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I'm wondering what the law in Ontario allows me to do here if I want to turn left, what I typically do is use the pedestrian crossing and get back on my bike once I am across. I saw this question, but it related to the US and lights with a specific bike detector.

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  • This happens in the UK with some lights to advance in any direction. A bike just isn't heavy enough to trigger a pressure pad. Worst of all, it's often to cross busy highways at remote points (presumably to minimise the time the highway is halted for), so the pedestrian route can be a very long way round.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 14:52
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    @Clumsycat I've never once come across a pressure pad in the UK. The lines in the road surface are for a loop of wire acting as a metal detector. One near me fails even with several bikes in it, all riders putting both feet down with steel SPD cleats. Luckily that's a quiet junction and you can go carefully at many times of day
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 14:57
  • Cross like a pedestrian. If practical, re-route Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 18:18
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    Back when I commuted on a bike, there were two corners where I'd make left turns. On one, the light turned for me (since the left lane was other busy), but doing a left turn felt like Death Race 2000, so I'd just cross like a pedestrian (go straight to the next corner, wait a half light cycle and then cross straight again). The other was mostly a ghost town. I'd stop, wait long enough so I could tell a cop "it's not seeing me" and then carefully cross illegally. If it makes you feel any better, my town uses cameras for detection now. They don't see my small convertible (car) sometimes
    – Flydog57
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 20:12

5 Answers 5

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These situations are frustrating. This site (Ontario bike laws) explicitly states the "Idaho stop" (Cyclists must stop on a red light, but can then proceed yielding to all traffic) is illegal. This leaves you few options other than to dismount and use the pedestrian crossing. If you know the phasing will go green as it cycles though after a pedestrian button is pressed, you could then remount and wait for the green light.

Of course the non-legal way may be more pragmatic if traffic is very quite and it is safe to continue though the intersection. A defense that the lights were failing to work correctly by not sensing a bicycle may work, provided you were stopped for a period of time and could prove it. Long term, you could lobby the local authorities (with the support of a local bicycle group) to have the light controls upgraded to sense cyclists, or introduce the Idaho stop law.

For US based readers, I found this site with a map of states and their bicycle stop laws (note: Quite old, 2014 - check for updates for specific states.)

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    Indeed, Oregon adopted the Idaho stop from its neighbor in 2019
    – Paul H
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 14:46
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    Huh... I performed an "Idaho stop" in Idaho, both before and after it was legal, and had no idea I was no longer breaking the law.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 18:32
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Please consider contacting the municipality and asking them to tune the specific loop so that bikes can activate it. You may find your muni receptive to such requests; where I live in Vancouver area I have had success getting loops fixed.

This is far and away the best longer term solution to your issue.

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    Out of curiosity, Vancouver BC, Vancouver WA, or some other Vancouver? (I'd presume BC, since the OP is also in .CA, but who knows.) Also, I'm pretty impressed that they actually did something about a cyclists' request!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 12:10
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    @FreeMan Vancouver BC.
    – mander
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 20:35
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The first thing to do, is to look for the wires in the road. Frequently you'll see a loop of tar snakes where the first car in the queue is expected to stop. Make sure that you are bang in the middle of that loop.

Secondly, slant your bike. You are trying to interact inductively with a vertical magnetic field, and an upright bike has very little cross section in the vertical direction. However, once you slant your bike, your metal wheels will gain significant amounts of cross section. If your frame is a diamond frame, that too will gain useful cross section.

Done right, this should solve the vast majority of cases for you. I only remember a single case where this method did not work. A 45° angle of your bike is generally sufficient. If you can't see any tar snakes (because the wire loop was laid down during the construction of the road), you may need to experiment with the location of your bike. Try both the center region of a stopped car and the place where a stopped car's engine comes to rest. Those are the most common places for those induction loops. Take a look at lights with tar snakes to get an idea of where to expect them.


Of course, sometimes you come across a light that fails to detect you at all. And, if you don't have any metal in your rims and your frame is carbon, you are out of luck. You need to have some kind of metal loop to activate those lights. In these cases, I refer you to mattnz's answer.

