The Importance of Bicycle Lighting

Bicycle Assisted SuicideIt’s The Crank again, and today I’m going to talk about bicycle lighting or the lack of it, and the various ways I find it annoying.

When I ride at night or in low-light situations, I like to have at least a rear light to make me more visible to motorists. A front light is also nice, both to be visible to cars and to see potential potholes or other obstructions that could put me in the hospital. I prefer lights that are rechargeable and cheap, so that I can just leave them on the bike and not have to remember to bring them with me or worry about having them stolen.

My favorite lights were the old “vista” lights. These were large, clunky blinking lights that cost about $10-15, used two AA batteries and were compatible with the standard reflector brackets and mounts found on most bikes. In the USA, bicycle manufacturers are required to sell bikes with front and back reflectors and, over the years have settled on a standard reflector mount that features a screw hole and adjacent pin hole. The screw to secure the reflector is inserted in the screw hole and the pinhole accepts a pin on the reflector that keeps it from spinning around. The vista lights had a pin and screw that lined up with these mounts, which made their installation on a bike quick and easy. Their cheapness and the fact that they had to be screwed into place made them more difficult and less desirable to steal. I’ve never had one stolen off any of my bikes and I have at least two that are over fifteen years old. Most back racks also came with this standard reflector mount so putting lights on them was easy.

lights_and_mounts_nice

In the last decade, all standardization has disappeared in the bike industry and bike lights and reflectors are not immune from this. It is now very difficult to buy a screw-on bike light that fits a standard reflector mount. Light manufacturers have decided to use their own latex rubber mounts, which are easy to steal and break quickly. I’ve yet to own one that’s lasted more than one year. For nicer lights they use higher-end, non-standardized brackets that mount on handbars or seat-posts. These invariably break or get lost before the light dies, or, because you have to remove the light wherever you go, the light gets lost or stolen and you’re left with a useless bracket. Also, many back racks now lack reflector mounts. So, if you can still find a vista light, there’s no way to mount it without making a bracket from scratch.

My wife’s bike had a back rack with a flimsy reflector mount that eventually broke off. Because it was pop-riveted in place I had to fashion a new mount from a galvanized steel L-bracket, drilling new holes into it and the rack so I could securely mount a back light. It took me almost an hour and was super annoying. See photos below.

Like many back racks, this one lacked a universal reflector mount so I had to make one from a metal L-bracket

Like many back racks, this one lacked a universal reflector mount so I had to make one from a metal L-bracket.

 

A better view of the bracket screwed into place and light screwed onto it.

A better view of the bracket screwed into place and light screwed onto it.

As a bicycle advocate who is often out at night, counting bikes or noticing other cyclists, I see a ton of people biking around with no lights, often on dangerous, high-speed streets like University Avenue. This and my recent experience trying to mount a light on my wife’s bike got me thinking about bike lighting more broadly.

Why have lights on bicycles at all?

There’s a surprising amount conflict among bicycle advocates on whether good bicycle lighting can significantly reduce the risk of injury or death at night. Reading one European study and various websites, a major reason for the disagreement is there’s a lack of data about bicycle-miles-traveled or even the number of bicycle trips at night or dusk, versus daytime trips. Only by cross-checking this data with bike crash data, can researchers see how many accidents are occurring per-ride at different times of day. A few countries, like the Netherlands (and cities) collect this data and there seems to be decent statistical evidence in these places that accidents per-trip or per-mile-biked are significantly higher at night. Dutch and Canadian data say that about a third of both bike crashes with motor vehicles and cyclist deaths occur at night or under artificial lighting. This is occurring despite the fact that far fewer people ride at night. Yet, some researchers will say there’s not enough data on how many crashes or what percentage of nighttime or twilight crashes were caused by a bicycle’s lack of decent lighting versus other factors like increased nighttime alcohol consumption by cyclists or motorists or additional nighttime visibility issues.

