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Blue light for bike riders part of detection research project

Posted by on October 11th, 2019 at 12:39 pm

See the new sign and blue light in upper right.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

PBOT has been trying to educate bicycle riders how to get green lights for a long time now. I spotted their latest effort at a north Portland intersection earlier this week.

First they put little bicycle markings over the signal sensor. Then they added signs telling people to stop over the markings. Then they added a blue light that could detect your presence and offer assurance that your request had been submitted. And remember in 2016 when we teamed up with them to share your feedback about signal detection markings?

Why all the focus on this issue? Not only does it show basic respect to make signals compatible with all road users; but compliance goes way up when people know the signal is aware of them. When I was in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, I recall that nearly every intersection came with not only a bicycle signal, but a countdown timer telling you when it would turn green!

We’re not at that level yet, but PBOT still wants to do better.

While biking westbound on North Ainsworth at Interstate earlier this week I noticed the existing blue light is now surrounded by a sign. After posting the image to Twitter, Portland State University professor Chris Monsere said it was part of an ODOT-sponsored project he and his team are working on at the Transportation Research Education Consortium.

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Here’s an excerpt from the summary:

“One of the key links in a bicycle network is signalized crossings of high volume and high speed roadways. At these intersections in Oregon, cyclists are primarily detected by inductive loops, often using the same inductive loops that are used for automobile detection. While vehicles are almost always detected automatically due to their size and predictable stopping location, that is not the case for bicycles. If a cyclist does not position themselves for detection there can be unnecessary delays. These delays lead to a lower quality experience and may lead to increased risk taking behavior (i.e. signal non-compliance). Improved detection for bicycles can be accomplished by proper loop placement, calibration of loop sensitivity, alternative detection technologies, or through the use of pavement markings that communicate the correct stopping location for bicyclists. The MUTCD 9C-7 bicycle stencil has been used to communicate where a person on a bicycle should position themselves. There has been interest in the adoption of bicycle feedback confirmation devices (examples include a blue light confirmation and “wait” countdown timers) to better communicate presence detection and delay to people on bicycles. Research is needed to evaluate the comprehension of these devices, to determine if additional signage is needed, and whether they influence the quality of the cycling experience.

An improvement to the quality of the cycling experience would be presence detection confirmation and/or a countdown timer. These devices are similar in purpose to the confirmation lights commonly used on pedestrian pushbuttons. When a cyclist is detected and the input recognized by the traffic signal controller, the confirmation device is activated. In the case of the countdown timer (used in some European countries), the timer counts down the time until the green display. Countdown timers for other modes (pedestrians and drivers) have been explored in the research literature.

It is hypothesized that confirmation feedback and countdown timers for cyclists might help reduce the level-of-stress for waiting cyclists. Given the relatively low cost of installation, they could be tools for creating infrastructure that promotes mobility, efficiency, and predictability for cyclists. There is limited research on the effect of the confirmation devices, accompanying informational signs, and countdown timers on the behavioral and psychological effects for bicyclists.”

Monsere’s project should be completed by March 2020. We’ll let you know how it goes and whether or not you can expect to see more of these in the future.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

52 Comments
  • Avatar
    Lowell October 11, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    The intersection at Interstate and Oregon when coming from the Steel Bridge/Eastbank Esplanade has a really nice countdown timer that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Portland. Does anyone know the history of it, and why it isn’t used elsewhere?

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      John October 11, 2019 at 1:42 pm

      It’s a Dutch “Wacht” (wait) signal that’s common over there and was special ordered from the Netherlands in…2015ish I believe. It was specially programmed and rigged to work with Portland’s signal equipment and it sort of works ok. Though sometimes the dots seem to go backwards. This was a one-off experimental thing, not sure if there are plans to do more. If you look at it really closely, you can see how they tried to use electrical tape or something to cover part of the text in the middle that used to say WACHT and now almost says WAIT.

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        Bike Guy October 14, 2019 at 9:06 am

        Thank you for the interesting back story!

        I see this thing every day and hadn’t thought about it at all. That’s infrastructure for you, I guess.

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    mh October 11, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    I’d like to know how much of a detection loop I have to be over (steel framed bikes, aluminum wheels) to trigger the light. I usually position my front wheel so its vertical plane intersects the loop in two places. Did I make that up? Is having some of a conductive frame over any part of the loop sufficient?

