Letting People on Bicycles Use LPIs: A New Way Forward on Cycling Safety

Cyclists proceeding alongside pedestrians at an LPI on Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Doug Gordon
Cyclists proceeding alongside pedestrians at an LPI on Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Doug Gordon

One of the most effective tools in New York’s street safety toolkit is also the simplest: the leading pedestrian interval, or LPI. With these signals, people on foot have a range of 7 to 11 seconds to cross before drivers may proceed through the intersection or make turns through crosswalks. With high safety benefits and low installation costs, DOT installed a record 832 LPIs in 2017 for a total of 2,547 LPIs throughout the city, seven times the number prior to the beginning of the Vision Zero program.

Now, the safety benefits of many of these LPIs will be extended to another vulnerable class of street users: people on bicycles.

Today, we join officials from the New York City Department of Transportation and cycling and street safety advocates to announce a pilot program that will allow cyclists to follow pedestrian head-start signals at 50 designated intersections. This critical step was born out months of constructive discussion with NYPD, DOT, and Council Member Menchaca — and consistent testimony from advocates and everyday riders.

As part of the initiative, which will run until October of this year, DOT will install temporary signage at intersections that already have leading pedestrian lntervals indicating that people on bicycles will be able to use these signals to proceed ahead of motorists. It is important to note that cyclists making turns are legally required to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks at all intersections with or without an LPI.

While this program is currently structured to be temporary, we are confident that the data that will emerge at its end will show what many people who ride bicycles in New York already know: Using LPIs to get ahead of drivers at dangerous intersections will keep riders safe, will not burden pedestrians, and will not otherwise cause harm.

After all, this initiative — along with the 2016 legislation introduced by Council Member Menchaca to allow cyclists to follow LPIs — grew not out of some vague notion of improving cycling safety, but from on-the-ground observations of cyclist behavior. Stand at any intersection with an LPI along this city’s busiest cycling routes and one is bound to find dozens of people on bikes using the pedestrian signal to stay a safe distance ahead of drivers. The practice is so common — and has so far resulted in no reported crashes or major conflicts with pedestrians — that many people already assume it is legal.

Whether they know it or not, these New Yorkers are on to something backed up by DOT analysis. The department’s 2016 Don’t Cut Corners study found a 56 percent reduction in serious injury and fatal pedestrian and bicycle crashes at intersections with LPIs. With 89 percent of cyclists killed or seriously injured at intersections, giving people on bikes the opportunity to stay as far away from moving cars as possible is something we must explore as we seek to end the scourge of traffic violence.

Of course, there is more to this pilot program than safety. Allowing cyclists to use LPIs reflects a new and modern understanding of mobility in cities across the world, one that recognizes that bicycles and automobiles are two very different things. Washington, DC, for example, has allowed cyclists to use LPIs legally since 2013. Famously bike-friendly cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen use traffic signals that allow cyclists to maintain even, steady speeds for miles without having to stop, and they adjust depending on weather conditions.

As New York seeks to catch up to these cities and solve its mobility challenges, new rules will be needed to account for the fact that a bicycle — which weighs mere dozens of pounds and is powered by human strength — is not the same as a multi-ton, motorized vehicle capable of achieving high speeds at the mere tap of a gas pedal. This pilot program is a good first step towards that goal which will build toward more modernization of our streets in the name of safety.

Carlos Menchaca represents the 38th District of the New York City Council, which includes Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenwood Heights, and portions of Borough Park, Dyker Heights and Windsor Terrace.

Doug Gordon is a TV writer/producer and a safe streets advocate who blogs at BrooklynSpoke.

  • qrt145
  • reasonableexplanation

    I have never seen a cyclist not use the LPI as a green light unless a cop was visible. As a cyclist myself I have always used the LPI myself too. This is a nice feel good measure, though I guess.

