Skip

Pleasanton Cooks Up A New Bicycle Safety Method
August 2, 2011 1:33 PM   Subscribe

The city of Pleasanton, California is the first in the nation to use a microwave motion and presence sensor system to protect bicyclists in intersections. The Intersector can tell when a bike is in the intersection and will tell the light to stay green longer to let the cyclist cross safely.
posted by agatha_magatha (58 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well I bike to work in Pleasanton and all I can say is thank god, because out of all the places I ride my bike in the bay area I feel the least safe there.
posted by bradbane at 1:34 PM on August 2, 2011


I read that as pleasantron and for some reason that made smile.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:37 PM on August 2, 2011


I'm much more in favor of social and architectural solutions to this problem. This does not stop someone from blowing the light and creaming me, for instance.
posted by dhartung at 1:37 PM on August 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow. As someone who cycles to work each day I appreciate this. Let's see if it goes wider.
posted by Rashomon at 1:41 PM on August 2, 2011


I'm much more in favor of social and architectural solutions to this problem. This does not stop someone from blowing the light and creaming me, for instance.

Nothing's going to stop someone from blowing the light and creaming me — if a driver's going to run a red light, they'll run it, and anything short of reinforced bollards that pop up out of the pavement when the signal changes is unlikely to help.

It would still be nice to have traffic signals stay green long enough for me to make it all the way through the intersection.
posted by Lexica at 1:41 PM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cyclists are crossing only on green now?
posted by found missing at 1:42 PM on August 2, 2011 [22 favorites]


Cyclists are crossing only on green now?

Easy there. Lots of us obey the law and the only thing I don't do is scream at people who ride through red lights on their bikes.

This seems like a good idea I suppose but it seems like a pretty narrow use case - is it that hard to get across an intersection if you're there when the light turns green? And if you don't want to risk it, don't run any yellow lights on your bike.

I'm not really clear exactly when this would kick into action in practice. Do Pleasanton lights turn red as soon as the cyclist is past the stop line?
posted by GuyZero at 1:45 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see microwave sensors connected to lasers that gently nudge car drivers who endanger bicyclists.
posted by mecran01 at 1:45 PM on August 2, 2011


...reinforced bollards that pop up out of the pavement when the signal changes is unlikely to help.

I fully support this initiative.
posted by griphus at 1:45 PM on August 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is great but I'm with dhartung. I much prefer solutions like bicycle routes that are separate from roads like bike trails and extra structures for bikes like the separate bike route here in Seattle to cross the West Seattle bridge. Physical barriers between bicyclists and roadways works for me too.

We've had two fatalities recently in Seattle area -- bicyclists following the rules of the road and in "bike lanes" who were creamed by cars and died. So extra sensitive about this.
posted by bearwife at 1:47 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Next up: Pleasanton gives fresh-cooked weiners to passing bicyclists.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:48 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been cycling in Paris for the last month and I'm amazed at how civilized the cars have been over here. I always feel like the guy in the back of me waits so that I decide where to turn before going ahead, and a guy who cut me off slightly at an intersection actually drew down his window and apologized. I think education is always the solution. Society needs to get into it's head that it's pedestrians first, cyclist second, cars third.
posted by Omon Ra at 1:52 PM on August 2, 2011


The trouble with bicycle-only paths is that in much of North America they tend to attract pedestrians which are IMO bigger hazards for cyclists than cars. My commute is about 10 km on road and 1 km on a mixed-use paved trail and man, that 1 km is more dangerous than the other 10 by a longshot.
posted by GuyZero at 1:52 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just don't carry your chocolate bar in your pocket.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:00 PM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is great. This might have prevented an accident I was involved in a couple years ago:

I entered the (very wide) five-way intersection at Division and Bryant in San Francisco, traveling west, a split second before the light turned yellow. So, legal intersection entry, but I'm not going very fast; my direction turns red, and the oncoming traffic gets a green left turn arrow. First car sees me, waits. Second car, white mercedes SUV approaching intersection very fast, doesn't see me, doesn't like waiting for first car, and swerves left at speed *inside* of first car, which of course is where I am now. SUV smashes into my bike, striking pannier rack above rear axle. Bike goes flying 30 feet perpendicularly to my direction of travel. I somehow managed to jump off the bike and land on my feet in the middle of the intersection, just past the car that hit me.

