Pleasanton, California uses radar to detect the difference between a motor vehicle and a bicycle, adjusting the green phase accordingly. Is this really as “bicycle friendly” as we think it is?
First of all, thank you to the several people who pointed me last week to the numerous stories on Pleasanton’s unique use of microwave technology to determine the difference between cars and trucks and bicycles.
Radar technology to detect vehicles to trigger traffic lights has been in regular use for at least 20 years. As I reported last year, Pleasanton’s innovation is their use of software to identify bicyclists and give us a longer green light so we have time to cross the intersection.
Pleasanton’s efforts are in response to California AB 1581, which mandates that all new traffic signals must detect bicycles and motorcycles. A Caltrans committee established the technical standards defining what constitutes compliance with AB 1581, and the California Association of Bicycle Organizations pushed through minimum crossing times for cyclists into this requirement. What good is detecting cyclists, after all, if we don’t have time to cross the intersection? All new traffic signals in California must, by law give enough time for bicyclists to cross an intersection.
Several cities in traffic-congested Southern California strongly oppose the bike detection and timing requirements because adding additional green light time to accommodate cyclists will make traffic even worse than it is now. While a few transportation agencies either ignore CVC 21450.5 or play a passive aggressive game by claiming compliance when, in fact, they don’t have compliant intersections, a couple of cities have openly registered their outright refusal to comply with the law, essentially inviting bike advocates to fight this law out in the courts.
Pleasanton also would like to avoid the longer green phases required by law, so when MS SEDCO demonstrated their bike and pedestrian detecting microwave sensors in the Spring of 2010, Pleasanton jumped at the chance to trial their equipment.
The city can retain their auto-centric traffic engineering, comply with state law and receive national acclaim for their bike friendly traffic signal work!
For details on Pleasanton’s radar detection, see: Microwaves, bikes, and traffic lights.
Trivia: That perennial driving song “Radar Love” was written and performed by a DUTCH band.