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Will Lawmakers Green Light Bicyclists, Mopeds Running Reds?

Should bicyclists be able to run red lights under certain circumstances?

If you ride a bicycle or motorcycle, this has no doubt happened to you: You stop at a red light controlled by a sensor in the pavement and you wait... and wait.

Lawmakers in Oregon and Washington are pondering whether to give bicycles and mopeds permission to run red lights under certain circumstances.

"Getting stuck at a red light that fails to detect you and doesn't turn green is really frustrating,” Washington Bikes policy director Blake Trask said. He told a legislative committee in Olympia Monday that cyclists such as him should be allowed to proceed if the coast is clear and he's waited in vain through all the signal phases.

"We hope there comes a time when all traffic signals detect bicycles and motorcycles and this law becomes moot,” Trask said. “Until then, bicycle riders and motorcyclists should have a safe and clear protocol for how to address broken red lights."

After Trask spoke, a captain from the Washington State Patrol along with a lobbyist for several mid-sized cities indicated discomfort with allowing bicyclists to run red lights.

"We could have a hazardous situation occur. We could have safety compromised," Doug Levy said speaking on behalf of the cities of Everett, Lake Stevens and Puyallup.

Earlier this month, this traffic law change easily passed the state Senates of Oregon and Washington. Now state House votes await.

The Oregon version of the legislation would apply equally to motorcyclists and bicycles. Washington's legislature amended its traffic laws last year to allow motorcycles to proceed through a red light if it becomes clear to the rider that the sensor at the intersection isn't detecting the vehicle. The pending legislation in Olympia basically would now extend the same treatment to bicycles and mopeds.

Idaho was one of the first states to allow motorcycles and cyclists to proceed with caution through a red light after determining a traffic sensor did not trigger. Idaho changed its law in 2006.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.