    I love the indicator lights, and am distressed when slight repositionings seem to turn it on and off (the one on Ladd). “I thought I triggered it, but then it blinked off. Am I back on the right spot, or did that car coming up behind me convince it to stay on?”

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty October 11, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      The loops at Ladd are simply broken. Some work, some don’t, and positioning yourself over the large bike in the middle leaves the indicator lamp distressingly dark. I’ve reported this to PBOT several times, and it remains unfixed.

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        Traffic Signal Whisperer October 12, 2019 at 10:38 am

        There are people that are responding to specific queries in Portland related to traffic signal related issues, some (many) of them even ride bicycles for transportation (including carbon bikes) and care about how well the traffic signal works for you as a cyclist. phone calls to the City received at 503-823-1700 (PBOT maintenance) generate a ticket that can be referred to the appropriate person. There may be some delays in responding for technical reasons, but it does generate a likely action that will address any concern.
        Portland design guidelines suggest that you should not have to lay your bike down to be detected and that detection should be intuitive. There are some delays that occur at traffic signals for reasons I won’t go into. Part of the reason that the City has worked on the issue in the past 20? years is that we have customers that ask for better and leadership that allocated resources to allow this attention.
        High fives are optional treatments that you may request, generally on a weekend cyclocross course (Hi Rebecca!)! or on The Street Trust New Year’s Day Ride (Mark your calendar now).
        BikePortland is a good source for agency staff to use for comments but these may not generate maintenance or engineering “tickets” that result in change.

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      Another Engineer October 11, 2019 at 2:22 pm

      See pictures for different detector types here. https://www.bikewalknc.org/bicycle-detection-at-traffic-signals/

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      Another Engineer October 11, 2019 at 2:32 pm

      If you can spare the time report it to ODOT, response times are 5 business days.
      https://highway.odot.state.or.us/cf/comments/comments.cfm

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        Another Engineer October 11, 2019 at 2:33 pm

        Whoops wrong reply.

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      Alan Love October 11, 2019 at 2:53 pm

      I had an email conversation with the engineer that installed the loop detectors for the flashing lights on Barbur before the Newbury/Vermont bridges. At least for those, he said the edges were actually the most sensitive. When I ride my mostly plastic speedy bike, riding over the center only triggers it about half the time. Riding on the asphalt cut mark of the rectangle that contains the loop, it triggers “almost” every time. No guarantees, but most of the detection loops, I would think, would follow a similar pattern.

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        Andrew Kreps October 12, 2019 at 10:01 am

        That’s good advice. I’ve had at least one ride over those on the heavy iron bike that failed to trigger. I usually ride through the middle of them because, you know, traffic’s going 60 and there’s a cliff on the other side.

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      El Biciclero October 12, 2019 at 9:09 am

      For the big, round loops, I tend to have the best luck stopping so each of my wheels is directly on top of the edge of the loop. Generally, what others have said is what I have heard as well: The edges are the most sensitive places to be detected by these loops.

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        Johnny Bye Carter October 12, 2019 at 5:00 pm

        I do the same, putting each wheel on part of the circle/sensor.

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      El Biciclero October 12, 2019 at 9:20 am

      I would love this kind of detection acknowledgement anywhere in Washington County, but I can think of a few pet intersections that sometimes seem to “work”, or never seem to “work”, where it would be super-helpful.

      It’s kinda funny we don’t need any such “feedback” for drivers of cars—the whole system is a big feedback mechanism that says to them, “hey, do what you want; I’m here for you!” It’s an interesting micro-model of privilege.

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        El Biciclero October 12, 2019 at 9:22 am

        Sorry, this was not intended to be nested.

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        D2 October 15, 2019 at 8:55 am

        Honestly the technology might already be there, it just needs a nudge. As far as I am aware any intersection that can detect a car can detect a bike, they just need to widen the tolerance. I successfully got Washington County to change the loop at Park and Cedar Hills, it now detects a carbon bike with aluminum wheels easily.

        The only thing is I would imagine you need specific examples of where you would like the change made, I doubt they would do it across the board.

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    wheelwing October 11, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    With inductive loop detectors, I have the best luck planting the bottom bracket directly over the outer right edge of the circle (or left, doesn’t matter which). Works almost every time, regardless of the frame material.