Because of this disagreement, it’s been hard for cycling advocates and the bicycle industry to agree on a basic standard for bicycle lighting. Different countries have very different standards. At one extreme, you have Germany that not only requires new bikes be sold with lights but, until recently, mandated that those lights had to be powered by a hub generator. At the other extreme, you have the United States that only requires bikes be sold with reflectors and leaves it to states and cities to decide whether to impose more lighting requirements and decide whether or not to enforce those requirements.

Reading all the various websites and reports, I think bike advocates and the bicycle industry use statistical uncertainty to justify inaction on coming up with a few basic common-sense standards. This is stupid. It puts people’s lives at risk and is one of many factors that slows the growth of cycling as an everyday mode of transportation.

A Common Sense Lighting Standard for Bicycles

There may be a lack of lighting-related crash data for bicycles but there is a ton of data for cars– enough that, by 1949, even the color of head lights and tail lights was internationally codified in the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.  It was determined that the most important aspect of vehicle lighting was being seen by and communicating with other motorists and non-motorists. White lights indicated the front of a vehicle or an oncoming vehicle. Red lights indicated the back of a vehicle and/or a braking vehicle. To this day, we require that cars be sold with working head and tail lights, plus brake and directional lights, and by law they must be maintained and working. By contrast, there is no requirement that any bicycles be sold with lights. This is absurd. Can you imagine if automobiles didn’t come with front or back lights and people had to buy after-market, clip-on lights for them? You would have a scenario similar to bicycles where (depending on where you lived in the world) 35–75% of drivers would be driving around at night with no lights of any kind!

Based on more abundant statistical information and common sense, I think we can all agree that someone who is driving a car at night without their lights is a moron who is endangering themselves and others. Why can’t we agree that someone who is operating a bicycle at night with no lights is also, at the very least, endangering themselves?!?

Some cyclists (often helmet-haters) will make the libertarian argument that people have a right to endanger themselves and we shouldn’t mandate bicycle lighting. Ok, but if we care about other cyclists and cycling safety, why not make it as easy as possible for cyclists who want lighting to have lighting? Also, this libertarian position ignores the fact that many cities and states already have laws on the books that require bicyclists to have at least a front light and sometimes both front and back lights. Because these laws are rarely enforced and require cyclists purchase and carry often poorly designed, clip-on lights, a huge percentage of people don’t bother.

Also, most cyclists start off with absolutely no training or experience riding in traffic. They are often high school or college students who know how to ride a bike from childhood but don’t know much about how bikes work or basic skills for riding in traffic, including how to signal, where to ride, how to avoid getting “doored,” or how to be visible to motorists at night. Many of these first-time users are getting their bikes from parents, siblings, friends and secondary/used markets and not in bike shops. Thus, many are unaware of bike lights and how to install them. Why not make it easier for these folks to have lights?

Mandating that bicycle manufacturers or dealers sell bikes with lights (instead of just reflectors) makes it easier for people who want lighting to get it. It would also lower the price of lights and encourage standardization and innovation. Would it save lives and injuries? Due to the lack of data on bike crashes, we can’t say definitively how many would be saved but certainly some. Looking at car crash data (with and without lights), common sense would say bicycle manufacturer or dealer-required lights could significantly reduce injuries and fatalities. And, after all, car data and common sense are the source of our current bicycle lighting and reflector laws.

Based on the angle of car headlights and the speed at which they travel, by the time a car’s headlights catch your reflector, the car won’t have enough time to stop and you will be dead or badly injured. Reflectors are useless. By contrast LED lights greatly increase your visibility to motorists and rapidly flashing red or white LED lights also communicate that the light is coming from a bicycle and not some other urban light source. If we already mandate bicycles be sold with reflectors based on the idea that it’s important to be seen, let’s mandate basic LED lights—something that is much more effective.

While we’re at it, how about a universal light/reflector mount so I don’t have to spend an hour creating one from scratch?!?


