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Bikes at Traffic Signals: How does it work?

Update: California Senate Bill 672 (SB-672 Traffic-actuated signals: motorcycles and bicycles) was approved by Governor Jerry Brown on October 2, 2017.

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The post below was previously published on May 11, 2011.

Ever been at a traffic signal and wondered if it can detect that you are there–on a bicycle?  Two bike-friendly municipal traffic professionals in Monterey County share how it works here .

Above:  City Traffic Engineer Rich Deal of the City of Monterey listens to Velo Club Monterey’s Answer Man,  Jan Valencia, as Jan shares thoughts from his experiences of biking in Monterey.  The two, along with others, had just biked to the plaza following the Seaside PAL Bike Fair.

On the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Street Smarts blog…

Cheryl Schmitt, bicycle coordinator for the Santa Cruz Public Works Department, shared info about bicycle detection at traffic signals–how it works for our neighbors across the Monterey Bay.  Read Cheryl’s article, then read on for specific notes for Monterey County.

Rich Deal, City Traffic Engineer for the City of Monterey, and James Serrano, City Traffic Planner for the City of Salinas, responded promptly when I asked them in May 2011 about bicycle detection at some of the traffic signals in Monterey County.

Geurt and Stien van Burken, visiting from the Netherlands, at a light on Munras in downtown Monterey.

Mr. Deal, how do traffic lights work for people biking in the City of Monterey?

City of Monterey

Rich Deal replied, “Our traffic signals work the same way as in Santa Cruz.  We use inductive loops in our bike lanes that are specifically designed to detect bikes.  We don’t use cameras, because they don’t perform well in the fog.  And we also have some ‘old school’ signals that run on a time clock with no detection.”

The City of Monterey has a general service request form, or contact Rich Deal when you have a bicycle-related service request.

You may also report “traffic signal not triggered by bicycles” and other bike-related requests for the City of Monterey and other Monterey County cities and unincorporated areas via the Transportation Agency for Monterey County service request form.

Contact Rich too if you’d like to give input in citizen planning meetings and such that impact cycling for the City of Monterey. There are often special opportunities to help with issues about bicycling in the City of Monterey; for example, see Bicycling Audit, City of Monterey Transportation Charette on this site.

See the Bicycle Transportation Plan adopted by the City of Monterey on 17 Nov 2009, and the Multi-Modal Plan adopted by the City on 10 March 2013.


Rich Deal City Traffic Engineer 831.646.3473

Waiting on the light to change at an intersection in Oldtown Salinas.

Mr. Serrano, I wish cars had bike detectors too!  But at least the signals do.  How do they work?

James Serrano - Salinas planner

City of Salinas

James Serrano bikes regularly, and he shared the following regarding Salinas.  “The Salinas Bicycle Advisory Committee had identified this need to make sure that bicycles are detected at intersections.  It is one of the reasons that Salinas moved towards video detection as a standard for new and retrofitted signals approximately a decade ago.”

James knows from experience how the detectors work.   “I check them out all the time when I’m on my bike, and it is a relief when the light changes for me when I’m the only one  at an intersection.”  (Always great to see that things work the way they are designed to!)  “We do have a lot of older signals in Salinas that need to be upgraded to this new technology, which has improved throughout the years.   t those signals, unfortunately, bicycles cannot be detected, and cyclists still have to push a button.  We will eventually get all of the City’s signals converted.   The good news is that new signals will already have this feature.”

The City of Salinas has their own online Bicycle & Pedestrian Facilities Services Request form.

[2/10/14 update: At this time, for Salinas as well as other locations, it’s preferable to instead use the countywide form – ]

You may also report “traffic signal not triggered by bicycles” and other bike-related requests for Salinas and other Monterey County cities and unincorporated areas via the Transportation Agency for Monterey County service request form.

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Municipal leaders like Rich and James are one reason Monterey County is earning a reputation for becoming one of the most bike-friendly places in America.

Thanks to Rich and James for being such bike-friendly leaders!

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Where to report problems

Cheryl Schmitt’s article referred to where to report hazards/road conditions (including bicycle-detection issues) in Santa Cruz County.

In Monterey County, besides the service request forms linked above for the cities of Monterey and Salinas, as mentioned, you may report to the Transportation Agency for Monterey County.  Use TAMC’s online Bicycle Facilities Services Request form.  Questions?  Contact:Andy Cook, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, (831) 775-4411 or by email,

Kaki Cheung, formerly of TAMC,  pauses at a Salinas intersection to talk bikes with Scott MacDonald, photographer for the Salinas Californian.

Scott was on assignment for the Californian about Bike Week, and with his camera mounted to his bike, Scott kept right up with Kaki while working!

Signs of a bicycling friendly county

The photo below shows the special bicycle  crossing buttons we have at some traffic signal locations in Monterey County.  Look for many more Signs of a Bicycling Friendly Monterey County on this site!

Rider leaving bike path and entering intersection at Del Monte Ave and Canyon Del Rey Boulevard, Seaside
How to snag such news easily

Thanks to Ramona Turner of Street Smarts for bringing Cheryl Schmitt’s article, impetus for this post, to Bicycling Monterey’s attention.

Heads-up:  @bikemonterey follows the Street Smarts blog on Twitter @streetsmartssc –  You do not need to sign up for a Twitter account in order to read Twitter feeds.  Simply click on the links above, or go to and for Street Smarts, go to

Just sing while you wait….

Thanks to indie musician Matthew Perryman Jones  for his song “Waiting on the Light to Change,” which inspired the RSS blurb for this post.

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Some of the bike-friendly signs of our Santa Cruz neighbors….

I love to bike on the other side of the Monterey Bay too, my former home. Saw the construction sign en route home (can’t recall if it was before or after I passed the Pajaro River/county line).  The “Share the Road” sign was on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz.

When there is construction, bicyclists are thought of too!

Is there a better slogan than “Share the Road” for such signs? Thank you to the Street Smart Santa Cruz blog for discussion about that too.

The Santa Cruz “Share the Road” signs are a different design than Monterey County’s–including the courtesy reminder.

This post was previously published on May 11, 2011. 

This post was published on 5 December 2017.

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