    Video detectors are another matter–each seems to have its own zone of detectability, but I have the most success when stopped just left of center in the main travel lane (not the bike lane).

    Detection feedback would be _so_ helpful!

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    Andrew October 11, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    Eugene just got its first blue light like this at the intersection of Blair Blvd. and 5th Ave a couple weeks ago. It’s wonderful to see Oregon cities investing in simple infrastructure that shows respect for non-auto modes. The intersection in Eugene has always been problematic, and despite a very responsive public works division tuning this loop frequently, I was never quite sure if it would detect me. Many times the light has cycled to all red, but not given the green. I’ll wait at the light if I know it will turn green eventually, but not knowing has led me to question the investment in waiting many times. This is a positive development in my view.

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    Alex October 11, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    There’s one at 53rd and Glisan, too. Helpful!

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    idlebytes October 11, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Funny this is an ODOT sponsored project. I find most of the lights crossing their streets lack any marking of where to be and some I’m pretty sure need to be re-calibrated to detect bicycles at all. I usually just use the crosswalk. The advanced walk signal changes have been nice although you do have to be wary of right turns on red they’re almost never looking for people entering the crosswalk.

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      Another Engineer October 11, 2019 at 2:36 pm

      If you can spare the time report it to ODOT, response times are 5 business days.
      https://highway.odot.state.or.us/cf/comments/comments.cfm

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        idlebytes October 11, 2019 at 2:54 pm

        Sure but for which problem? I’m only kind of certain about the detection problem since there’s no marking and I can’t tell where I should be. There aren’t even the cut outs for the loops. Will they come out to mark the locations cause would be great. Thanks for the link 🙂

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 11, 2019 at 2:50 pm

      I wouldn’t read too much into the fact that ODOT is funding the research. Most research money comes from feds and is then is merely passed-through ODOT.

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      mh October 11, 2019 at 3:36 pm

      I find right turns on green – the classic “right hook” – to be at least as threatening.

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    Danny October 11, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    But what about carbon bikes? Induction loop detectors likely can’t pick up carbon frames. What should a rider do when at an intersection where the light won’t detect her/his/their
    bike?

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      idlebytes October 11, 2019 at 2:43 pm

      If your wheels aren’t carbon they should be detected if they are supposedly you can have some success with leaning it over so your crank and pedals can set it off. You can also run it if you’re not being detected https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.360

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        Andrew Kreps October 11, 2019 at 2:52 pm

        You can’t just “run it”- from your link you need to “come to a complete stop and wait for the traffic control device to complete one full cycle”. If it never detects you, and never cycles, you can’t legally proceed safely.

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          soren October 11, 2019 at 4:23 pm

          The intent of the law is that you wait until your estimation of a cycle has passed. Of course, in practice, this means you can run the light whenever you feel safe doing so (just look around for LE first).

          I’ve personally been running lights and signs for decades so it it’s very nice that both behaviors are “de facto” legal in Oregon.

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      Trebor October 12, 2019 at 11:18 pm

      My carbon road bike has no difficulty getting the detectors to work. I just put the bottom bracket/rings over the bicycle pavement marking.

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    Carrie October 11, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    idlebytes
    Funny this is an ODOT sponsored project. I find most of the lights crossing their streets lack any marking of where to be and some I’m pretty sure need to be re-calibrated to detect bicycles at all. I usually just use the crosswalk.

    My exact thoughts. It’s a great project, but I’m so surprised it’s ODOT funded. My ‘problem’ at ODOT controlled intersections is that I can get sensed (specifically SE 17th & McLoughlin and SE 21st & Powell) but the light cycle is SO fast that if I’m the only vehicle crossing I cannot make it across the intersection before the light turns yellow. And I’m a relatively fast cyclist. (Yes I’ve called PBOT about the timing at both of these intersections).

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      idlebytes October 11, 2019 at 3:01 pm

      That’s interesting I haven’t had that problem at my regular intersections they must expect cars to gun it those. I’m starting to wonder if the timing for it to turn green changes if there is a car present vs just a pedestrian. The one I cross every day takes 60 seconds to change if a car is present and has taken 90 seconds when it’s just a pedestrian. Although I’m not sure if that was just because of some other factors. I’ve never waited 90 when cars are present though.

