Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bicycle Detection

One of the most challenging aspects of traffic engineering has to deal with Bicyclists.  They're not cars and they're not pedestrians.  They're kind of a special creature.  Because of the temperate climate here in Tucson, they're everywhere.  At signalized interesections bicyclists run into a real dilemma.

The old rule we learned as kids was that at an intersections cyclists should dismount and be treated as pedestrians to cross a street. But today's cyclists act more like vehicles than pedestrians.  In fact, legally they are treated as vehicles.  When they arrive at an intersection, they should wait for the green signal indication and then cross.

But loop detectors aren't typically set for cyclists.  Some agencies have overcome this issue by adding cyclist push buttons.  But that is a rather expensive proposition.  So in some instances, cyclists have learned that they will not get a green indication.  They will either wait for another vehicle to trigger the phase, or they will ignore the signal and enter the intersection on red.

This works well, except if the police see them, they will likely get a ticket.  And no amount of explaining will help.  Let's face it.  Roadways are really designed for cars - not bicycles.  Cyclists may use the road, but they are at a serious disadvantage - especially when they collide with a vehicle.  In fact, after years of studying accident statistics, I personally will not ride a bicycle on a street.  All it takes is one errant vehicle and the results are catastrophic.

In Denver, they have solved this problem by creating separate bike lanes apart from the traffic lanes.  In fact, where I lived in Centennial, Colorado, you could ride your bike for miles and miles going underneath roadways and never even have an at-grade crossing with the street.

So I have mixed emotions concering a recent report about a new law  in Chicago.  In 2012, cyclists will be allowed to cross an intersection on the red phase if they have waited enough time. In one sense, I am grateful that police officers will no longer give them tickets.  But on the other hand, I am concerned that the law will mask a real problem with the transportation system - namely that it is really not designed to handle cyclists.

One would think that with all the technology we have and the skill in planning that we would be able to create a separate transportation system for cyclists.  In fact, I would ride a lot more if it was safer.  But I guess we need to be content with the fact that cyclists won't be ticketed for trying to live within the existing system.