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49 Responses to The Importance of Bicycle Lighting

  1. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell December 4, 2015 at 9:44 am #

    Great post Andy. I heartily agree about the need for lights at night (and dawn and dusk). At least a few times a year I drive up on someone riding in the road without a light (and amazingly often also wearing dark clothes). From behind a windshield you CANNOT see them.

    I know a lot of anti-helmet folks. I’m not anti-helmet but I am against mandating helmet use. (I have done a fair bit of research on helmets and determined that they are basically useless. Perhaps the biggest argument for this is that the rate of head injuries is identical in countries with high helmet use (Australia), moderate helmet use (U.S., Canada), and no helmet use (Netherlands, Denmark, …). It’s about 35% in all. If helmets worked it should be less in countries where helmets are used.) In any case I don’t know anyone who is anti-helmet or helmet agnostic who is against bike lights and most, myself included, would support mandating bike lights at night.

    For the best in no-worry no-hassle lighting I think dynamo systems win. We have them on most of our bikes, either hub based dynamo or bottle. They are always there, always work, and never need charging. That said, I actually have the Vista you mentioned on my road bike.

    Bikes in Europe sold for transportation nearly always come with lights, usually a dynamo system. These bikes are sold similar to cars and have everything you need included and fully integrated.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke December 4, 2015 at 10:56 am #

      I’m a helmet agnostic, but a light nazi. I probably have a crappy light setup. I keep losing them.

    • Josh December 7, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

      How can you compare the US and Canada to Holland? Your whole shtick is that the Dutch & Danish have vastly superior bicycling conditions, so their rates of head injuries should be far lower than here, no? How much lower would be hard to say, and they also bike in far greater numbers, and fewer people drive, and drivers are going slower, etc. So how could we possibly conclude that the rate of head injuries has nothing to do with those and therefore helmets are useless?

      As a similar comparison, my sister and I have identical rates of head injuries while bicycling (zero, thankfully). She doesn’t wear a helmet, while I do. I could state that this shows helmets are useless, or I could consider the fact that she doesn’t ride a bike, which is how she got to zero head injuries, and that maybe my comparison is flawed.

  2. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller December 4, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    I don’t need studies to tell me that I should have lights on my bike at night. I wouldn’t feel safe without them.

    The question I have is just how bright my front light should be. Having broken my Target-purchased relatively cheap, clunky Bell light, I went to Freewheel and bought the cheapest front (white) light they had, which still seemed kind of expensive. I think it’s 120 lumens, which sounded like plenty, but they had some that were far brighter (and more expensive). After all, the main function of the lights are for others to be able to see you, and you don’t need to blind people.

    Having put them in use, I mostly think I was right because street lights generally give me enough light to see by, but there are times when there is little ambient lighting along the paths by Minnehaha Creek that I wouldn’t mind a bit more of my own.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell December 4, 2015 at 10:25 am #

      One of the big issues with path lighting has seemed to be the cost of getting electricity to the heads. I wonder if with much more efficient LED lighting it’d be possible to have a head that included the lighting, solar panel, and battery. Enough to provide just enough light.

    • Jeff December 4, 2015 at 10:35 am #

      I have a 305 lumen Serfas light and love it. It has three levels of brightness. 305-205-105 something like that. I keep it on the high setting in urban areas so I can be seen. Bike paths I reduce it both to save battery and prevent blinding oncoming cyclists.

  3. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman December 4, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

    I’m not really for or against the idea itself, but a few thoughts.

    *How many people that buy bicycles use them for transportation as opposed to toys and recreation? How many get used after dark. The only time I remember ever riding after dark was at a music festival were cars weren’t allowed. It’s not safe to carry a bulky package in your arms either, so should we mandate all bicycles sold come equipped with racks and baskets for those that want to use a bicycle that way. Few people buy cars for toys and recreation for daytime use only.

    *A lot of the cheaper riding helmets seem to come with rear LED flashers.