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      El Biciclero October 15, 2019 at 12:21 pm

      Heh. Yep; I think you get 3 seconds. I have one of these on my way home: detection is great, time to cross isn’t. It’s my little personal goal to some day make it across before the yellow…

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    Carrie October 11, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Danny
    But what about carbon bikes? Induction loop detectors likely can’t pick up carbon frames. What should a rider do when at an intersection where the light won’t detect her/his/their bike?

    There’s enough metal in your bottom bracket and cranks to be picked up by the induction loops even on a carbon frame bike.

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      J_R October 11, 2019 at 3:36 pm

      And, the chain. That’s maybe even better because of its orientation, especially when at the edge of the loop circle.

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      soren October 11, 2019 at 4:19 pm

      The only way I can consistently trigger induction systems with my primary commuter is to dismount and lie the crank and crankset flat on one of the detector lines.

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    Andrew Kreps October 11, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    There’s another problem I have yet to tackle with PBOT- lights like the one on Holgate and 17th (a premium road with cycle lanes). If you enter the intersection on green, it can turn yellow and then red while you are still crossing the intersection. I haven’t done the math but I suspect the yellow is timed for 30mph. It’s kind of crazy dangerous given the sheer size of that intersection.

    Oh, and you will never, ever get a walk signal crossing 17th at 99E if trains come, despite there being pedestrian-specific infrastructure at the tracks.

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    Rick Bernardi October 11, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Bangkok intersections also have countdown timers. The bestest country on Earth, not so much.

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    Rebecca October 11, 2019 at 4:30 pm

    Every time one of those blue lights turns on and lets me know that I have been Seen, it feels like getting a high-five from Peter Koonce. Thanks, man.

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    esther October 11, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Carrie

    My exact thoughts. It’s a great project, but I’m so surprised it’s ODOT funded. My ‘problem’ at ODOT controlled intersections is that I can get sensed (specifically SE 17th & McLoughlin and SE 21st & Powell) but the light cycle is SO fast that if I’m the only vehicle crossing I cannot make it across the intersection before the light turns yellow. And I’m a relatively fast cyclist. (Yes I’ve called PBOT about the timing at both of these intersections).

    21st and POWELL cycle is wayyy too fast for a bicycle to make it across Powell from a complete stop, unless a pedestrian has hit the button too. I always end up watching for the southbound traffic (i’m almost always northbound on this route) signal to turn yellow and start entering the intersection then, or else my signal is already turning red on me when i’m still in the middle.
    At 17th/McLoughlin (northbound still) i just use the pedestrian signal anyway, since i never seem to get sensed, but i am not even sure where to position myself in the car lane to attempt it. I suspect Carrie was talking about the southbound side which has a bike lane. I have not been able to trigger that one with my bicycle that i can recall, on the few times i was headed that way.

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      J_R October 12, 2019 at 11:28 am

      That’s because the only place in SE Portland where ODOT thinks cyclists should be crossing US 26 (Powell Boulevard) is at SE 28th Avenue. If they can make you fearful enough to go somewhere else or change to an auto, they consider it to be a success.

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        ChadwickF October 12, 2019 at 2:05 pm

        There’s a detector at 72nd & Powell that I use that works. And I think…65th? that takes a minute but will turn eventually. I agree with your assessment of conditions in/around/nearing/crossing/ etc. of Powell. Pretty terrible.

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    Andrew October 12, 2019 at 12:52 am

    An indicator at 122nd and shaver would be amazing. That detector doesn’t seem to pick me up reliably, even when I ride the all steel bike, I find myself bunny hopping to hit the beg button or turning myself into a target(had cars way up the road honk and floor it a few times now). The blatant hostility is very real. Shaver is a bikeway too, hopefully the love shown to the east side lately will equate to some incremental intersection improvements.

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    amnia October 12, 2019 at 10:27 am

    y’all taking so much effort to trigger stoplights in order to simply go through intersections are ADORABLE

    man, i do not stand for such frippery, and i pretty much just, pedal on.
    life is short, my friends.

    Not like vehicular motorists show so much respect as you preciouses, eeeeheheheeee

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      Toby Keith October 12, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      Vance Longwell? Is that you?

