Ottawa

'Very scary' red reverts a potentially deadly danger, cyclist says

An Ottawa cyclist who had a close call at a major intersection is calling for an end to a traffic signal trend he calls "very scary."

Traffic signal technology in place at 940 intersections throughout city

Jordan Moffatt said he was caught up in red revert intersections twice before realizing why the signals had suddenly changed. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

An Ottawa cyclist who had a close call at a major intersection is calling for an end to a traffic signal trend he calls "very scary."

Red reverts  — also known as revert reds — occur when vehicles, including bicycles, cause sensors in the road to trigger 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.

These yellow dots at an intersection are sensors that can trigger a traffic light change. But cyclists say if they move off the sensors too soon, the signal will suddenly turn back to red. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Jordan Moffatt said that's exactly what happened to him on Oct. 2, 2017, when he arrived at the intersection of Slidell Street and the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.

Moffatt positioned his bike over the three yellow dots in the road, watched the pedestrian signal count down to zero and the traffic lights facing parkway traffic turn red — only to turn green again as soon as 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.

It's the same intersection where a man died in December after he was struck and killed by a taxi while cycling to work, but the Ottawa police collision unit said a revert red was not a factor.

"No red revert was activated near or about the time of the collision," the unit said in a statement.

RCMP said the cyclist was "disobeying" a red light when he was struck.

'A really dangerous position'

It wasn't until Moffatt had a similar encounter at another intersection at Hemlock Road and Birch Avenue that he looked into the suspected cause — red revert technology.

The City of Ottawa confirmed to CBC News that both intersections use it. In fact, it's in place at approximately 80 per cent of Ottawa's 1,171 signalled intersections, Stu Edison, the city's program manager of signal installation, said in a statement.

This works out to about 940 intersections throughout the city.

"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.

In 2017, cyclist Jordan Moffatt rolled forward at a red light, anticipating the switch to green. But he found himself in the middle of an intersection with a green light for oncoming traffic. Coun. Catherine McKenney is calling for the 'red revert' feature to be abolished. 1:44

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, she hopes to make some immediate changes in the interim.

She said she wants to end the use of red revert sensors at intersections.

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

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney is calling for an end to red revert intersections in the city. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

She said many 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."

With files from Giacomo Panico and Amanda Pfeffer

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