In Germany traffic lights are directional, sharing and inclusive, not mode-specific.
Green at a typical signalled junction in Germany means go! for EVERYONE travelling straight on. All. Everyone. That includes drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, elves and their dogs. Turning drivers simply and carefully GIVE WAY to pedestrians and cyclists crossing their path. It’s an inclusive system, favouring equality. It's conducive to sharing the road, and engenders a fairer road sense and creates people places.
Compare this to the car-adoring UK where on a green light it’s either drivers OR pedestrians moving. Drivers go, all pedestrians stop. Pedestrians go, all drivers stop. Mode-specific. Exclusive. Usually with a much-too-long wait for pedestrians. That’s why I jaywalk in the UK. That’s why I also jaycycle too. Cyclist are left stranded at junctions, between being a “pedalling pedestrians” or “walking driver”. That’s why I rlj: on a bike I feel much closer to being a pedestrians than being a driver (and I want to get away from the drivers engulfing me, these power hungry drivers with their revving engines, and speed addicts, and their fumes, urgh).
On one Newcastle junction, with a good intention no doubt, someone’s now introduced a third signal phase: cyclists only. Guess if it upsets EVERYBODY else? One consolation: at least cyclists have to push a button to trigger the phase. I am not, and use the pedestrian green light to cross. Insult. Injury. It’s a on a junction that should have been re-prioritised for people (pedestrianised) some while ago.
Also, there are other things of course that can be considered when designing cyclist-inclusive signalled crossings. Here are some tried and tested concepts that can be used in the meanwhile.
1. Create a cyclist-friendly green wave by phasing traffic light at cycling speed. This should be adopted for Newcastle city centre, in the short term, before the real urban people revolution (pedestrianisation) takes place. Let’s have a proper intelligent system, where traffic lights talk to each other and true smooth flow of traffic is achieved. Designing this should be every traffic and signalling engineers dream surely.
2. Count-down at traffic lights, so cyclists know how much time is left to safely jostle themselves into the green box ASL (usually occupied by taxis and buses, and other folks too, but hey). Can be used and is helpful for pedestrians too, naturally.
3. Cyclist’s green arrow.
4. Green head-start for cyclists
5. Traffic lights with speed detection sensor, automatically switch to red when over speed limit
6. Oh, yes, and elephant footprints for continuity's sake and clarity of space.
Bottom line. You gotta design for cyclists, observe what they do and understand why. If the rlf, ask why! Then you are half way there. At the moment we have a whinging bicyclist-bashing populace, and designers who simply don’t get it. But what pains me most in this country is that even pedestrians don’t understand.
So the prejudice continues and cyclists and their risk on the environment are vastly overplayed.
"The world would be a much better place without cyclists. And of course, cyclists are evil mindless murdering machines, controlled by the devil. Every time someone gets on a bike God kills a kitten, or two. If you wanna believe some, God kills the whole litter. And mummy cat with that. Ripping out their intestines to make Schwalbe rubber tyres out of them."
Cheers, UK. Calling that tolerant?
If you've got a few minutes, here's something the makes sense http://thebikeshow.net/red-light-means-go-or-does-it/ - thanks to @John_the_Monkey to point it out to me!
Added 23 February 2013. Here's what one of cycling's greatest advocates has to say about shooting reds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_P_mPOEbvY#t=1m11s