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Long IslandSuffolk

Watchdog: Traffic sensor doesn't pick up motorcycle

James Read near the intersection of Terry Road

James Read near the intersection of Terry Road and Route 347 in Smithtown, where the traffic sensors don't detect the presence of Read's motorcycle. Sept. 15, 2014 Credit: Judy Cartwright

I ride a motorcycle quite often, and the problem is this: The bike doesn't trip the sensors that trigger the traffic signals to change to green. What is the proper action a motorcyclist should take?

-- James Read, Farmingville


Those traffic sensors aren't always sensitive enough to recognize the presence of a motorcycle, with less metal and heft than vehicles with four wheels. Read typically tries to wait until another vehicle pulls up in an adjacent lane to trigger the signal change. But because much of his riding is done at night, when traffic volume is lower, long waits are common.

Given today's technology, "this is something that shouldn't exist," he said of the imprecision of the sensors, known as loop detectors. His concerns are twofold:

Safety. And red light cameras.

The intersection where northbound Terry Road meets Route 347 in Smithtown is one where the red left-turn signal won't budge for his Harley. On occasion, after a wait of several minutes, Read will venture into the intersection, but only when traffic on the other three sides is at a standstill. It's a move he concedes doesn't guarantee safety: There's no way to know when signals facing the other drivers are going to turn green, which means those cars could be entering the intersection as he does.

Read spent 36 years enforcing the law as a Nassau County police officer. Now he'd like to be able to maneuver through an intersection safely -- and without getting a notice of violation from a red light camera.

"I'm being put in a dangerous position, and now it's more of an issue because of the red light tickets," he said.

Those traffic sensors can be adjusted to improve detection, Suffolk County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said. Motorcyclists can report problem locations to the county's Public Works Department at 631-852-4010. For traffic signals maintained by Nassau County, the number is 516-572-0465.

Baird-Streeter said the department will work with the jurisdiction responsible for maintaining a specific signal -- it may be the town or the state Department of Transportation, depending on the location -- to modify the device.

And if a red light ticket shows up in the mail? The motorcyclist would need to contest it at the Traffic Parking and Violations Agency in Hauppauge, she said.

In such a case, we'd be tempted to take along a section of state Vehicle and Traffic Law: Under the heading "Traffic-control signals; malfunction," it advises that a driver shall stop when a traffic signal is "out of service or otherwise malfunctioning," then proceed according to the rules of right of way.

Read has had the bike for four years. He bought it just after a hospital stay; he undergoes occasional medical procedures as a pancreatic cancer survivor.

It's been more than 13 years since the diagnosis. His medical team can't explain his survival.

Even as he's beating the odds, he'd prefer not to take a risk with traffic signals that don't know he's there.

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