Aiming to make travel easier and safer for cyclists, Lexington officials this fall plan to tweak some of the city's traffic lights to notice the difference between bikes and cars.
"For one, if you are bicycling along a route and there aren't any vehicles present, and you encounter a red light each step of the way, it can't detect you," said Kenzie Gleason, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the city's planning division. "Your options are to wait for a car to come along, get off and press the pedestrian signal, or break traffic laws and run the red lights."
The city has two types of detection systems at intersections, Gleason explained. The first are in-pavement signals that detect metal in vehicles, not bicycles, and trigger the lights to change. The others are video detection signals, which can detect bicycles, though the city's aren't necessarily calibrated at all places to notice bikes. Intersections without these systems run on timers.
"At the locations where we already have video detection, we're going to go out on-site to make sure they are better identifying and seeing bicyclists," she said, pointing to the systems at intersections such as South Limestone and Avenue of Champions.
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Brad Flowers, a regular biking commuter and co-owner of Bullhorn marketing, said the move is necessary as a symbolic gesture that cyclists have equal access to the roads.
"If cyclists are required to follow all of the rules, then technology should be invested to do so," Flowers said. "People are going to ride either way, but if you want people to follow the laws then you have to make it reasonable."
The city plans to install video detection systems that would notice bicycles at more intersections, including Clay Avenue at East High Street and Ashland Avenue at Euclid Avenue.
"Any new signals or upgrades will include the video system, and we're making sure they're more in tune with bikers," Gleason said.
The city's decisions were influenced by input from Lexington cyclists via a bicycle committee advisory board that Gleason's department put together, as well as comments on Bikelexington.com and Facebook.com/bike.lexington. She encourages bikers with additional suggestions for specific intersections to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Funding for the initiative has come from $175,000 in government money that was initially planned to expand the private Yellow Bikes program started by community investors a few years ago.
"The original goal was to replace the Yellow Bikes program with an automated system," Gleason said, referring to an announcement made at the 2010 Creative Cities Summit. But once the money was in hand, officials realized it wasn't enough to pay for the expansion and decided to work instead on signal detection, she said.
Local developer Phil Holou bek, who, along with four other investors, put up $2,500 to start Yellow Bikes, said anything that makes Lexington streets safer for bikers is a positive. He agreed with putting the federal grant funds toward upgrading the city's traffic lights.
"If they were the same cost, I would choose to put money towards the community bikes program; however, the cost is far greater than that for the signals," Holoubek said. "Given the limited amount of funding we had, it was an appropriate decision."