    By the way, a quick aside, as a cyclist and driver, it never bothers me when cyclists make idaho stops, or slowly roll through a stop sign, however, please don’t ignore the driver’s lament of the cyclists that blatantly run reds/stop in front of moving cars with the right of way, it happens depressingly often.

  • MB

    It would be great if alongside this pilot program there was enforcement of cars using the LPIs as well. Over the past few months, I’ve regularly witnessed drivers inching forward before the LPI and then rolling through the still red light when the walk signal appears. This is as I’m waiting on my bike for the green because I know that a cop would rather ticket me for using the LPI than they would a driver and I cannot afford to get a ticket.

    I’ve mostly seen this happen on Dekalb Ave in Brooklyn. I don’t know if it happens more frequently there, or if it’s just that I happen to ride there more often and that’s why I’ve noticed it.

  • qrt145

    I’m glad that there’s finally some progress on this, but why be so timid about it? Why spend time and money on a pilot study when the city could legalize what is already the de facto standard practice at the stroke of a pen? Not only is the measure obvious, but it has already been tested in other cities. Let’s stop wasting time.

  • N_Gorski

    Hooray! Now if we can just figure out the weird cycles approaching the Williamsburg bridge (where there’s already at least one sign telling cyclists to use the LPI)

  • redbike

    I don’t understand what’s new, other than

    DOT will install temporary signage at intersections that already have leading pedestrian lntervals indicating that people on bicycles will be able to use these signals

    Was Intro. 1072 passed and signed by the mayor? If no, that’s news to me. But if yes, the temporary signs imply that folks on bicycles entering one of the 2,497 intersections with leading (or lagging) pedestrian interval but without these nifty signs is going to be a victim of NYPD ticketing for what Intro. 1072 sez is legal everywhere there’s a leading or lagging pedestrian interval.

  • The timing is messed up on the lights approaching the bridge. Once a bicyclist gets the green light where Borinquen Place hits S.4th Street, that bicyclist has to really sprint in order to avoid being caught at the next light, at Roebling Street.

    There was a similar mis-timing on the lights on Clinton Street in Manhattan, where the new mid-block light between Grand Street and East Broadway turned green just in time to let southbound cyclists be caught at the red light at East Broadway. But that was eventually fixed.

    I hope that this problem will be fixed, as well. Getting compliance from bicyclists at red lights is difficult enough. It becomes impossible if cyclists see that waiting at one light only results in another wait a few yards down the road. And incentivising cyclists to blow the light at Borinquen/S.4th is particularly bad, because it is a new installation featuring some bike-only signals.

  • AMH

    I’ve noticed drivers doing this everywhere as well.

  • qrt145

    Where? I haven’t noticed this problem at the LPI intersections that I frequent (mostly midtown Manhattan).

  • redbike

    Good question, but you already answered it. Driver behavior varies widely depending on location.

  • Jeff

    I’ve long believed that the safety benefits of LPIs will steadily erode as drivers “learn” about them.

  • qrt145

    No, my question is where AMH saw this. I know driver behavior varies on location but I’m interested in seeing some data points, even if anecdotal.

  • I see drivers abusing the LPI on Willoughby Avenue in Brooklyn, which is the eastbound counterpart to westbound DeKalb Avenue. Some of this is no doubt the result of their intentionally ignoring the rules. But I am willing to believe that a good amount is the result of confusion, as drivers are accustomed to the green light and the walk signal turning green at the same time.

    Without signs stating the existence and purpose of LPIs, the effectiveness of this innovation is severely compromised.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Yeah, in South Brooklyn it was the opposite, when the LPIs just rolled out, lots of people drove forward with the ped signal, but after a few months, nobody really does it anymore.

  • Chris Gold

    A shame to see intersections on 9th street between 8th ave and 3rd Ave in Brooklyn off the list since the large amount of double parking makes using the lpi to get ahead of cars a matter of safety, and the police sometimes ticket cyclists for using LPIs there. Still this is great news!

  • Joe R.
  • Joe R.