Driver and passengers of car, dressed for a party and smelling of it too, get out, tell me i'm at fault. I'm too rattled to do much. Driver tells me she works for ------ police department, that she has called the SFPD to report accident. I go and sit at side of road to collect myself. While I'm talking to a witness, they leave. No police arrive.

Ha, just had to share. Barely relevant. Be careful. Drivers, slow the fuck down and don't drive drunk.
posted by scelerat at 2:01 PM on August 2, 2011


The trouble with bicycle-only paths is that in much of North America they tend to attract pedestrians which are IMO bigger hazards for cyclists than cars.

There's a portion of bike trail in Seattle that runs through the Myrtle-Edwards park that's one of the only "bike only" trails I've ever seen in Seattle. There's even a separate trail for joggers and walkers closer to the waterfront.

The bike portion of the trail is clearly marked yet it still sometimes gets clogged with pedestrians walking 3-4 abreast and confused about why cyclists are whizzing past them, or even shouting at them to get off of the trail. That, or people rollerblading or skateboarding, which is perhaps an even worse combination. Or walking a group of dogs, which is even more dangerous.

As it is though it's one of the only places where I can really just ride my bike without having to deal with either traffic or pedestrians, and it's pretty popular with cyclists because when it doesn't have pedestrians it's great for cycling for the 2 or 3 semi-protected miles that it offers.

The world famous Burke-Gilman trail is really nice and all that, but it's often frequently clogged with pedestrians since it runs through so many parks and neighborhoods with easy access. Parts of it are relatively isolated and used nearly exclusively by cyclists, but it gets pretty crowded around Ballard, Fremont and Gasworks park.
posted by loquacious at 2:06 PM on August 2, 2011


This is not a problem I've ever encountered while cycling, but then again, maybe the intersections of Pleasanton are Tiananmen Square-vast.
Lights giving cyclists a head start at intersections are very nice though.
posted by Flashman at 2:10 PM on August 2, 2011


This seems like a good idea I suppose but it seems like a pretty narrow use case - is it that hard to get across an intersection if you're there when the light turns green?

The intersections in Pleasanton are massive. You could fit a city block inside one. The traffic almost entirely consists of people in giant tank vehicles talking on their cell phones who put the pedal to the floor at every green light like they're racing Nascar. I consider myself to be a pretty strong rider (I just rode 900 miles down the Pacific coast self supported) and even I have trouble making it across these intersections from a stop before the light changes even if I start from the front of the line.

When you get off the Pleasanton BART, the very first intersection to leave the train station is too short to make a left turn across 4 lanes of traffic if you are starting from a stop on a bike. I don't know who planned that sprawly hell hole, but you would think they would take into account bikes with the signal timing at the only public transportation hub in the area.

PS - Dear drivers: this is why we run the goddamn lights sometimes. It's safer to cross it when you can see that it's clear to do so, rather than pray the oncoming traffic saw you attempt some lawful Herculean sprint from a dead stop.
posted by bradbane at 2:24 PM on August 2, 2011 [6 favorites]




From the article: "The results from the test run, at Foothill Road and Stoneridge Drive, went so well that the city installed the device at six other intersections and has plans to add four more."

This is the intersection I guess, so it is indeed pretty vast, huh.
posted by GuyZero at 2:29 PM on August 2, 2011


This is the incredible moment a frustrated mayor drove an armoured vehicle over a Mercedes-Benz S-Class parked in a cycle lane.

