Traffic Light Technology for Recognizing Bikes Inches Forward

A system that detects bikes has been installed at Foothill Road and Bernal Avenue in Pleasanton. (Google Maps photo)


While the San Jose Mercury News made a big deal about a plan to ensure traffic lights will recognize two-wheeled vehicles, I’m not so sure it’s happening in my lifetime. As you get older you find yourself using that expression a lot more often.

According to Gary Richards, aka Mr. Roadshow: “San Jose has received a $1.5 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to test and identify the best bicycle-detection devices and install them at signals throughout the city. This may serve as a model throughout the nine Bay Area counties.”

Apparently the state passed legislation four years ago requiring that all new and modified signals include bike-friendly signal detectors and directed Caltrans to develop a standard, but it never did.

Cities and counties are on their own to find the best way to make signals work. Pleasanton is trying out an interesting concept. The city, with federal funding, installed microwave vehicle/bicycle detection equipment at selected intersections.

The system can distinguish between motor vehicles and bicycles and provides a longer green signal time when bicycles are present.

Seven units (costing $7,000 each) are installed at the following intersections:

  • Foothill Road at Canyon Way – northbound

  • Foothill Road at Stoneridge Drive – northbound
  • Foothill Road at Stoneridge Drive – westbound
  • Foothill Road at West Las Positas Boulevard – westbound
  • Foothill Road at Bernal Avenue – northbound
  • Foothill Road at Bernal Avenue – westbound
  • Stoneridge Drive at West Las Positas Boulevard – northwestbound

It’s about a million miles from my home to Pleasanton, but I’ll try to ride there this summer and check it out.

I occasionally come across signals that don’t recognize bikes, but less and less often. However, there’s one turn signal from Saratoga Avenue to Pruneridge Avenue that has never worked for bikes in the 15 years I’ve been using it.

I gave up trying to get it fixed years ago and started going a different direction. I was even a member of the City of Santa Clara Bicycle Committee at the time, for crying out loud, and still couldn’t get relief.

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