Heads up, Austin bicyclists. You’re getting your own traffic signals.
The Austin Transportation Department has installed signal faces at a dozen intersections in Central Austin. Some of them started operating last week, and I took a detour this morning to see how they worked.
I rode the separated bike lane east along Third Street, catching the new bike traffic signals at Guadalupe and Lavaca Streets. You might not notice them at first – until you see that instead of the red, yellow or green globes that direct motor traffic, the bike signals, attached to the right side of the street light poles, feature bicycle-shaped icons that light up in red, yellow or green.
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I saw four or five other cyclists navigating the signals. They all stopped for the reds, although I did notice one cyclist riding in the regular car lane instead of the protected bike lane. (That’s not illegal, just interesting.)
According to a press release from the city of Austin, the signals can increase safety and improve traffic for both bicyclists and motorists.
I didn’t really notice a difference, since the lights I encountered were still timed to coincide with the regular lights for cars. But at some locations, the lights will be timed to give pedestrians and bicycles a leading interval – allowing people on foot or bicycle a little extra time to begin crossing. That helps with visibility and predictability for everyone at the intersection.
The new bicycle signals are located at the following intersections:Five locations on Third StreetWilshire Boulevard/Aldrich Street and Airport BoulevardRio Grande Street and Martin Luther King Jr. BoulevardTwo locations on the Lance Armstrong Bikeway4th Street and Red River StreetRio Grande Street and West 24th StreetNorth Lamar Boulevard and Morrow Street
The signal at the intersection of Rio Grande and West 24th Streets, along with the signals on Third Street, are already active. The rest will click into action in coming weeks.
The signals are part of a collaborative research study between the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin and the Austin Transportation Department. The study will measure user compliance and road safety. It will also look at public perception and knowledge about bike signals.
A preliminary survey was released in January 2017, before the bicycle signals were installed. A second survey will be released in a few months, after the bicycle signals have begun to operate.