    *The required reflectors are mandate to be visible for 100 feet. How many crashes would be prevented if it had lights that were instead visible for 500 feet? Seems a pedestrian walking in the street with dark clothing is in a lot more danger than a bicycle with only reflectors.

    *Maybe the cost to add lights to a $300 hybrid are low relative to the value, but Walmart sells bicycles for $79.99. How much more would those cost equipped with lights?

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary December 4, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

      Lights are pretty cheap. I strongly support the suggestion to mandate their sale with new bikes. At a minimum, provide just a front white light but keep the rear red reflector. (That’s the legal minimum anyway.) It would maybe cost the manufacturer $2 to provide a basic light that meets the minimum standard. If everyone has to do it, they could add it to the top of the cost of the bike and lose no competitive advantage.

      The current standard of requiring front white reflectors is pretty bizarre, because they don’t legally mean anything, and they’re unlikely to make you any safer. Reflectors only reflect light back in the direction of a light source, and are only radiant for someone immediately behind that light source. That is, the only type of crash they might help prevent is a head-on crash with a bike going the wrong way. On the other hand, they won’t help a car pulling out of a driveway on a minor street see a bike riding along, because the two are at right angles to each other. Lights that project their own beam make riding much safer.

      The point that some who buy bikes have no intention of riding at night is well-taken. However, I am a firm believer that all vehicles (including bikes) benefit from use of lights, 24/7. I never drive a car with my headlights off, and I virtually never ride my bike without a front flashing light. Even in the middle of the day, it makes me much more visible. (I don’t necessarily support a legal requirement for bikes to use lights during the day — they’re impractical in some situations like trails — but I do recommend it, especially for people biking in rural or exurban environments where people are not expecting to see bikes.)

      Granted, a cheap light that would be bundled with a bike probably wouldn’t do much mid-day. But more expensive ones do have a safety benefit even while the sun’s out.

      • Rosa December 5, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

        of course, I ride a bike with two front (one battery and one magnetic – nobody ever steals the magnetic ones because they are bolted on) front light, at least one back light, and decorative neon lights all over the frame and wheels.

        This does not seem to make cars comign from driveways or turning onto or from side streets see me. The ambient light inside a car (including all sorts of screens) and general lack of driver attention are way more of a factor than anything else.

  4. Kadence December 4, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    “Bicycle Assisted Suicide.” Aside from the written the content of this post, I find the accompanying comic quite problematic in its victim-blaming.

    If I am cycling while texting and am struck by someone or something that results in my death, that isn’t suicide;

    If I am cycling at night and am struck by someone or something that results in my death, that isn’t suicide;

    If I am cycling wearing black clothing and am struck by someone or something that results in my death, that isn’t suicide;

    If I am cycling without lights at night and am struck by someone or something that results in my death, that isn’t suicide;

    If I am cycling without a helmet and am struck by someone or something that results in my death, that isn’t suicide;

    If I am cycling with a grocery sack hanging from my handlebars and am struck by someone or something that results in my death, that isn’t suicide;

    Even if I am cycling with some, a few, or all of the above conditions met and am struck by someone or something that results in my death, that isn’t suicide;

    It’s accidental death at best, manslaughter at worst.

    I kindly request that the comic be removed from the original post because the comic is extremely trivializing to those of us who’ve had friends, family members, and loved ones attempt and/or commit suicide; the comic blames people on bikes who might not have access to gear, knowledge and opportunities to practice safer cycling habits for their injuries at best, deaths at worst incurred as the result of being struck by someone or something; and the comic exonerates bad infrastructure design and negligent driving behavior.

    I expect more from someone who claims to a bicycle advocate.

    Also, what is Streets.mn doing to diversify its writership?

    • Sam December 11, 2015 at 10:25 am #

      Disappointed that this awful comic is still up after a week. You’re so right.

      It’s also very telling that essentially all the response you’ve received is EXTREMELY hostile and aggressive.

