Aspen’s Main Street signals don’t detect bikes
August 16, 2012
ASPEN – Aspen touts itself as a bike-friendly town and even has an official “silver” designation from the League of American Bicyclists saying so.
That said, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s new underground loop detectors in the city that trigger traffic-signal changes – recently installed at Main Street’s intersections with Galena, Mill, Monarch and Aspen streets – fail to detect most bicycles. And that’s causing a few headaches among some riders who mentioned the issue informally to The Aspen Times.
Basically, the riders are concerned about long wait times when crossing Main Street at one of the four intersections that have signal lights. CDOT’s new system was designed to improve traffic flow along Main Street, which is part of state Highway 82, giving drivers a string of green lights if there are no vehicles or pedestrians waiting to cross Main Street.
If there are no vehicles or pedestrians to trigger a green light, bike riders must either wait until one shows up or dismount to press a button at the crosswalk to force the light to change. Or they can run the red light, running the risk of being ticketed by police.
“It’s not a perfect system,” said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks. “These in-pavement loop detectors are the most reliable and economic solution we have right now to address mobility at these intersections. That certainly doesn’t mean things can’t be looked at in the future.”
The loop detectors were installed in the spring as part of $675,000 worth of traffic-management improvements along Highway 82. Shanks said they detect magnetic metals, such as iron and steel.
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“They will detect bicycles that have enough steel or iron in them, but
carbon-fiber rims and titanium frames are not going to be detected,” she said.
The loops are most sensitive just inside the edge of the loop, meaning that the best strategy – if a bike has steel, as some bikes do – is to ride in the center of the lane to trigger the system, Shanks said.
She said that riders might be able to get around the issue by attaching a piece of steel rebar to the down-tube of the bicycle, which could trigger a light change.
It’s difficult to say how many local riders are upset by the new system. Many local residents and visitors on bicycles continue to skip over to sidewalks as they approach a red light, just as they did before the changes were implemented. It’s illegal to ride a bike on an Aspen sidewalk, but local police rarely enforce the infraction, which carries a $100 fine.
Michael Wampler, owner of the Aspen Velo bicycle shop on North Mill Street, said no riders have complained to him about the state’s changes to the Main Street signals. However, he said he’s always advised cyclists not to cross Main Street at Mill, sending them to Bleeker Street instead as a way of avoiding one of the city’s busiest intersections.
John Krueger, the city of Aspen’s transportation director, pointed out that the system is most likely to hold up bike riders during slow traffic times: in the wee hours of the morning, late in the evening or in the middle of the night.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Krueger said. “All you have to do is get off your bike, walk over, push the button, then cross the street at the crosswalk. I’ve seen people do that.”
There are other types of detection systems that CDOT could have installed, such as those that use infrared and radar technology, but the underground loops work best, he said.
Krueger added that CDOT’s signal-system upgrades on Main Street are having a positive effect on vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow through town.
“It’s helped these intersections be a lot more efficient and responsive,” he said. “Previously, there wasn’t any detection for vehicles, and you didn’t have a pedestrian button to activate the crosswalk signal. I think it’s better than it was, and as they continue to tweak it, it’ll work better for everything.”