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    I had somewhat unreliable success with this method exiting a private compound with an induction-loop driven gate catering to automobilists. The thing is, I had to try quite a few times until the loop triggered. That worked because feedback was immediate. I wonder how that would work with traffic lights where you may need to wait a minute or two before you know that you had success, and perhaps longer before you know you didn't ;-). Do the traffic lights give quick feedback? Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 9:50
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    "Do the traffic lights give quick feedback?" @Peter-ReinstateMonica where I live there are a few intersections where, late at night (usually midnight - 5am) the lights will change within about 5-10 seconds of arriving at the red. Most, however, will take 15-30 seconds to change, often even more if you're arriving from a low traffic side street onto a busy main arterial road. So yes, they can give quick feedback, but IME, very few do, so your point is quite valid.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 12:08
  • Could also stop just past the induction loop (obviously not far enough ahead to be in danger from cross traffic) and hope the first car that pulls up behind you triggers the sensor. Not as feasible if there isn't any other car traffic to help you out. If you're stopped right on it and not able to trigger it yourself, you're also preventing the car behind you from triggering it for you and thus holding up traffic. Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 14:42
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Indeed, there is the rub. That's why I put so much emphasis on 1) looking for the tar snakes, and 2) getting an idea of where to expect them. Also, for the traffic lights that you come across regularly, you only need to find the loop once (provided you can remember its location). Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 18:42
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    @Naptha Aluminum works better than you think: The induction loops rely on inducing electrical current, rather than relying on some ferromagnetic effect. And aluminum is quite a good conductor, so good in fact that land lines rely on aluminum for their current carrying capacity. So, your average, cheap aluminum rims are quite a good at triggering these lights. They are massive conductors in ring form. Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 6:25
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I can only answer with regard to what a rider can practically do, not the law (shouldn't law.stackexchange.com be more useful for that?).

Traffic lights typically detect vehicles through inductive loops in the road. These may be rectangular, diamond, or circular. They detect best when the frame of the bike is directly over the wire - not, as most people assume, when it is central in the shape. The rectangular loops are most convenient as it is natural to stop your bike off center, putting it over the wire. For other shapes, it's not so good (but you only care if there is no other traffic which would trigger the lights for you).

There are also lights which use cameras/microwaves to detect vehicles - look for a small camera on top of the lights or on the horizontal pole supporting the lights. But these are usually used for temporary lights.

In principle, there are also magnetic vehicle detection systems, which see the change in the Earth's magnetic field when a vehicle is near. However, these are not popular as the Earth's magnetic field is horizontal at the equator, so near the equator these detectors are useless.

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By far the best you can do in various cities and towns in Ontario is to push the button. I cannot prove it, but I have extensive empirical evidence that the algorithms used give far higher priority for a signal to turn green if someone pushed the button.

Perhaps because they don't change the code from summer to winter, and leaving pedestrians waiting in January is merciless (freezing digits, etc), whereas car drivers are in a cosily warm place.

Ethically, it's perfectly all right, of course, since cyclists are exposed to "the elements" just as much as pedestrians (if not more in winter due to the increased wind chill).

In short, scoot over to the button and push it. The bonus is that the cars will acknowledge the reduced waiting time, some drivers will approvingly show an expression of contentment, and they will be even more considerate than they would have been, as you subsequently take off.

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  • I also feel like lights tend to be way more responsive to button pushes than bike detectors. Responsive as in once they've registered a bike in the bike detector, they take longer to change the light than if they'd just registered a button push.
    – SSilk
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 20:22
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    Bonus: at least where I am (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), a lot of the bike detection based light changes also employ red reverts, where the cross traffic will get a red light so you think you're about to get your green, but if you leave the bike detector before you get your green, it think it's a false detection, and flips the cross traffic back to green. Which is quite scary if you jumped the gun and started rolling into the intersection when the cross traffic stopped.
    – SSilk
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 20:22

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