      What exactly IS streets.mn doing to diversify it’s writership? The people with the most at stake in virtually all urban development conversations are queer and trans people of color, yet this community and all of its discussions are overwhelmingly cis white male.

  5. David Markle
    David Markle December 4, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    Surely a front light is more than “nice!” I thought they were required. If not, they should be!

    • Richard December 5, 2015 at 3:12 am #

      hmmmm.

      better not use the word suicide at all, because some people have attempted to actually do it……..

      seems like a bit of a word Nazi.
      Oh wait, nazi is not allowed either…..
      because it would offend….someone……..

      all words offend someone, if you are looking to be offended./…
      But this article, whereas it uses the term suicide in a somewhat sarcastic way, is only about bike safety. Requesting that the comic be removed, however ‘kindly’ it’s done or not, seems like misdirected harassment to me.

      But that’s just my opinion. Which we are all entitled to…..

      • Richard December 5, 2015 at 3:21 am #

        and how does it exonerate bad infrastructure design and negligent driving behavior?? Just because it doesn’t mention them, suddenly it’s advocating?? bit of a logic jump there….

        If you had ever read other writings by this guy, you would know he is all about intelligently considering ‘infrastructure design”….to the point of blowing me away. And this is an article about something else, unsafe rider practices. Not about infrastructure, not about car driver safety, nor suicide.

        maybe you need to go out for a bike ride and chill? (kindly, of course)

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman December 5, 2015 at 11:09 am #

      Looking at Minnesota Statutes 169.222

      *Sub 6: A bicycle being ridden at night must be equipped with 1) a front light visible at 500 feet, 2) a rear reflector visible at all distances from 100-600 feet OR a rear light visible at 500 feet, 3) reflectors on the side and pedals visible at 600 feet.

      *Subd 7: Any new bicycle being sold must be equipped with reflectors as above.

      So unless your selling a new bicycle or riding a bicycle at night, there is not a requirement to have anything. Some of my reflectors broke and I’ve not bothered to fix them since it’s not required and I don’t ride at night.

  6. dolce December 5, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    “looking to be offended”
    pretty much

    that being said, sorry for your loss Kadence.

    back to focusing on being a responsible bike rider… here in Cali it is illegal to ride without a light. we keep several extras in the bike backpack (cheaper ones) and freely share or give them away when needed by others.

    I love the illustration.

  7. Matty Lang
    Matty Lang December 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

    Don’t tread on my fashion choices, Andy. Heh.

  8. Rosa December 5, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

    I would like to see a lower-light level standard for front lights, though, especially helmet-mounted ones. They are blinding to other cyclists and to pedestrians, just like car headlights – but car headlights are supposed to be aimed below human eye level too.

    • NiMo December 7, 2015 at 9:20 am #

      If you mount your light midway up a fork blade it doesnt blind anyone and lets you see the road much better than if its on the handlebars. It’s not as visible to cars but its a far superior setup for actually seeing the road while not blinding other cyclists or pedestrians.

      • Rosa December 8, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

        but the whole discussion is for safety from cars, with very little consideration of people not in cars. Instead of always being LIGHTS MORE LIGHTS I would like some discussion of how to mount and use them without blinding others.

        Now that cheap, super bright LEDs are everywhere, there are a LOT of blinding lights around. Especially the helment- and jogger-head mounted ones.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary December 8, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

          In my mind, it depends a lot on where you’re riding. If you’re riding on a trail or somewhere where other bicycles (going the opposite way) and pedestrians are in close proximity, this is important. (I often turn off my 700 lumen light and switch to a cheap blinky when I turn onto the Greenway.)

          On the other hand, if you’re just riding on one-way bike lanes, or in a travel lane, does it really matter? They’re sometimes, but rarely, more intense than car headlights. Pedestrians are generally offset by the sidewalk and boulevard, and sometimes parked cars.

          • Rosa December 10, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

            Most people don’t switch off, though. Helmet lights are the WORST because they’re always pointed at the face of anyone you’re looking at or talking to. Totally blinding.