    I call out cyclists usurping other people’s right-of-way whenever I can. It’s boorish, inexcusable behavior, plain and simple. If the NYPD had any bit of sense, this is the sole cycling infraction they would go after with no tolerance.

  • Tooscrapps

    Countdown timers are just a signal for motorists to know when they have to slam on the gas in order to make a light.

  • JarekFA

    Truth. If I’m cross traffic, I know better than to think, oh when that hits zero then I can cross. It’s precisely at that moment when you might have someone speeding to beat the light.

  • Jeff

    Can we guess the Post headline? Something about “pedal-pushers” or “two-wheelers” and “blowing” red lights?

  • Barry Grant

    I’ve been an unofficial beta tester of this scheme for some time now

  • redbike

    Oops! Thanks!

  • walks bikes drives

    I see it on Park Ave all the time. But I don’t think it is drivers taking advantage of it. I think they actually think the light has changed. When I first started driving, I observed very quickly that the ped signals lined up with the traffic signals. Therefore I could time light changes by observation of the pedal signals. When the solid don’t walk came on, the light turned yellow. When the walk signal illuminated, the light turned green. No, that is not the proper way to drive, but an LPI was totally unheard of. They also really don’t exist outside of urban areas. So it’s about changing driver behavior so they understand that this correlation no longer exists. Red light cameras could do wonders, but then you have the detractors who will quickly say that an LPI is just to make money off of the red light cameras.

  • walks bikes drives

    How long until it would actually become law?

  • Isaac B

    We need to be a bit careful about how cities other than NYC implement this. Unlike NYC, many cities (LA, for instance) actually ticket people who start crossing when the WALK has changed to the flashing hand. And the WALK is often very short. It would be a loss to cyclists if “cyclists can use the LPI” is interpreted as “cyclists can only cross on the WALK”.

  • AMH

    I don’t spend a lot of time in Midtown, but I’ve seen this behavior at a lot of uptown intersections that have been getting LPIs. (The larger problem of drivers violating red lights goes far beyond LPI intersections, of course.)

  • AMH

    Dunno about the Post, but amNY was “Cyclists can now legally run some red lights” and “No stopping NYC bikers”.

  • JarekFA

    Bingo. I always take the LPI so I can get a head start up the hill and take the lane as the bike lane is always blocked with somebody between 4th and 5th ave.

  • WellAdjustedAndroid

    Once the LPI is over the cars get the green light and cyclists will still have to stop at the red. This rule means cyclists can start earlier, they can go through the intersection up until the light turns red without a ticket.

  • henri_cervantes

    belaboring the obvious perhaps but, this goes for traffic on both streets, or rather (from first line) only when “Crossing 2 Avenue”?

  • MatthewEH

    I saw a particularly bad incursion into the crosswalk on 116th Street at Broadway the other day. (Only major street I tend to cross on my way to the local subway station.)

    To be fair, I was still in the crosswalk in the north/south direction even with a solid don’t walk signal because I knew the eastbound traffic was getting a delayed green light. Realistically, the countdown timer still should have been showing around 2 seconds left to cross.

    Note that there is no straight-on westbound traffic at this intersection; that part of 116th ends in a T at the Columbia campus. Also also, I was on foot, not cycling. 🙂

  • BruceWillisThrowsACar@You

    1.5 to 2 years is my guess if the DOT / city agencies need a study that has practically already been done or assumed to have been accounted for in previous LPI studies.

  • Not a problem, California already changed the law to state that pedestrians can legally start crossing until the solid hand or “DON’T WALK” is shown.

  • In Washington state law bicyclists in a crosswalk have all the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians. http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.61.755

  • Same for Idaho. They also have same rights as people on sidewalks with the one caveat that they need to yield to people walking. (Unless of course a city within the state adopts it’s own city ordinance disallowing it all together or in designated areas)

  • Oliver Smith

    It’s getting close to October — looking forward to hearing about how the pilot went!

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