Traffic lights on the cycle path network: a quick guide

Around the path network you’ll come across light-controlled junctions at various points. Where a path is dissected by a road, there are sometimes traffic lights. Elsewhere, at a path entrance/exit, there might be lights. And sometimes not.

Different types of traffic lights mean different things to cyclists and you can find all of them in Edinburgh.

First, there are cycle-only traffic lights, such as at the top and bottom of Middle Meadow Walk – a regular red light meaning stop, but with the green light being a bicycle symbol. There are separate lights for pedestrians. These red lights are mandatory – to leave the Meadows, then, the traffic lights have just the same status as on-street traffic lights – and you don’t have to press a button to activate the crossing, sensors in the ground detect cyclists approaching. You can get fined for running one of these red lights. But when the light is green, turning left from the top of Middle Meadow Walk (or right at the bottom) means cutting across a pedestrian crossing whilst the man is green – it’s ambiguous whether this is legal, but it is hardly convenient for either cyclists or pedestrians.

In other places, there are toucan crossings – where two-can cross at once (cyclists and pedestrians). These generally have a red man (but no red bike) plus a green man and a green bike. You must press the button to change the lights. You’ll find lots of these around the network, and across the city.

These are NOT mandatory – when the man is red, you don’t have to stop if you don’t want to! You can cross on red if you want (obviously only if it is safe), the same as if you were on foot. Some of these crossings have white road markings segregating the pedestrian and cycle bits of the crossing (but most don’t) – it is not clear if that means you are only meant to cycle straight across or can legally turn left or right to join the road as that would mean cycling across the route of pedestrians, or would also presumably mean crossing a white line while the signal for traffic is on red. It’s confusing.

Unlike Middle Meadow Walk, where the lights treat cyclists the same as motorists (but without designing the road layout accordingly), toucan crossings treat cyclists as pedestrians. It’s lose-lose.

At Duddingston Road South, the two sides of the cycle route also have a toucan crossing, but then you find yourself cycling on the pavement to get to the path again, with nothing to suggest this is legal.

An example of fairly good design and where a toucan crossing is accompanied by proper markings on the pavement is found at Whitehouse Road/Barnton Ave West. This junction doesn’t connect up an off-street path, but is part of a route made up of quiet roads, and closed roads with cyclist exemptions.

The other types of crossing you might come across are pelican and puffin crossings, which are the same as toucan crossing, but without the green bike symbol. You are not meant to cycle across one of these – you have to dismount. They are just for pedestrians. However, they only govern going straight across to the other side, presumably not to turn left or right (see above for toucan crossings). Strangely, on a toucan crossing, a red man means you can still cycle across if you want, but on a pelican crossing you can’t.

Road junction and access layouts vary enormously across the network too. In some places, it has been properly thought out and it’s very clear how to get from road to path, or vice versa. You can turn left from Teviot Place onto Middle Meadow Walk, for example, when the traffic lights are red because the entrance to the path is before the white line (although there is not much on the ground to warn pedestrians that cyclists might be coming past) . But do the same at Brougham Place means going through a red light, as the entrance to the path is after the white line (although there is another, more ambiguous way of joining this route 3 metres before).

To turn right from Lauriston Place onto Middle Meadow Walk is problematic – there is no formal designated way of doing this, but it doesn’t say you can’t and there are no cycle traffic lights controlling southbound cyclists, which there are for northbound. So someone heading south could be fined for going through the red light, but someone having turned right from Lauriston Place and crossing Teviot Place presumably can’t as there aren’t any lights to go through. In Google street view, there is even a cyclist about to do this manoeuvre – the red tarmac beneath him is not a cycle facility though, it’s what’s left of road markings for ambulances for the old Royal Infirmary.

At Trinity Crescent, where the path is intercepted by the A901, there are no lights for either pedestrians or cyclists, so to leave the route and join the road, you find yourself between sets of lights and on a blind corner. To get to the other side of the cycle route, you have to gamble that it’s safe.

A bizarre set of cycle crossing lights can be found at Fountainbridge. To go south/straight on from Gardiner’s Crescent to join the canal path means going straight ahead whilst car traffic is turning left. Only cyclists are going straight on, and blindly abiding by the red-painted cycle lane, especially when the lights are green, is dangerous. Here danger has been designed in from the start. The pedestrian crossing to the east of the end of Gardiner’s Crescent is a toucan crossing, meaning cyclists can use it too – but there is no way of getting from the road to this crossing without jumping up a high kerb and then cycling on the pavement. Despite there being a toucan crossing with cycle symbols on the lights, there is nothing to suggest that cycling on the pavement is legal here. And for those coming off of the canal path, there is no proper way of joining the road at all.

There are no doubt many more examples of confusing and different types of crossing around the network. Please post them!

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