      • Rosa December 12, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

        So that fork mounting tip is really useful. Though doesn’t it matter how directional the light is?

  9. Ben Osa December 8, 2015 at 11:03 am #

    Yes, lights are extremely cheap!

    The kind that have the silicone body and rubber band attachment work great to attach to the seat post and handle bars of any bike. They can be shipped directly from China from EBay for under 1 US$ each and come with a battery already.

    Another benefit of them is that because they are small and inexpensive you can mount two of them on both the front and rear which allows for either more visibility or redundancy if one of the lights’ batteries die on you while riding. Getting them stolen isn’t a big deal when they cost under a buck.

    http://m.ebay.com/itm/LED-Bicycle-Bike-Cycling-Silicone-Head-Front-Rear-Wheel-Safety-Light-Lamp-Red-/131658976337?nav=SEARCH

    I like them because the front headlights also have the flashing setting which is also better for car visibility.

    Please note that these won’t help prevent you taco’ing your front wheel if you hit a massive pot hole.

  10. GlowBoy December 8, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    I like the non-blinding, Germany-compliant beams of many of the dynamo-powered headlights available, but didn’t want to go with a generator system (more on that in a sec). So this year I invested $85 in a rechargeable battery light from B&M that projects the same kind of beam. it is much smoother and more even than the conical beams of every other light I’ve had, with a shart top cutoff to avoid “dazzling” people. Its 50 lux (not lumens!) isn’t a ton of light, but seems adequate for most Minneapolis conditions.

    Surprisingly, it is much more visible to others than its modest light output and dazzling-avoidance led me to expect. The lens itself is pretty large, and still looks bright white square from any angle – not dissimilar to a low beam car headlight. There’s also quite a bit of side spill at just the proper height to make it more visible from the side than most bike headlights.

    I am finding I need a lot less headlight power in Minneapolis than I did in Portland. My commute there included a high-speed descent losing 800′ of elevation through poorly lit, wooded areas. Plus the streets are wet most of the time this time of the year, and it’s often drizzly, further increasing the light requirement. And when there is snow on the ground in MN, that radically increases the amount of ambient light. So I just don’t need that much light now. Previously I needed 600-1000 lumens with a conventional beam pattern, whereas 200 would be sufficient now.

    Why no dynamo? To me they bring two primary benefits: 1) No batteries, so no recharging, worrying about them dying during a ride or being dead when I come to the bike after not having ridden in a while. 2) Your lights come on automatically when you’re moving, turning off shortly after you stop, eliminating the need to futz with switching multiple lights on and off every time (or risk forgetting to turn them off at the end of a ride!). I consider the on/off fuss of most battery lights a significant annoyance and obstacle to riding, especially since I have several lights and I often run errands where I stop at multiple locations.

    Ultimately I decided benefit (2) was a much bigger deal to me than (1). Many battery blinkies are now good for weeks of riding without changing/charging batteries, and I don’t mind charging ONE headlight frequently. I have a dynamo on my folding travel bike and I actually found the auto-on/off to be a more important benefit (for me) than the lack of batteries. Also, I have a couple of bikes that I ride regularly and didn’t want to buy dynamos for both of them.

    So here’s my solution: CatEye now makes several models of inexpensive blinkies equipped with internal accelerometers, which can be set to turn on automatically when they detect motion and turn back off about a minute after motion ceases. I’m now set up with two red ones in back, and white front in front, that are basically just on whenever I’m riding and turn off when I’m not, just like dynamo lights. The only switch I have to flip is on the headlight, which I often don’t carry for day rides anyway.

    The main flaw in these lights’ designs is that the “auto” function requires darkness in order to work. That might be OK in Japan where Cateye’s product designers live, but for American roads I’m a firm believer in the use of safety lights 24×7. So I discovered that if you remove the battery cover it’s pretty easy to find the light sensor and yank it out with needlenose pliers. Now my lights operate anytime they detect motion, day or night, and I got what to me was the biggest benefit of a dynamo without the special wheelbuild.