Sadly, it was a staged event with an already junked car. Still pretty awesome though.
posted by kmz at 2:43 PM on August 2, 2011


The bike portion of the trail is clearly marked yet it still sometimes gets clogged with pedestrians walking 3-4 abreast and confused about why cyclists are whizzing past them, or even shouting at them to get off of the trail. That, or people rollerblading or skateboarding

Ever been to the seawall in Vancouver? Holy shit, people. Cyclists, pedestrians, EVERYONE has such a hard time with the idea that one side is for bikes and the other is for pedestrians. Cyclists use the pedestrian lane for passing slower cyclists or sometimes just because they're fucking awesome, bro. Pedestrians use the bike lane to get a better vantage point for their photos. Joggers go in the bike lane to get around slow moving crowds of people walking 5 abreast (walking 5 abreast is a dick move in any lane if you don't accommodate others, people). My head explodes and I remember why I only walk the part of the seawall along Stanley Park and English Bay once a year.

So in short, everybody sucks and I hate the seawall.
posted by Hoopo at 2:44 PM on August 2, 2011


This is a nice idea. I wonder if they're doing anything for the problem of lights triggered by induction coils that only detect cars, leaving bikes waiting forever for a green.

My city supposedly rigged up some intersections with induction coils that can detect bikes, but I've never found that to work in practice.
posted by adamrice at 2:47 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Intersector is cool for bikes and all, but the vastly better use would be to allow green lights for cars when no cars are coming the other way. I regularly wait at red lights which take some preprogrammed amount of time before they turn green, even though there aren't any cars going through the intersection. And quite often I spend that time trying to estimate how much gas is wasted around the world by this unnecessary idling. We need smarter traffic lights.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:50 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


My city supposedly rigged up some intersections with induction coils that can detect bikes, but I've never found that to work in practice.

I think this is actually a law in California - in my south bay 'hood most of the sensors detect me pretty well. A few lights will turn for me within 30 seconds. The rest are where I cross bigger arterial roads which remain green for opposing traffic seemingly forever...

But at any rate, there exist sensors which detect cyclists pretty well.
posted by GuyZero at 2:53 PM on August 2, 2011


Just a data point, the area in question, Pleasanton ant the surrounding cities has a nice bike and pedestrian trail, but can be very antagonistic to pedestrians and bicyclists who stray from it. I work in the next city over and when I would take a walk on my lunch break the only way I could be sure that drivers even noticed me was when they were glaring at me with naked malice for having the gall to walk on the sidewalk. Otherwise I had to dodge cars who simply didn't notice me. I don't go for walks on my lunch break anymore; they proved too hazardous to my health.
posted by lekvar at 2:57 PM on August 2, 2011


[A few comments removed, let's maybe skip the derail stuff.]
posted by cortex at 3:06 PM on August 2, 2011


Pleasanton is also the local city I'd least like to risk riding its barely-sub-freeway city streets on a bicycle.
posted by telstar at 3:07 PM on August 2, 2011


I think education is always the solution.

Education is the solution to a lot of problems, but until this country isn't ruled by a jockocracy anymore and the thoughtful people take over, don't count on people getting smarter or more considerate.

That said, I did get frustrated the other day when a cyclist ran a stop sign in my neighborhood when I was pulling to make a left (they were crossing the street I was turning on to), so I had to stop in the intersection and wait, and go again.
posted by SirOmega at 3:07 PM on August 2, 2011


Here in London, cyclists routinely ignore red lights, pedestrian crossings and any other aspect of the Highway Code that happens not to suit them. They also ride fast on the pavement, and react with self-righteous outrage when anyone dares point out that this is (a) illegal and (b) dangerous to pedestrians. They've made the once-pleasant canal towpath near me all but unusable for walkers with their idiotic and selfish behaviour.

Cyclists should have to carry license plates just like cars and be fined via traffic camera systems every time they violate the rules of the road.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:12 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


On bicycles, in cars, or on foot, jerks gonna jerk.
posted by rollbiz at 3:14 PM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


pedestrians first, cyclist second, cars third.

