Guarantee the green: End revert reds

On December 1st 2021, the Transportation Committee considered a motion from Councillor Jeff Leiper to end the use of revert reds on City of Ottawa traffic signals. While the motion did not pass at Committee, it will be considered at City Council on January 26th.

If you have not yet done so, please write to your Councillor to show your support for guaranteeing the green and ending revert reds. Here is what Bike Ottawa had to say to members of Council.

Dear Councillor,

I am writing on behalf of Bike Ottawa to ask you to support the motion being put forward by Councillor Leiper to end the use of red reverts that will be considered at City Council on January 26th. Red reverts pose an unnecessary risk to people using active transportation that can be easily mitigated by guaranteeing a green light once a call has been made by a traffic sensor. 

The danger associated with the use of red reverts lies with the unpredictability and the lack of familiarity with them on the part of most people. Simply put, all road users expect  that when they have triggered a signal, the light will  turn green for them after the other direction changes red. With this expectation, many people on bikes will begin to move forward in anticipation of the light turning green. Should a person on a bike roll off the sensor prematurely, this can lead to a dangerous situation where they are stuck in the intersection as the light turns green again in the cross direction.

At the December 1, 2021 Transportation Committee, some members of the committee raised concerns that by eliminating red reverts on this basis, City Council would be enabling people on bikes to cross intersections against the signal. This is not the case. Such a change could only be made through an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act, which is a provincial responsibility and not included in the motion. Instead, the motion moves that once a call  for a green light has been made, the signal changes to green, as all road users regardless of mode would expect.

As the Road Safety Action Plan adopted by City Council in 2020 notes, “there is recognition that a human error on the roadway should not lead to death or serious injury, and that road traffic systems must be designed accordingly.” By eliminating red reverts, Ottawa can show leadership in making streets safer, by implementing this safe systems approach. Not only will this improve safety, it will contribute to making our streets liveable. This is key to encouraging the development of 15-minute neighbourhoods as envisioned by the new Official Plan by making biking a more attractive mode of travel. 

I would be glad to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about this issue.


Érinn Cunningham

President, Bike Ottawa