    • Rosa December 10, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

      the real benefit I’ve found to a dynamo or magnet light is that since it’s screwed onto the bike, it doesn’t get stolen as often as a battery light, because the battery lights are always just made to pop on and off.

    • Bill Dooley December 12, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

      Thanks for the Cateye tip. My Cateye lights were driving me crazy so I boxed them for Planet Bike lights. Now I will be able to use them again.

  11. Ron December 10, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    It’s a ton of college aged people riding around town at night w/o lights. The schools should have someone at the racks handing them out a few times per year.

    • Jeff December 10, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

      The cops should ticket cyclists who ride without lights at night (front and rear)

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary December 10, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

        This would be problematic, since there is no legal requirement to use a rear light. (Even if it is a very good idea.)

        • Bill Dooley December 12, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

          Very hesitant to give law enforcement an additional reason to pull someone over these days and I am sure law enforcement would not be too crazy about that mandate.

  12. Alex December 10, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

    Should pedestrians have to wear front & rear lights too? If not, what is the difference between a person on a bike and a person on foot that means that the former should be required to wear lights and the latter shouldn’t?

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary December 10, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

      The baseline treatment/understanding of a bicycle in the law is as a vehicle. Why should other vehicles be required to have lights, but not a bicycle?

      As a general rule, a bike is moving considerably faster than a pedestrian. It makes sense they need to be more visible. (Although you certainly will find some who think pedestrians ought to be light up too.)

      • Alex December 10, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

        I think an important difference between a bicycle and other vehicles is that a bicycle is unpowered. Adding lights fundamentally changes this aspects of bicycles. I don’t think there is any right in the MN or US constitutions to have enough light to travel at whatever speed you like at night. I think that a more rational response to the problem of moving too fast to see unlit objects at night is to require vehicles to move more slowly at night.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary December 10, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

          I think “the principle of the thing” is clouding a simple reality: a lot more crashes would occur if bicycles did not have lights, and a lot more deaths would occur. (Or, if fewer people had lights.)

          The legal requirement for lights is really modest — visible from 500 feet. It’s a reasonable balance between minimal impact and protecting bicyclists and other road users.

          • Rosa December 11, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

            but is that “visible to a person standing outdoors” or “visible to a car driver with a lit up phone in their lap”? “Visible to people in nearby houses”?

            There’s a huge difference between what is visible to a person insive vs. outside a car.

            • Sean Hayford Oleary
              Sean Hayford Oleary December 11, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

              I believe it would mean visible to somebody observing from outside — a pedestrian. Bob Mionske, a bike law expert, writes that a lit match would meet the legal standard for a bike light.

              The bar is extremely low. However, with so many other road users behind a windshield, and many of them also on their phone, I think a much brighter light is a good idea.

              • Rosa December 13, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

                or possibly a limit on the illumination inside the car? Is there any chance we can have some car safety rules that are for the safety of people OUTSIDE the car? When joggers are starting to wear lights so as to not get run over when they cross the street, things are getting ridiculous.

          • Alex December 12, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

            But it seems like an even greater reduction in crashes would occur if people were required to move at a speed adequate to allow them to use their headlights to see possible obstacles and react to them. It seems like setting a night speed limit of 15mph and enforcing it legally and socially would save far more lives that beefing up a regulatory apparatus for bike lights.

            I’m not arguing against the use of lights, and I use them myself. I just wonder whether it’s worthwhile setting up a standard before we take care of the problem of excessive speeds — which is a problem in the half of the day and far more than half of trips that occur in daylight.

    • Jeff December 10, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

      Bikes move anywhere from 10-25 mph. Pedestrians are around 3-4 mph. Runners should wear lighting on the front and back. I’ve had a few close calls with runners on the bike paths at night.