Can I update that to emergency vehicles first, rules of the road second, pedestrians third, bicyclists fourth, motorcyclists fifth, cars and trucks sixth?

If so, I'll get behind you on it. I just hate it when members of any group ignore the rules, because that fucks it up for everybody by adding unnecessary unpredictability...but when emergency vehicles are coming through, sometimes you just have to pull through that red light to get out of the way, and NOW.
posted by davejay at 3:15 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Intersector is cool for bikes and all, but the vastly better use would be to allow green lights for cars when no cars are coming the other way. I regularly wait at red lights which take some preprogrammed amount of time before they turn green, even though there aren't any cars going through the intersection. And quite often I spend that time trying to estimate how much gas is wasted around the world by this unnecessary idling. We need smarter traffic lights.

Cities tend to be kinda big, and city traffic grids incredibly complicated. Lights are timed as they are so that they facilitate quick travel throughout the city, not for the individual people at an individual light. City planning matters more than your twenty seconds of waiting.
posted by kafziel at 3:19 PM on August 2, 2011


Cyclists should have to carry license plates just like cars and be fined via traffic camera systems every time they violate the rules of the road.

No, the solution is to change the rules and infrastructure to accommodate the needs of everyone instead of designing them exclusively for moving giant hunks of metal quickly.
posted by bradbane at 3:25 PM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


kafziel - yes traffic in big cities is complicated which is why it is stupid to have the whole thing run on a bunch of timers. It should all be based on massive real time traffic information and the lights should be switched actively based on that information.

It would allow for things like city buses never hit a red light. Traffic could be preemptively thinned out for approaching emergency vehicles along a pre-plotted route.
posted by MrBobaFett at 3:32 PM on August 2, 2011


If you can find a way to devise a computer system to run and update that sort of simulation, let alone adjust itself correctly and without bugs, and also lay the infrastructure for it to control all the lights of a city, then by all means do so.
posted by kafziel at 3:43 PM on August 2, 2011


I'm not system engineer, I'm a citizen who wants to see infrastructure improved. I doubt the limitations for this are technological. More than likely it is lack of money and lack of political will to make it happen.
posted by MrBobaFett at 3:54 PM on August 2, 2011


No, the solution is to change the rules and infrastructure to accommodate the needs of everyone instead of designing them exclusively for moving giant hunks of metal quickly.

It certainly helps to have more bike- and pedestrian- friendly infrastructure, but no matter the infrastructure you're going to need people who use the infrastructure to be more bike- and pedestrian- friendly too. As in, they need to follow the rules and watch where you're going. I'm not really interested in chicken-or-egg who-shot-first stuff between cars and bikes, but if I need to be alert--for people rolling/crawling past the stop line or making right turns and not looking--just to cross a street at a crosswalk on my signal, I have a hard time with the idea that infrastructure is the answer.

But how do you get people to stop thinking they're the exception and it's OK when they do it? A few months ago I saw somebody driving out of the alley behind my building...with a bowl of cereal! You can't even eat that with one hand!
posted by Hoopo at 4:01 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a hard time with the idea that infrastructure is the answer.

If you design the roads exclusively for cars and then mandate that bikes also have to be on those roads, it's not really a big stretch to imagine why cyclists flout the rules. I know everyone is just going to post their own anecdote about their encounters with rude cyclists when I say that, but when I ride my bike in places like Pleasanton - where the city streets are basically freeways - my primary concerning is not dying.

This bicycle detector is just a band-aid on the real problem, which is designing public spaces around the needs of motor vehicles instead of actual people. Elsewhere in the bay area, cities are finding that finding other ways to improve traffic for cyclists and car drivers by making streets more people-oriented.
posted by bradbane at 4:12 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


sorry my keyboard is broken, apparently I cannot form a sentence while I'm also watching for missed characters
posted by bradbane at 4:19 PM on August 2, 2011


If you can find a way to devise a computer system to run and update that sort of simulation, let alone adjust itself correctly and without bugs, and also lay the infrastructure for it to control all the lights of a city, then by all means do so.

