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Stale Lights

Have you ever seen a stale slice of bread? How do you know it’s stale? Maybe you picked it up and felt the hardness of one or both sides. Perhaps the curled, dried out look of the slice was your indicator. Obviously stale bread is not a good thing and makes a poor sandwich, but what about a stale light? How would you know if a light is stale or not? Lights either work or they don’t so what is a stale light?

"Stale lights can help us avoid some of these uncomfortable moments around controlled intersections."

The lights I’m talking about are traffic lights. You know, the three colored ones where green means go, yellow seems to mean go faster and red apparently means stop if you feel like it. They, too, either work or they don’t, so how do they get stale? We’ve all been surprised by a traffic light turning yellow and been faced with deciding if we can stop before the intersection or if we should continue through it. Sometimes we’ve even tried to stop and either ended up in the intersection or gave up and powered across the traffic as we looked at the red light on the other side of the street.

Stale lights can help us avoid some of these uncomfortable moments around controlled intersections. As we approach a traffic light, we obviously look to see what color it is. Green lights could either be fresh or stale. Fresh lights are the ones we see turn green, while stale lights are the ones we don’t. There are some things that could “freshen” a stale light. For example, if there is a crosswalk sign associated with the signal and it is indicating “Walk,” the light may still be fresh. Likewise, a flashing “Don’t Walk” sign further signals a stale light.

When approaching a stale light, we should be expecting it to turn yellow and adjusting our riding accordingly. We should be determining what we are going to do if the light does change. An important factor in that decision is the traffic around us. Are vehicles approaching from either side that might be trying to time the light so they don’t have to stop? If so, do you want to be in the intersection while the light is yellow? We also need to check our mirrors to see if there is a vehicle behind us. If so, we must determine what that driver is likely to do. Can we move to a different lane so there is no one following us into the intersection?

Making decisions like these in advance of the need to execute them can help us avoid surprises and tight situations around regulated street corners. Planning ahead better prepares us to deal with the challenges we face as we ride. We will be more likely to enjoy our ride by recognizing stale lights and understanding their significance. Remember, if you don’t see it turn green, it’s probably stale.

Ride Smart! Ride Safe!