      • Alex December 10, 2015 at 8:34 pm #

        How much of the problem that is solved by lights caused by the speed of bikes? Andy seems to be saying that the problem solved by lights is that cars move too fast to see unlit bikes. What is the difference between the distance you see an unlit object moving 3-4 mph vs an unlit object moving 15mph?

        • Rosa December 11, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

          it’s not just speed that blinds car drivers, it’s that they are behind a window and have a lot of ambient light. And the level of ambient light in cars is a lot higher now than it used to be, I bet – so many screens.

          Cyclists on dark paths need lights that let them see what’s ahead, which is different than the safety issue in the comic – different brightness, different width of beam, different height/aim. But just like it should be the job of drivers to not go faster than their attention and reaction time is safe for, it’s the job of cyclists not to run over pedestrians, not pedestrians to make sure they’re lit up enough to not get hit by a cyclist.

          • Alex December 12, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

            I disagree that cyclists on dark paths need lights to let them see what’s ahead. I commute primarily on a windy, braided path that’s almost entirely unlit and has extensive sections of woods with the path winding around trees in many cases. It’s really dangerous! And most people use super bright lights so they can see well enough to be comfortable riding at their daytime speed. But that’s more dangerous for me — I’ve actually ridden off the path because I was blinded by the lights of an oncoming rider. I use a light of more moderate brightness and point it at the ground so as to not blind oncoming traffic. It provides very little light to see by, but I’ve survived by riding more slowly than I do in the daytime — slow enough that I can recover from bumps, potholes, etc.

            • Rosa December 13, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

              A dimmer light, aimed at the ground not too far ahead of you, is perfect for being able to see what the road ahead of you is like. I think we actually agree – lights that are aimed and bright enough for max visibility to cars aren’t very useful for riding on dark paths, and blind oncoming cyclists and pedestrians, and also don’t illuminate what you need to see when you’re riding in the dark, like potholes.

              The only place I’ve ever needed both a high and low light for dark night riding was suburban Connecticut, where I needed to light the road so I didn’t ride into something, but also needed to be visible to cars and illuminate street signs. But streets with no lighting are pretty rare around here.

  13. GlowBoy December 11, 2015 at 8:45 pm #

    Besides speed, the primary difference between a pedestrian on the sidewalk and a cyclist in the street … is that the cyclist is IN THE STREET. Sharing space with cars, approaching intersections as vehicles do, and not just crossing traffic at crosswalks. Lights are absolutely necessary at night because of how bicycles move. Less so with pedestrians.

    • Alex December 12, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

      But doesn’t the fact that the cyclist is in the street increase the chance that they will be lit by external sources? As Sean notes above, the legal standard for a bike light is extremely low, and in many cases is likely entirely overwhelmed by other light sources. Can you think of a movement where a bike light is helpful for visibility in a way that isn’t already accomplished by car headlights?

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary December 12, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

        The odds are better in a street, but still not particularly good. In the vast majority of streets in Minneapolis, there are definitely dark spots between lights. Even if we’re assuming no driveways and conflicting traffic is only at (lighted) intersections, you won’t see a bike coming — even if they were abiding by a 15 mph “night speed limit”.

        A lit match won’t do much — a 200+ lumen light would do a lot more — but that level of light is still better than nothing in conveying your movement and trajectory than intermittent overhead light. With modern lighting technology as cheap and pervasive as it is, this standard could arguably go up.

        • Monte Castleman
          Monte Castleman December 13, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

          The lighting level between poles in Minneapolis and Richfield falls down to below what can be measured on a light meter, so essentially zero and thus doesn’t meet state standards, which calls for a minimum of 2/3rds of a lux. That’s one of the reasons Minneapolis is moving to lower, dimmer lanterns instead of the wood pole lights.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman December 13, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

        It’s the same reason why daytime running lights are required in a lot of countries. The actual illumination on the road is overwhelmed by even dim ambient light, but seeing a point of light moving makes something a lot more visible compared to the background.