Rent a bicycle for the day in European cities such as Amsterdam and Stockholm, and chances are your trip around town will be interrupted by bicycle traffic lights. Once a very odd and rare sight across the pond, bicycle traffic signals are now becoming more common here in the U.S. as bicycling is on the upswing.

A recent joint study of the Federal Highway Administration and the Oregon Department of Transportation has found that more cities are installing the signals to enhance not only bicyclists’ safety, but that of pedestrians and commuters. At least 16 American cities, from Seattle to Washington, D.C.,  have aggressively installed the lights. So why are they becoming more common, even in intersections where bicycle lanes do not exist?

As fuel costs increase and more Americans seek healthier lifestyles, bicycling is catching on. Dangers, however, still lurk for those who are on two wheels. Many drivers are either reticent or clueless about sharing the road, with collisions between motorists turning right--and smack into cyclists moving straight ahead--unfortunately, too frequent of an occurrence. At the same time, many bicyclists are not aware of, or disregard, local traffic laws. Others do not use proper hand signals. Finally, standard traffic signals often do not give cyclists enough time to cross an intersection (though yellow really means do not cross for bicyclists as well as motorists).

The installation of bicycle traffic devices can reduce such accidents and help make traffic more seamless all the way around. According to a USA Today article, there is still no national standard for how municipalities can effectively use these signals; and while some are automatic, akin to signals dedicated for city buses, others require a bicyclist to activate the signal--similar in function to the decades-old pedestrian signals in your local town.

Salem, Oregon is one city installing these bicycle traffic signals at more intersections. Last year’s passage of statewide legislation added bicycle signals to the state’s kit of required traffic control systems. To that end, Salem has installed the lights at 10 railroad crossings throughout the city.

For Salem, the bicycle-specific traffic lights are a cost-effective way to keep traffic moving and all commuters safer; their average cost is about $1,000 per light; new traffic lights can cost a minimum of $80,000. Weigh those costs against the (human and monetary) price of dealing with a traffic accident, and such investment makes sense. Watch for more of these signals to appear across the U.S. as more citizens grasp the benefits of bicycling.

Published earlier today on Triple Pundit. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credit: Science Museum (UK)

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.