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Pleasanton Adopts Microwave Technology to Reduce California Bike Accidents

Posted on Monday, August 1st, 2011

When it comes to cities that put a priority on bike safety, you can’t do much better than California’s Alameda County, the East Bay bicycle mecca that includes Berkeley. But Alameda County is also home to one of California’s most unexpectedly innovative towns when it comes to bike safety technology: Pleasanton. In fact, Pleasanton is using microwave technology to sense when cyclists are near an intersection, that will trigger the light to stop cars and allow the cyclist through safely.

Pleasanton is neither the safest nor the most dangerous Bay Area city when it comes to bicycle accidents. But Alameda County sees far more bicycle accidents than any other county in Northern California, including San Francisco, according to The Bay Citizen. Between 2005 and 2009, for example, 3,444 cyclists were involved in bike accidents in Alameda County, compared to 2,284 in San Francisco County. This is likely part of the reason that Pleasanton has decided to get innovative about improving bike safety. “I would like to think we are bicycle-friendly,” said the city’s senior transportation engineer Joshua Pack. “We are not actively yelling and screaming that we are doing it, but behind the scenes we are.”

Pleasanton first installed one of these censors at the corner of Foothill Road and Stoneridge Drive in January 2010, and the test phase was so successful that city planners have already added six microwave sensors, and are planning four more. But InsideBayArea reports that other cities throughout California and even as far away as Tennessee are very interested in the bike sensor technology, and have approached Pleasanton with questions about its effectiveness and implementation.

Residents and officials in Pleasanton are confident that the sensors, which cost $4,000 to $5,000 each, will drastically improve bike safety. “Before (the light) didn’t give as much time, so you had to cycle harder to make it. You also didn’t want to get caught in the middle. And, if the light didn’t trigger, you were a sitting duck for folks to bump into,” said Pleasanton cyclist Jim Ott.

This is part of a regional effort to make California streets more complete for vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. Throughout Northern California, cities have proposed new programs that would make the streets safer for cyclists by reducing the number of vehicle lanes in favor of bicycle lanes and more sidewalk space. Such programs, that are moving forward in cities like San Jose, San Francisco, and Santa Clara, are designed to reduce vehicle speeds and promote a “share the road” approach to city traffic.

I’m very optimistic about Pleasanton’s microwave sensor technology, as well as complete streets proposals throughout the state. But these are no replacement for normal steps you must take to assure your own safety while cycling. Obey all traffic signs and wear the appropriate safety equipment every time you get on a bike to avoid preventable bike accidents. And remember to enjoy the roads!

Photo credit: Dylan Passmore


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