A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

That signal issue again… still

Written November 16th, 2014 by Hasso Hering
Standing on this bike loop, you have all the time in the world to take a photo.

Standing on this bike loop, you have all the time in the world to take a photo.

This is a small thing, really. But it still bugs me. I’m talking about those traffic light sensors in bike lanes that don’t do anything. Those wire loops in the pavement are supposed to activate the traffic signals for cyclists when no cars are present. Maybe they do this some of the time, but in my experience they usually don’t.

A good place to test this is the signal, installed last year, at Oak Street and Ninth Avenue in Albany. The signal will be needed after Lowe’s builds its planned store on that corner, which is supposed to happen in 2015. Until then, there’s not much traffic on Oak, especially on weekends.

So if you ride your bike to the intersection from the south on a Saturday, say, hoping to cross Ninth with the light, you are out of luck. You can stand right on top of the loop, lean your bike left and right, and wait. You’re going to wait until a car comes along and stops beside you.

While you are waiting, now and then a car will want to turn left on Ninth from the other direction, and it gets the go-ahead after a few seconds. But if you are waiting for green on your side of the street, you might as well be waiting for Godot.

When I mentioned this issue in a story on Oct 18, an Albany reader said motorcyclists sometimes have the same problem. And from Minnesota came the news that it’s legal there for cyclists to cross against red lights when it’s safe, which seems like an eminently sensible idea.

What I’m wondering is why those bike lane loops are still being installed. It’s been pretty well established that they don’t work all that well. So why go to the expense of putting them in? (hh)

4 responses to “That signal issue again… still”

  1. James Carrick says:

    I’ve encountered the same problem you described at Oak and 9th. Your photo reveals your bike frame and rims might be aluminum and a factor in the problem so I did a little snooping on my own. I googled “bike lane sensors”. Nope, a ferrous (steel) frame should not be required. However, according to this article the sensitivity of these sensors can be adjusted.

    “……even a single aluminum-rimmed bicycle wheel can trigger many properly-adjusted sensors.”


    This from another site: “Since the time and money invested by most states and municipalities toward bicycle transportation issues is very limited, traffic signal engineers often give up on the problem of bicycle detection before it is fully understood. However, this article will show that careful application of the operational theory allows optimization of inductive loop sensing systems for reliable detection of conductive (including aluminum, steel, and titanium) bicycle rims, without false detections caused by adjacent traffic.


    There is a lot more, including this from Portland: http://bikeportland.org/2010/09/27/bike-science-making-sense-out-of-signal-sensors-39517

    Perhaps this information can lead to a solution. The cost of these sensors is probably stunning so they should work if they’re going to be required, and ODOT should know how to engineer them to make them work correctly. It appears this is a solvable issue that will require above all else, an engineer interested in the problem sufficiently to arrive at a solution. I hope this helps.

  2. Bob Woods says:

    Have you ever asked Public Works if the sensitivity can be increased at the signal controller box? You might give Jeff Blaine a call or e-mail.

    Or maybe a hip replacement. The extra metal may be just the thing ;-)

  3. Bill Kapaun says:

    Ron Irish claims they work just fine when I questioned him about it about a year ago.
    When the “street master” doesn’t think there’s a problem, it’s hard to get any resolution.

  4. Jim Clausen says:

    “Ron Irish claims they work just fine when I questioned him about it about a year ago.” Bill Kapaun

    Face it Hasso, the government knows best…


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