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    Fred October 13, 2019 at 8:28 am

    I’m always amazed to venture out of my Southwest Portland bubble and see how much cycling infrastructure the east side of Portland has. I remember when ODOT installed the loops for the Barbur bridges and it was like manna from heaven. I guess PBOT and ODOT planners think everyone in Southwest drives cars.

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      mh October 13, 2019 at 9:17 am

      BikeLoud has finally gotten a powerhouse member in SW, after so many years of the most active members living on the east side, mostly west of 82nd. Volunteers tend to work on the problems we experience every day. Come to a meeting – we’d love to have more noise in SW.

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    Bobcycle October 14, 2019 at 7:11 am

    Why detectors at all? If intersection requires a traffic signal it should cycle on a regular basis without detection requirements. Just like every pedestrian signal should light without having to hit a button. The signals are totally autocentric, prioritizing moving cars over other forms of transportation. Are engineers working on a pedestrian detector?

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      J_R October 14, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      There’s been lots of work on pedestrian detectors notably in Los Angeles. There are all sorts of problems with pedestrian detection. Among the issues: pedestrians are not consistent in their patterns (they may use any part of the sidewalk or crosswalk); sometimes they simply stop to talk, look at their phones or are waiting for a bus or rideshare; pedestrians come in wildly different sizes and configurations (individuals and groups; kids, people in wheelchairs, pushing strollers, etc).
      Use of pre-timed signals is pretty much confined to downtown areas. Demand actuated signals are far more efficient at accommodating traffic. Without these efficiencies you’d have lots more diversion of traffic to local streets. I, for one, would much rather have efficient traffic flow on arterials than having motorists speeding through my neighborhood and blowing stop signs due to the frustration encountered by fixed signals on nearby collectors and arterials.

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        Bobcycle October 14, 2019 at 3:48 pm

        “Demand actuated signals are far more efficient at accommodating traffic”. That’s kind of my point it’s all about moving cars efficiently. I believe that’s why we have right turn on red, that’s why as a pedestrian you won’t get a walk sign if you don’t find and push a button, but it is severely biased towards people in cars. Speeding and cut through traffic in neighborhood streets can be readily solved with diverters, I think we need more of them. Having neighborhood streets run 10 or more blocks without diverters is part of the auto centric view of maximizing car flow. If route A is backing up reroute to B through neighborhood. It seems to be designed that way.

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    Carrie October 15, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    esther
    At 17th/McLoughlin (northbound still) i just use the pedestrian signal anyway, since i never seem to get sensed, but i am not even sure where to position myself in the car lane to attempt it. I suspect Carrie was talking about the southbound side which has a bike lane. I have not been able to trigger that one with my bicycle that i can recall, on the few times i was headed that way.

    Northbound on SE 17th I use the pedestrian signal on weekdays because of the trains (it will let you cross as a pedestrian when a train is present, even if the car traffic signal is red). However, when I cycle in the early morning on a weekend (7am ish) I usually don’t bother with the ped signal because there aren’t as many trains and get sensed via the induction loop. However the signal timing only lets me get about 3/4 of the way across the intersection before it turns yellow/red. Which is scary on McLoughlin!

    Southbound the induction loops in the bike lane pick me up every time. Even when I’m the only vehicle.

    Someone else mentioned SE Holgate and SE 17th. If one is taking the lane and going West on Holgate and turning left onto SE 17th you can’t even make it halfway across the intersection before the light turns red (I did this regularly when the TriMet elevator was closed at Lafayette street). It’s horrid.

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    Carrie October 15, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    J_R
    That’s because the only place in SE Portland where ODOT thinks cyclists should be crossing US 26 (Powell Boulevard) is at SE 28th Avenue. If they can make you fearful enough to go somewhere else or change to an auto, they consider it to be a success.

    You’re correct J_R, however I’m not riding a mile out of my way to cross Powell. And the signals should work for my vehicle too!

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    Jonny October 16, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    While I appreciate what they are doing, I wish it was something other than a blue led. At night they are very bright (i couldn’t even see the sign at night as the light is so bright). Often I’ve mistaken the blue light for an emergency vehicle if i’m a few blocks away crossing the street and the light is in my periphery vision – especially if vehicles/bikes are going through the intersection as then the blue light flashes as each one crosses it. Is there someplace they are asking for feedback on this?

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