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High-tech upgrade aims to help Corvallis cyclists
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High-tech upgrade aims to help Corvallis cyclists

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The city of Corvallis, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon State University and Portland State University have teamed up on a bicycle infrastructure project that they will hope make one of the city’s busiest streets safer for cyclists.

The problem? It’s hard for cyclists to cross Philomath Boulevard heading north from Brooklane Drive because of the uphill climb, possible right turns from vehicles and because the traffic signal light changes so quickly. The light favors east-west traffic on the highway because of the vehicle volume.

The solution? A bicycle detection sensor in the traffic light that ensures an extra three to five seconds when the light goes green and pavement markings that will help give cyclists a head start.

Both features are up and running now, with a third piece, a blue confirmation light that will help cyclists know they have been detected, set to be installed in a few weeks, said Josh Capps, active transportation specialist with the city of Corvallis.

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“The bike detection thermal sensor was installed and fine-tuned for public use in mid-April,” said Capps. “The detection device is pointed downward toward the detection zone where a person biking would be waiting for the traffic light to change.

“The sensor detects vehicles and bicycles approaching an intersection and is able to distinguish bicycles from vehicles, thus allowing the proper signal phase to occur (cyclists get three to five more seconds). The device also covers a larger, more accurate area of detection compared to triggering bike loops where one must stand over, and be fairly precise, with their bicycle placement.”

ODOT active transportation liaison Jenna Berman helped get the project rolling by suggesting it to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board. The state agency also chipped in $5,200 for the sensor and the confirmation light, with the city allocating $1,800 for the pavement markings and signs.

OSU and PSU will be doing research on the pilot project, which is part of a larger series of efforts, including two installations in Portland. The universities will be paying particular attention to the confirmation light piece, Capps said.

“This blue confirmation light technology is being studied on a national level to see how well people riding bikes adjust their behavior once they know they are detected,” he said.

“The experiment allows OSU/PSU to evaluate the different effectiveness of each piece (sensor detection, pavement markings and blue feedback light) and determine if there is a change in bicyclist behavior after the blue feedback light is installed.”

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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