Washington County debuts thermal video detection of bike riders at signals

Washington County debuts thermal video detection of bike riders at signals

Sample image of thermal detection sensor being used in Washington County.

Three intersections in Washington County are part of a trial run of high-tech signal detection devices aimed at improving the experience of bicycle riders.

According to the Washington County Land Use and Transporation Division crews have installed “thermal bike-distinguishing video detection systems” at the following three locations:

New sign lets riders know they’ve been seen.

— Rock Creek and Park View boulevards, approaching 185th Avenue
— Park Way approaching Cedar Hills Boulevard
— 85th Avenue approaching Durham Road, across from Hall Boulevard

Washington County is using products from FLIR Systems, Inc., a company based in Wilsonville, Oregon.

The product, which ranges from $15,000 to $25,000 per intersection, uses an integrated thermal sensor that creates a heat map based on the energy emitted from car and bike users they say can distinguish between the two. The signal then automatically adjusts its timing sequence to safely get a bicycle rider through the intersections. The appeal of this system is that riders don’t have to push a button or place their bike over an induction loop to trigger a green light.


Making signals work better for bicycle riders isn’t just about convenience. Research shows when people know they’ve been detected they’re less likely to get impatient and roll through a red light. Educating people about how to trigger a green light has vexed engineers for years. A 2013 study found about half of Portland bike riders don’t know how to do it.

The technology isn’t perfect yet and the County says their engineers will be working with FLIR on any necessary tweaks throughout the test period. The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation also uses thermal detection signals from FLIR. There’s one being used at SE César Chávez Blvd and Lincoln.

Washington County has secured a federal grant to install more of these in the upcoming fiscal year.

If you ride through these intersections and have feedback to share, you can send it to the County via luttraffic@co.washington.or.us or by calling 503-846-7950. Learn more here.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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