Cyclists hope detector will create a smoother ride

August 1, 2011 9:34:44 PM PDT
Riding a bike should now be safer in one East Bay city because of new, smarter traffic signals. I could be a trendsetting change in the city of Pleasanton.

Big, wide intersections, like the ones along Foothill Boulevard in Pleasanton can be dangerous on a bike.

"One of the main complaints we had from cyclists is they would get the green indication, and then start pedaling and then get halfway through the intersection and see it turn yellow and then red on them," said Pleasanton traffic engineer Mike Tassano.

"I can think of quite a few times when I've been stuck in an intersection," said cyclist Evan Haase.

Haase knows the problem all too well. So-called smart traffic lights seem just a little too dumb to notice a bicycle. Sometimes, they turn red too quickly. Other times, they never turn green.

"I've sat there for five minutes and eventually I'll just go hit the crosswalk and wait for that go and walk across with my bike," said Haase.

But in Pleasanton all that has changed. They call it the Intersector and it looks like a big radar gun mounted next to a traffic light. It fires microwaves down into the intersection and when they bounce back, it can tell if it's looking at a car, a pedestrian, or even a bicycle.

"Once it does, it can then tell the traffic controller there's a bicycle here and provide the extra time it needs to get across the intersection," said Tassano.

On a computer screen, there are black numbers for cars and a blue box is put around the number if it is a bike. The computer will give that bike an extra 10 seconds to cross the intersection and if there's no bike, the computer speeds up the traffic lights to get more cars through.

"It's going to make the whole intersection work better. It actually improves the road for bicyclists and drivers alike," said Renee Rivera from the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition is thrilled at this technological first and hopes it won't be the last.

"We would love to see this technology used in other cities and it's great to see Pleasanton really take the lead," said Rivera.

In addition to the seven intersections on Foothill Boulevard where they're already installed, Pleasanton officials say from now on, every new traffic light they put up will come equipped with a microwave bicycle detector.


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