If it seems impossible, it's only because it's not a priority. Do you know how the limos get to the Oscars in L.A.?
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:36 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, your premise is that traffic light timing has been artfully optimized to promote balanced flow throughout a city, which seems at least as difficult a problem as getting people where they want to go as quickly as possible.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:45 PM on August 2, 2011


Oh sorry for confusion bradbane, I was talking about a different place altogether that has a fair few bike lanes (with barriers physically separating them from cars in some cases) but our mayor still almost got smoked by a bus while riding downtown a little while back. People will find novel ways to suck despite our best efforts.
posted by Hoopo at 4:45 PM on August 2, 2011


"The Intersector can tell when a bike is in the intersection and will tell the light to stay green longer to let the cyclist cross safely. "

Ooh. They should make the Vivisector for pedestrian crossings!!!
posted by markkraft at 4:49 PM on August 2, 2011


Does it work when the cyclist is going the wrong way on a one-way street?
posted by crunchland at 5:12 PM on August 2, 2011


So is it they want the bicyclists to live, so they will turn out well done, by the time they are ready to be eaten?
posted by Oyéah at 5:12 PM on August 2, 2011


Could anyone else get the second link to work?
posted by octothorpe at 5:36 PM on August 2, 2011


Man, this is such an American solution to the problem of dangerous roads for bikes. "I know! We'll technologize our way around it!" While it's useful and a good start, separate bike lanes and physical dividers would be so much more useful.
posted by formless at 8:12 PM on August 2, 2011


While it's useful and a good start, separate bike lanes and physical dividers would be so much more useful.

As others have pointed out before, that doesn't ensure that the bike lanes are used solely by cyclists. Here in DC, we have a couple of streets with separated bike lines; my experience (in line with the local DOT's pilot findings here, on the "Non-cyclists" slide) has been that pedestrians inexplicably wander along the clearly-marked cycle track even though there's a perfectly accessible sidewalk two feet away, making it perhaps more dangerous than a vehicular-traffic-adjacent lane.
posted by psoas at 8:37 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: gives fresh-cooked weiners to passing bicyclists.
posted by palbo at 4:14 AM on August 3, 2011


Bike lanes unfortunately just don't work. Delivery vehicles park on them, construction crews leave equipment in them, cars open their doors into them, detritus washes into them when it rains, and right-turning vehicles go straight through them without looking. Then, when you are inevitably forced into the road by the many obstructions, drivers honk at you for not using the bike lane.

In grid-based cities, it's almost always better to use a parallel minor street over a bike lane. You'll probably have stop signs, but you have pretty great visibility on a bike so you usually don't have to come to a complete stop. I think it'd be great if cities would formalize this by getting rid of bike lanes where they're dangerous, and instead adding bike routes on parallel minor streets.
posted by miyabo at 9:17 AM on August 4, 2011


"You'll probably have stop signs, but you have pretty great visibility on a bike so you usually don't have to come to a complete stop."

There's a typical cyclist's attitude: "The law doesn't apply to me".
posted by Paul Slade at 2:21 PM on August 4, 2011


There's a typical cyclist's attitude: "The law doesn't apply to me".

More like, if a bicyclist runs a stop sign in the middle of a forest, does it make a sound?

If there are no other vehicles in sight and no pedestrians to endanger, as is often the case on the parallel minor side streets miyabo is describing, it makes no practical difference whether a bicyclist comes to a foot-down stop or not. The only difference it makes is to the "because IT'S THE LAW, that's why!" types, the ones who can often be heard fulminating about "scofflaw bicyclists" as they utterly ignore the actions of the far-more-numerous lawbreaking motorists.

