News / Ottawa

Cyclists are lighting up the road—literally

New cycling infrastructure on O'Connor will alert drivers to oncoming cyclists through the use of blinking LEDs triggered by thermal cameras

New SmartCone technology installed on the O'Connor bikelanes at the intersection of O'Connor and Waverley.

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New SmartCone technology installed on the O'Connor bikelanes at the intersection of O'Connor and Waverley.

A one-of-a-kind cycling safety measure designed to alert drivers to approaching cyclist has been installed and will be tested for the next month at the corner of O'Connor and Waverley.

The system consists of a series of poles with LED lights installed at the top. As cyclists approach from either direction on the two-way, separated bike lane, the lights begin to flash, alerting drivers who are preparing to cut through the lanes onto Waverley Street that there is a cyclist coming through.

The system is a product of a collaboration between Safer Roads Ottawa and SmartCone Technologies, a Stittsville-based startup.

"This is a total prototype. This is not an off-the-shelf product," said Rob Wilkonson, coordinator of Safer Roads Ottawa. "It's taken lots of months of back and forth."

Wilkinson said that Safer Roads Ottawa was looking for new ways to improve bike safety on Ottawa streets, when they teamed up with SmartCone to build a unique system. "That's the other nice tie in. We can work with a local company and give them a boost," he said.

The team worked with several different ideas, eventually settling on the use of thermal cameras, which sense incoming pedestrians using heat. Other road detection systems use magents or weight to trigger traffic signals, but the advantage of heat, said Wilkinson, is that it detects the many people who use the O'Connor bike lanes with mobility devices or longboards.

Since the O'Connor bike lanes run bi-directionally on one side of the road, there is an increased danger when drivers cross the lane. "We know in the fall of 2016, we did have two collisions involving motorists and cyclists" at the O'Connor and Waverley intersection, said Wilkinson. "In both of those cases, part of the information we got back is the motorists would say they didn't see the cyclists."

While the new lights will help that, Wilkinson said that the system isn't perfect. Safer Roads Ottawa will be testing it for the next 30 days, before studying the numbers and deciding on a path forward. The poles currently use battery power, but a more permanent system would likely explore hard-wiring or using solar panels to power the lights.

Jason Lee, CEO of SmartCone, said that this prototype has big implications for their company as well. He said that they have a number of cities lined up to adopt the technology after the 30-day trial period. "Bike safety is the number-one federally-funded proram in almost every country that has a smart city initiative," said Lee. "We didn't even really know the bike lanes were an issue until this."

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