CBC: "Very Scary" red revert lights are dangerous, cyclists say

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Story and photos by Kimberley Molina

Approximately 940 intersections in Ottawa use this sensor technology

An Ottawa cyclist who had a close call at a major intersection wants an end to red revert technology.

Red reverts — also known as revert reds — are sensors on the road that pick up when a vehicle, such as a car or bicycle, stops on them and triggers a traffic light change.

The sensor technology is meant to speed the flow of traffic through intersections. But if the vehicle or bicycle moves past the sensors too soon, the signal immediately switches back to red and the cross traffic gets a green light again.

That can leave cyclists caught in the middle of an intersection as the traffic signal is changing.

Jordan Moffatt said that's what he did on Oct. 2, 2017 as he was travelling along Slidell Street when he came to the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.

He positioned himself on the three yellow dots, saw the pedestrian signal count down to zero and the traffic lights on the parkway turn red — only to go green again when he moved off the sensor.

"I had no idea what happened. It was very strange. It was very scary. It was late at night, it was dark and I found myself in the middle of an intersection [that] I thought I had a green light for," he said.

There is no indication red revert technology played a factor in that cyclist's death, but the RCMP said the cyclist was "disobeying" the red light. 

'A really dangerous position'

It wasn't until Moffatt had a similar encounter at another intersection to the east of downtown at Hemlock Road and Birch Avenue that he looked up what he believes caused the problem — red revert technology.

The City of Ottawa confirmed to CBC News that both intersections use it.

Approximately 80 per cent of Ottawa's 1,171 intersections with traffic lights have red revert technology, Stu Edison, program manager of signal installation, wrote in a statement.

This works out to about 940 intersections.

"It puts cyclists in a really dangerous position because they're going to gather momentum [when they expect to get a green light] and they'll be in the middle of the intersection with oncoming traffic coming at them," Moffatt said.

Councillor wants changes

After another cyclist died on May 16 near City Hall, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said she plans to put forward a motion to City Council next month to have Ottawa adopt a Vision Zero policy.

While she acknowledges the implementation of the strategy to end serious injury and death on Ottawa's roads could take some time, in the interim she hopes to make some immediate changes.

She said she wants to end use of red revert sensors at intersections and wants city staff to find a way to automate all traffic lights.

"We cannot expect cyclists to take full responsibility for not moving … a couple centimetres off those indicators on the pavement," she said.

She said most cyclists, pedestrians and drivers watch the opposing light and once it turns red, expect their light to turn green and begin to move forward.

"They end up pulling into an intersection thinking they have a green light, when in fact they've got traffic flying through the intersection."

She's worried inexperienced cyclists could put themselves in dangerous situations.

Catherine McKenney