begin operating 12 bicycle-specific traffic lights in the downtown area on one of the most popular separated bike lanes in the city. Though bicycle traffic lights are more common overseas, just a handful of U.S. cities have bicycle traffic lights so far, meaning the added bike traffic lights in Austin will be a model for cities and towns around the country.

The city of Austin received a federal grant for the bicycle traffic signals two years ago, and the signals will be installed on major routes where protected bike lane infrastructure already exists, the Austin Transportation Department announced. Bicycling enthusiasts welcome the change, hoping it will force cars to yield to bikes when appropriate and improve the sometimes contentious bike-car relationship.

Bicycle traffic lights send a strong message about the city’s commitment to a cleaner, lower-congestion city, and public awareness campaigns are as important as ever. Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians will need to know and follow the rules of the road, which could induce some growing pains as neither people driving passenger vehicles nor people riding bicycles have ever had to negotiate bicycle traffic lights before. Cycling advocates emphasize that all people riding bicycles must follow the same traffic laws as cars (stopping at red lights and stop signs, yielding, etc.), and that doing so will keep everyone – motorists and cyclists and even pedestrians – safer.

bicycle traffic lights

5 Great Bicycling Cities Across the U.S.

The editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine, Bill Strickland, sees cities across the country succeeding in making city cycling safer and more appealing: he told the Chicago Tribune that cities in the U.S. have become more bike-friendly with each passing year. The biggest cities in the country are on board with bicycling and are doing what they can to encourage their use. Here’s what the top five bicycle-friendly cities are doing right, as ranked by Bicycling Magazine:

  1. Chicago: Chicago has emphasized building infrastructure that separates cyclists from motorists, reports the Chicago Tribune. Separated bike lanes are one of the most important aspects of a bike-friendly city, with buffer-protected lanes (wherein cars and bikes have a physical barrier like a curb between them) being the most sought-after.
  2. San Francisco: The city has added new, high-quality cycling facilities, created protected bike lanes, and installed over 800 new bike racks.
  3. Portland: Portland opened a new bridge last year that allows bicycles (and buses, trains, and pedestrians) but not cars, their Biketown bicycle sharing initiative doubled its capacity, and newly mandated protected bike lanes will be the new default for road designs.
  4. New York City: Speed limits were reduced to 25 mph, $100 million was funneled to the creation of protected bike lanes, and the city continues to support CitiBikes, which were installed throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens in 2013, making 10,000 bikes available on-demand to residents and tourists for a fee.
  5. Seattle: The city supports bicycle infrastructure and bicycle safety measures, including $1 billion over a nine-year period for bicycle and pedestrian improvements and protected bike lanes, and their bicycle share is growing, expanding stations and even including electric-assisted models.

protected bike lanes

What You Need to Know about Bicycle Insurance

Bicycles and pedicabs share the road with motor vehicles and all their risks, including the possibility of a crash, so insurance is an important consideration. We spoke to The Zebra’s licensed insurance agent and adviser Neil Richardson about what type of insurance cyclists need to make sure they’re covered in the event of property damage or injury.

“Quite simply, cyclists and pedicab drivers aren’t required to carry insurance because bicycles don’t have engines,” explains Neil. The one caveat involves pedicabs: “Most cities that allow pedicabs to operate for a fee have an ordinance requiring they be insured. However, if someone rides a pedicab for pleasure, they would not be governed by the ordinance.”

However, just because cyclists aren’t required to have insurance doesn’t mean they are released from liability if they cause injury or property damage, cautions Neil. Cyclists and pedicab drivers who ride on the streets with cars leave themselves open to potentially devastating lawsuits unless they insure themselves, but auto insurance won’t cut it.

“If a cyclist is deemed at fault in a crash with a car, a pedestrian, or another cyclist, a claim would have to be made against the liability portion of their homeowners or renters insurance policy in order for the loss to be covered,” says Neil.

However, the cyclist’s homeowners or renters policy won’t cover damage to the bicycle caused by the bicycle owner. People with very expensive bicycles might benefit from bicycle insurance to cover their investments. But, and here’s where things get tricky, if your bicycle is stolen (from anywhere, not just your home), your homeowners or renters insurance policy should cover that loss, but you might have to itemize your bicycle on your policy (check with your agent). And, if a cyclist is injured in a wreck he or she causes, his or her own health insurance policy would cover medical expenses. Remember that in all cases damages will need to surpass your deductible in order for you to receive an insurance payout.

If a cyclist is deemed not at fault in a crash with a car, the at-fault driver would use his or her auto insurance policy to pay for damages and injuries. And if an uninsured motorist hits a cyclist and the motorist is at fault, the cyclist could use his or her uninsured motorist coverage for damages (as long as they carry it). Uninsured motorist coverage can also be used if a cyclist is involved in a hit and run.

Using your bike for work?

A caveat: the above applies to people riding bicycles for fun, not for business purposes.

Delivery and courier cyclists must be covered by their own general business liability policy or the policy of the entity for which they are working,” explains Neil. “The same would go for pedicabs when they are being used to transport passengers for a fee. Pedicab drivers or delivery cyclists should inquire with their employers about whether the business provides liability coverage while they are on the clock. If working on a contract basis, they would need to carry their own general business liability policy to cover themselves for any damage they may cause.”

As always, it’s important to check with your own individual insurance company (auto, homeowners, renters, and health) about your coverage. Read your policy carefully and have your agent walk you through it.

And for details about insurance coverage for motor bikes, motorcycles, and mopeds, see our article about short commutes.