Bicycle traffic light to be installed in Ashland

ASHLAND — City leaders welcome the Oregon Department of Transportation's plans to install an innovative bicycle traffic light at the Exit 14 interchange, but they're worried that other changes could endanger bicyclists and pedestrians.

The changes are part of a two-year ODOT project to upgrade the south Ashland interchange.

Traffic signals will be built on both sides of the Ashland Street bridge that crosses over Interstate 5. The traffic signal on the side of the bridge closest to central Ashland also will get a bicycle light.

ODOT knows of only three such bicycle traffic lights in Oregon, and all are in Portland, said ODOT consultant Karen Tatman of Quincy Engineering.

Sensors in the road will detect when a bicycle is at the intersection on the west side of the interchange. Traffic signals for vehicles will turn red and a green light in the shape of a bicycle will appear to let cyclists know it's safe to cross.

"We're excited about ODOT going to this new technology," said Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught.

City officials would like to see ODOT install a bicycle traffic light on the east side of the Ashland Street bridge, closest to the Ashland airport and Oak Knoll Public Golf Course.

Ashland City Council members voted earlier this month to send a letter to ODOT expressing support for the one bike traffic light, but asking for a second one.

Council members are worried that the interchange redesign is providing such a large radius for semitrucks to make turns that street crossing distances will be dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said there's a conflict between ODOT's need to accommodate big trucks, and the city's priority to keep bikers and walkers safe.

City Councilwoman Carol Voisin said it could be dangerous for bicyclists or pedestrians to cross long distances at the Exit 14 interchange.

ODOT Area Manager Art Anderson said the state's traffic engineer, who is in charge of approving all designs, feels the interchange is safe for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Making the turning radius for trucks smaller would require such a major redesign that ODOT probably would not be able to bid the project in time to get started this summer, he said.

ODOT is upgrading the interchange as part of a statewide effort mandated by the Oregon Legislature to fix bridges, Tatman said.

The interchange as it is now can't adequately handle traffic volumes. It also has had an "extremely high" number of accidents, city staff said.

They counted 31 accidents between June 1998 and December 2009, including four crashes that involved pedestrians and bicyclists.

Proposed improvements to the interchange could have prevented at least 20 of the reported crashes, including all of those involving bicyclists and pedestrians, city staff said in a memo to the council.

The landscaping around the interchange will be redesigned to use drought-tolerant plants from Southern Oregon. The current irrigation system uses city water, but it could be tied into the Talent Irrigation District system so that city water isn't used, Tatman said.

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