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Washington County debuts thermal video detection of bike riders at signals

Posted by on September 18th, 2020 at 1:00 pm

Sample image of thermal detection sensor being used in Washington County.

Three intersections in Washington County are part of a trial run of high-tech signal detection devices aimed at improving the experience of bicycle riders.

According to the Washington County Land Use and Transporation Division crews have installed “thermal bike-distinguishing video detection systems” at the following three locations:

New sign lets riders know they’ve been seen.

— Rock Creek and Park View boulevards, approaching 185th Avenue
— Park Way approaching Cedar Hills Boulevard
— 85th Avenue approaching Durham Road, across from Hall Boulevard

Washington County is using products from FLIR Systems, Inc., a company based in Wilsonville, Oregon.

The product, which ranges from $15,000 to $25,000 per intersection, uses an integrated thermal sensor that creates a heat map based on the energy emitted from car and bike users they say can distinguish between the two. The signal then automatically adjusts its timing sequence to safely get a bicycle rider through the intersections. The appeal of this system is that riders don’t have to push a button or place their bike over an induction loop to trigger a green light.

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Making signals work better for bicycle riders isn’t just about convenience. Research shows when people know they’ve been detected they’re less likely to get impatient and roll through a red light. Educating people about how to trigger a green light has vexed engineers for years. A 2013 study found about half of Portland bike riders don’t know how to do it.

The technology isn’t perfect yet and the County says their engineers will be working with FLIR on any necessary tweaks throughout the test period. The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation also uses thermal detection signals from FLIR. There’s one being used at SE César Chávez Blvd and Lincoln.

Washington County has secured a federal grant to install more of these in the upcoming fiscal year.

If you ride through these intersections and have feedback to share, you can send it to the County via luttraffic@co.washington.or.us or by calling 503-846-7950. Learn more here.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Champs
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Champs

Two questions:

Is there a detection indicator or do we simply trust that it will work? People need that kind of feedback unless it’s everywhere.

Is FLIR capable of differentiating motorcycles from motorized pedal bicycles? You have to wonder how much consideration they give to self-powered human vehicles any time we reap the “peace dividend” of military technology.

Jason
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Jason

Good question about the indicator.

Tina in the Burbs
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Tina in the Burbs

This is awesome! I will go and test one of these out!

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Do we know how it works on hot days?

Not that induction loops and other technologies don’t have their issues.

D2
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D2

There’s one being used at SE César Chávez Blvd and Lincoln.

I’m guessing this is just a test than as after going through this intersection very often for the last couple years it is undoubtedly on a timer. Which always makes people smashing those walk buttons a little bit comical to me.

Cory P
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Cory P

This is great news for people on skateboards. I’ve never found an induction loop detector that will pick up my board. I could stand there all day and the light will never change.
Hopefully, this technology gets widely adopted.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

It is always exciting to see the bike related innovation coming out of Washington County’s public works!

Peter W
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Peter W

As an advocate for better cycling conditions in WashCo, I’d say kudos to staff for trying to deal with the very real issue of cyclists not being detected when trying to cross large roads.

That said, let’s not forget that WashCo’s large roads are, themselves, the larger problem.

NorsebyNW
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NorsebyNW

Here, here, well written!

The eBike Store
Guest

How will it work when the ambient temperature is 98F?

Tina in the Burbs
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Tina in the Burbs

I just tried out the intersection (Sat. 19/19/2020) at NW 185th (where NW Park View Blvd crosses 185th and turns into NW Rock Creek Blvd). If these signals are there… it’s hard to tell. There are no signs or indicators that anything is different. I saw several cyclists “take the lane” to turn left or go straight, but there were cars behind them. Did the cars trigger the signal? Or the bikes? Who knows? I wish the nice little “New Bicycle Detection System Active” icon was actually visible anywhere. I tried it (taking the lane, going straight across) but two other cyclists came up behind me, and one pushed the “beg” button. So I don’t really know how or why the signal worked.

The bigger issue for me as a Slow Moving Suburban Mom Carrying Groceries On A Bike (TM), is I really hate having to take a lane. I don’t feel safe out in the middle of traffic with the SUVs, TriMet buses, dump trucks, and distracted drivers. Approaching 185th from Park View Blvd or from Rock Creek Blvd, there are no indications of where I’m supposed to be on a bike. All bike lanes just kinda disappear at the intersection. Which is disconcerting.

I’m of the opinion that if we had cycling infrastructure that is suitable to send a responsible 12-year-old on, unaccompanied, then a whole lot more people of all ages and abilities would bike. Requiring cyclists to take a lane in the traffic to activate a signal means a whole lot of people will never even try, and will drive instead.

Clark B
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Clark B

I ride through Park View/Rock Creek and 185th often and I think the new system has been in place for a while now (though I don’t know for sure). The westbound direction signalling has worked reliably for a long time with what I assume was the old system if you got in the marked location in the center lane (now covered). Eastbound rarely worked, but more recently it has been reliable if taking the center lane. Also, I haven’t seen any of the signage yet, but maybe I’m just not looking properly.

I agree that eastbound section is not fun as the bike lane is a shared pedestrian space too, and you have to take the lane at the top of the hill. Hopefully with the resurfacing of Park View we can get some better lane indicators.

Keith
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Keith

I often feel most comfortable taking the left-most portion of a street lane simply because it is there that I am most visible to motorists from the most angles. Safety first, motorist convenience last.

NorsebyNW
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NorsebyNW

Now if we could just get bike lanes and sidewalks to make alternative transportation safer. Wouldn’t hurt to have driver education public service announcement about sharing the road in Washington County either since we literally 90% of the time are in traffic lanes. I’ve never ridden anywhere I’ve lived where it’s so hostile to cyclists by motorists as Washington County Oregon. HELP!!!

Psyfalcon
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Psyfalcon

You can buy consumer grade Flir for around $250 now. Maybe $500 for contractor grade.

If every road agency bought this system in bulk I wonder if they could be cheaper than burring the induction loops? Less so in Portland, but there are still places where they have trouble picking up 500lb motorcycles full of steel.

Lynne
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Lynne

I’d have liked that back when I was commuting on SW Park Way crossing at SW Cedar Hills every day. That’s a big commuter route, so a real improvement.

Johnny Bye Carter
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Johnny Bye Carter

What about when you’re coming home from a protest and you’re wearing your stealth anti-surveillance hoodie that blocks thermal imaging?

https://ahprojects.com/stealth-wear/

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

You’ll just have to wait for the covid-packed flag-waving Patriot Boys F350 to drive up and activate the signal for you, but be careful you don’t get hit by them – we don’t want your crushed bike damaging the underside of their truck.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Having been coal-rolled last year on Rock Creek last year, I can say you won’t have to wait long for that.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I’ve had problems a number of times at that intersection with 185th. Let’s hope it works better.