By Robert Jordan
Contra Costa Times
PLEASANTON — When it comes to protecting its pedal-powered residents with technology, Pleasanton has outpaced even its more recognized bicycle-friendly counterparts, Berkeley and Davis.
Pleasanton is the only city in the nation using a new radar-type device to make street crossings safer for bikers. The city began testing the “Intersector” — a microwave motion and presence sensor — for that use in January 2010 at one of its 104 signaled intersections. The device monitors the intersection and can differentiate between vehicles and bicyclists crossing the road and either extends or triggers the light if a cyclist is detected.
“I would like to think we are bicycle-friendly,” said Joshua Pack, Pleasanton’s senior transportation engineer. “We are not actively yelling and screaming that we are doing it, but behind the scenes we are.”
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.
Since it began using the Intersector, the city has received calls from at least 20 other jurisdictions, from some in the Bay Area to as far away as Memphis, Tenn., that want to know how the experiment is going.
“It’s nice to feel acknowledged and recognized,” said Jim Ott, a Pleasanton resident and cyclist. “Before (the light) didn’t give as much time, so you had to cycle harder to make it. You also didn’t want to get caught in the middle. And, if the light didn’t trigger, you were a sitting duck for folks to bump into.”
State Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, authored AB 1581 three years ago. It called for improved safety and compliance rules for cyclists at traffic lights, requiring new traffic signals or replacing existing ones with devices able to detect motorcyclists and bicyclists.
Cyclists in Pleasanton said the new technology makes it safer because they are not tempted to run red lights or forced to cross traffic lanes to push the crosswalk button.
Before purchasing the Intersectors, — produced by MS Sedco and costing between $4,000 to $5,000 each — Pleasanton used video detection and sensors embedded in the street to try to detect cyclists. The city still uses those methods at all intersections, with the Intersector complementing what is already in place.
Video detection has its drawbacks, with fog and wind affecting its performance and success rate. And the street-embedded sensors can be problematic if cyclists are not directly on the sensors or if their bikes are not made of metal.
“It is possible for cyclists to coexist with traffic,” said Ursula Goldstein, a cyclist and Pleasanton resident since 1982. “We need to get into the mindset that bicycles are vehicles, and they obey the rules of the road.”
In an effort to become more bike-friendly, Pleasanton has narrowed streets to add bike lanes, adopted a bicycle and pedestrian master plan and is up for Bicycle Friendly Community recognition by the League of American Bicyclists. Oakland was the only city to earn the honor last year, according to the League of American Bicyclist website.
“Pleasanton is doing some great things,” said Renee Rivera, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. “It is getting more bike-friendly all the time.”