Oddly enough, bicyclists have been allowed to run stop signs for more than 25 years now in Idaho. Armageddon has failed to result; the streets of Idaho are not littered with the bleeding corpses of motorists and pedestrians knocked down by bicyclists. Because, y'know, running into something is hazardous and hurts, so bicyclists are motivated not to if they can avoid it.
posted by Lexica at 2:56 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I should probably withdraw the word "typical" because I don't have the data to prove that. It's certainly far too typical an attitude where I live in London, though. And consider this:

Once you decide that a Stop sign is (for you) strictly optional, then what's to prevent you deciding that (for you) red lights are optional too? Or the need to stop at a pedestrian crossing? The prohibition against cycling on the pavement? The request to behave with consideration on narrow towpaths like the one I mentioned earlier? Optional, every one of them - but just for you, of course.

The value of having traffic laws is that they allow us all the reasonable assumption that other road users will behave in a predicable way. I'm sure both Miyabo and Lexica are flawlessly considerate in their own behaviour, but the attitude they both espouse is at the root of this problem.

I don't drive, so I mostly get around town by walking. If I approach a marked pedestrian crossing when a car is a reasonable distance away, I can be confident he'll stop for me. If I see a cyclist approaching, it's a 50/50 bet at best. Part of the reason for that is that motorists can be readily identified through their licence plates, and hence (thanks to London's omnipresent traffic cameras) face the consequence of a fine when they misbehave.

If cyclists were required to have licence plates on their bikes too, it would do nothing to harm the responsible ones and strongly encourage the assholes who we all condemn here to behave better. The money raised might even contribute to some useful purpose.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:32 PM on August 4, 2011


Its been a while since I've been through much of Pleasanton but I didn't recall it being very bike friendly. Google StreetView has you covered -- with bikes -- if you want to see what a joy that area would be to cycle through. Of the intersections listed looks like only one has a distinct bike lane. Looks like they've got a way to go before becoming Bikeville, California. All talk of Pleasanton makes me instantly salivate.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:42 PM on August 4, 2011


Paul Slade—I have no idea what motorists in the UK are like, but in the USA, there exists the unfortunate innovation known as the "rolling stop" or "California stop" which is equivalent to what I think miyabo was talking about upthread: "…so you usually don't have to come to a complete stop." Except they're doing it in cars. In the USA, at least, motorists criticizing cyclists for taking rolling stops would be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
posted by adamrice at 3:52 PM on August 4, 2011


Once you decide that a Stop sign is (for you) strictly optional, then what's to prevent you deciding that (for you) red lights are optional too?

You do realize that the slippery slope is a logical fallacy, right?

Did you even look at the link I gave about the Idaho Stop Law? Let me say that again for clarity: the Idaho Stop Law. What Idaho state law explicitly says is that Idaho bicyclists are not required to treat red lights as red lights and may instead treat them as stop signs; they are not required to treat stop signs as stop signs but may instead treat them as yield signs.

Chaos has not resulted. There are not wrecks and dead bodies littering the roads of Idaho. If anything, motorists are now more able to predict what a bicyclist will do because the law better reflects the practical needs and abilities of bicyclists and is no longer written on the assumption that all road users are in motor vehicles.

As for your snarky little comment about the laws being "Optional, every one of them - but just for you, of course", your insult would work better if you weren't trying to use it on somebody who actually does stop for red lights, often even when the roads are otherwise empty. My husband gets way snider and snarkier when he's ragging me because I've stopped at a red than you're managing in your weak attempt to rag me for not stopping.
posted by Lexica at 3:59 PM on August 4, 2011


I don't think you actually read my comment? I believe that skipping stop signs on a minor street is much safer than riding in a bike lane on a busy street. I realize it's illegal right now, so I do it with extreme caution. I'd like to see it legalized because I believe it would cut down on injured cyclists and aggravated drivers.

There is a minority of cyclists who do completely reckless dangerous stupid illegal things. I don't like them much either. (There's also a lot of stupid dangerous reckless illegal drivers, but we don't paint all drivers with this brush, do we?)
posted by miyabo at 9:26 PM on August 6, 2011


« Older Ooh, that smell. Can't you smell that smell?   |   SCIENCE! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post