Dealing with Signalized Intersections

Many motorcyclists have experienced the frustration of stopping at a traffic signal and waiting for it to change, only to realize that the sensor controlling the traffic signal isn’t picking up their bike. MotorEagles reached out to the Ohio Department of Transportaion (ODOT) to find out more about the problem and we were pleasantly surprised with the response.

Dave Holstein, a state traffic engineer with ODOT quickly returned our call and was eager to discuss the issue. It turns out that in 2010, he and the Office of Traffic Engineering began a working relationship with Imre Szauter of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) to address riders’ concerns.

Change of heart

At first, the AMA wanted to pass legislation allowing motorcyclists to proceed through an unresponsive traffic signal. However, after working with Holstein and others, Szauter changed his point of view. In an email to the Virginia DOT, he remarked, “As a direct result of the pro-active work by the ODOT team, I’m more inclined to recommend to others the engineering solutions Dave [Holstein] has outlined rather than the legislative approach.”

So, what did Holstein and the other ODOT engineers come up with that was so impressive? He explained that they had come up with new loop shapes that would detect motorcycles. As a result ODOT “changed their standards and guidance to now require motorcycle-friendly loop detection on any new signal built in Ohio using state or federal funds,” Holstein wrote in in an email.

However, the old, long rectangular loops (the ones with the dead spot in the middle that plague motorcyclists) are already installed throughout the state. To deal with that problem, Holstein said that ODOT had set up a dedicated email address and phone number for motorcyclists to report problems. We asked where the contact information could be found. Turns out, it is buried on the ODOT website under the “Major Programs” of their Planning division:

A small text box on that page reads:

ODOT invites Bike and Motorcycle
riders to contact an ODOT advocate
to report problems with traffic
signals and roadway conditions.


or call: (614) 387-0722

UPDATE: ODOT has added this information to their Traffic Engineering webpage.

We encourage ALL motorcyclists to add this contact info on your cell phone. (Call after you’ve arrived at your destination.) ODOT will contact the appropriate state, county or local government agency and schedule a time to fix the signal. They provide this service free of charge, but Holstein admitted that most local governments were unaware of the service since no mass communication effort was ever made by ODOT.

What should you do if you’re stuck at an old, unresponsive signal?
It will take some time before changes can be made to existing loop signals, so it’s important to know what to do if you encounter one. First of all, do not sit in the middle. The way the signal loops work, your bike is more likely to be detected if you stop directly on top of one of the lines – they look like grey paint on the road in the photographs, but may also may be covered in black tar.

The U.S. Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration website offered the following advice back in 2008:

If you can see the loop on a section of pavement, then a motorcycle riding over the left or right edge of the loop should actuate the signal. If it does not, then (1) the loop sensitivity setting was not set for motorcycle (and bicycle) detection and should be recalibrated, (2) the loop is malfunctioning and should be repaired, or (3) the vehicle wheel rims are not made of conductive material.

While some states have passed laws allowing motorcyclists to go through red lights after a “reasonable period of time,” Ohio has not. Remember to obey all traffic signals and ride safely! 

4 comments on “Dealing with Signalized Intersections

  1. The link to ODOT to notify of non responding traffic lights for motorcycles is not working and I am getting an error reply. Thanks!!

  2. Erik,

    If the link to the email address is not working on your browser, simply copy and paste the following address into a new email: Be sure to include a description of your problem and the exact location of the traffic signal.
    You can also call (614) 387-0722 to report an unresponsive signal.

    – Your friends at Motor Eagles

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