Monday, December 22, 2008

The Traffic Lights Turned Green for Christmas

I wonder if reader Purple Haze can identify that reference to Jimi Hendrix...

I wrote earlier that traffic engineers at Louisville Metro were looking into how to make the inductive loop traffic detectors in our fair city respond to bicycles. A couple of weeks ago, their efforts and mine started to pay off. Dirk Gowin, who oversees bicycle and pedestrian transportation programs for the city, met me and two traffic signal technicians at the corner of Spring Street and Payne Street to test the loop detectors with various bicycles. As usual, only the less busy of of the two streets (Spring Street in this case) has loop detectors. One of them would detect a steel diamond-frame bicycle, but not my mono-tube recumbent bicycle. The other would not detect any of the five test bicycles. To my amazement, the technicians needed only to change the sensitivity setting on the detector circuit board to make the first detector respond to all of the bikes. For the other loop, swapping one circuit board for another made the signal responsive to all of the bikes. Voila! an intersection fixed!

From there, we went to five other intersections. With one exception (apparently due to a problem in the underground loop itself), the technicians made all of the loops sensitive to all of the bicycles. The other newly bicycle-sensitive signals are located at:
  • Payne Street and Lexington Road
  • Payne Street and Baxter Ave. (westbound only; the eastbound loop appears damaged)
  • Bellaire Ave. and Frankfort Ave. (the first signal west of the railroad crossing on Frankfort Ave.)  Have patience - this signal takes 45 seconds to change.
  • Hillcrest Ave. and Frankfort Ave.
  • Bauer Ave. and Frankfort Ave.
Weather permitting, the crew will go out again a week from today to reset another several traffic signals to respond to bicycles. I have provided a list of ten more intersections in the Highlands, Original Highlands, Cherokee Triangle, Clifton, St. Matthews, and farther out US 42. If you know of signals with loop detectors that will not respond to bicycles, please e-mail the locations to and I will add them to the list. We can't guarantee a quick fix to any intersection. If the wire loop buried in the pavement does not work properly, the signal probably won't get fixed  until the next repaving of that street. Given the city's interest in making the signals work properly for bicyclists, though, I expect we'll see lots more progress over the next few months. Thanks again to Dirk Gowin and Pat Johnson of Metro Public Works for making this happen.

A final reminder: At least until Metro Public Works begins stenciling bicycle logos on the sweet spots of the loop detectors, you will need to know where to place your bicycle to trigger the signal. For a dipole loop (which looks like a rectangular outline on the street with its corners cut off), place your bicycle on the line along the right or left edge of the rectangle. For a quadrupole loop (which looks like a long dipole loop, but with another line running lengthwise down the middle of the rectangle), place your bicycle on the middle line. In either case, you do not need to move the bicycle beyond the stop bar painted on the ground. Anywhere on the line of highest sensitivity should trigger the detector. If you have trouble with any of the detectors mentioned above, write to me and I'll try to get it repaired.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Making progress

Metro government officials have made good use of comments from Bicycling for Louisville lately. In response to my complaints about bicycle-insensitive loop detectors at traffic signals, two engineers at the Department of Public Works and Assets have been looking into how to improve the situation. They made clear that improvements will need to take place gradually: the loop detectors get replaced routinely in connection with repaving a street, but are too expensive to replace otherwise. They have decided to make bicycle-sensitive detectors their new standard, to place the "sweet spot" of the detector behind the stop bar, and mark the sweet spot so cyclists can find it easily. I'm thrilled. Thank you, Dirk and Pat.

As money becomes available (and one can only guess when that will happen), they also want to move the signal-change buttons back farther from the intersection of Spring Street/Adams Street with Story Avenue so that a bicyclist who stops to hit the button will be able to ride back into a safe lane position before the light turns green. My comments spurred this change, too. Thanks again to Dirk Gowin (Public Works) for listening.

Two of us from Bicycling for Louisville, with help from Scott Render in the Mayor's office, appear to have influenced Louisville Downtown Management District (LDMD) to use simple design guidelines to ensure that the next round of artistic bike racks downtown actually serve well for parking bicycles. After looking at several sets of bike rack standards from around the country, I supplied LDMD the ones developed by Atlanta Bicycle Campaign for a design competition a few years ago, with one added requirement. I thank Ken Herndon of LDMD for listening to the bicycling community and taking advantage of this opportunity to make their investment in public art serve also to improve the stock of functional bike parking downtown.

Dirk Gowin at Public Works has responded very rapidly to an incident in which an experienced bike commuter crashed (without injury, thankfully) on the railroad tracks on Frankfort Avenue when an impatient motorist attempted to pass him on the right (!) while crossing the tracks. Dirk has explored several options for improving safety at that badly angled crossing and is pressing to find a solution that the city can afford. This has involved a long (and continuing) dialogue with me and three other League Cycling Instructors associated with Bicycling for Louisville.

In his first year at Public Works, Dirk has gone beyond any of his predecessors in the city's bicycle program to seek and incorporate input from technically savvy members of the bicycling community. I probably give him heartburn sometimes, but he keeps listening to me and we keep learning from each other. I really appreciate this improvement in the quality and quantity of communication. It bodes well for cycling conditions in Louisville Metro.