Bikers may find it easier, safer and quicker to pass through some traffic lights now that Salt Lake City has installed a number of new signals sensitive enough to be triggered by cyclists.
Before, when a bicyclist would come up to some intersections “the challenge they face is, do they go over and try to push the signal for the pedestrian, which maybe they’re crossing over a right-hand train lane and then trying to work their way back into traffic? Or do they just run a red light?” said Phil Sarnoff, executive director for Bike Utah.
Now, the 10 new signals, which will function normally for motorists, will be able to detect bicyclists, motorists and motorcyclists using 16 microwave signals — meaning cyclists won’t have to wait for a car to trigger a green light.
“It doesn’t automatically defer to the cyclist,” Sarnoff said. “It’s not as if as soon as the cyclist gets up to the light, it’s turning green. It just knows that, hey, the next cycle we need to run it so that the cross traffic can go. … It just now has the sensitivity that it can pick up smaller vehicles like bikes, mopeds or scooters or motorcycles.”
Most of the traffic signals in the city operate on a valleywide timer designed to detect motorists and will eventually turn green. But some — like the light on 400 East and 1300 South, which is continuously green east to west — require a car to trigger the light for traffic to run in the opposite direction.
State law allows a bicyclist to go through an unresponsive light after 90 seconds, but Sarnoff said that’s not ideal.
The signals were upgraded last year with a $53,000 federal grant administered by the Utah Department of Transportation and around $50,000 in funds from the city, according to Becka Roolf, the active transportation planner for Salt Lake City’s Transportation Division.
The same technology is already in use on around 120 of the 140 intersections in Salt Lake City operated by the Utah Department of Transportation, and the city has made the signals standard when replacing old ones, which Sarnoff said is an important step.
“[Bicyclists] don’t necessarily ride on a lot of state roads,” he said. “So we need the local municipalities to be helping and disseminating this technology so more people can have it meet their needs.”
INTERSECTIONS WITH SIGNAL DETECTORS:
∙ 800 East & South Temple
∙ 5600 West & Amelia Earhart Drive
∙ Main Street & South Temple Street
∙ Wolcott Street & 100 South
∙ Wiley Post Way & Wright Brothers Drive
∙ 200 East & 1300 South
∙ 400 East & 1300 South
∙ 700 East & 300 South
∙ Star Crest Drive & 700 North
∙ Emery Street & California Avenue
Salt Lake City
The 10 new signals were implemented in places that are either along a bike route or in an area with a noticeable amount of bicycle traffic, Roolf said, noting that the more sensitive signals represent a step toward the city’s wider goal of getting people out of their cars.
Other recent efforts to make the city more bike friendly include the City Council’s changes to the bicycle registration process, which eliminated the licensing fee and created an online database to make it easier for people to recover stolen and lost bikes.
The council is also currently considering an $87 million bond to fix failing roads, and the city has said that officials will look at opportunities to put in bike lanes and better pedestrian facilities, like crosswalks, during reconstruction.
“[The signals are] indicative of a desire by Salt Lake City to want to create roadways that work for everybody,” Sarnoff said. “As a bicyclist, it’s disheartening when you go out and ride and you’re trying to do something good by not polluting or getting some exercise and the system doesn’t work for you in all cases. So I think it’s great that Salt Lake City has been working on this and is continuing to advance the needs of all roadway users.”
Not all of the bicycle-sensitive signals are marked, but they can be recognized by the white square at the intersection. If it is one of the new signals, Roolf said, bikers should position themselves in the rightmost through lane to be detected.
Correction: A previous version of this article gave an incorrect address for the intersection with continuous east-to-west traffic. It is 1300 South.