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Mark Wetzel,
The Utah Department of Transportation has installed sensors at nine intersections that detect cyclists and trigger green lights.

SALT LAKE CITY — A new system in nine intersections in Salt Lake County aims to improve safety by allowing cyclists to trigger a green light.

"The old systems made lawbreakers out of all the bicyclists," cyclist Chad Mullins said. "Unless you had a car there to trigger the light for you, you could sit there forever."

Of course, the other choice a lone cyclist has is to run the red light, which is exactly what many do when the traffic clears. That, transportation officials said, can be deadly.

Mullins cycles the streets of Salt Lake City every day. As a member of the Salt Lake County Bicycle Advisory Committee and a board member of Bike Utah, he's eager for innovations that help cyclists safely share the road with motorists.    

"It's a great improvement," he said.

When the cyclist rolls up and stops on a decal of a bicycle, the radar panel above the intersection detects the cyclist. If there's light traffic on the cross road, the cyclist gets the green, and he rolls on through.

Cyclists cannot stop rush-hour traffic right away, but they won't have to wait too long for the green light when there are no cars.

"(It's) faster than it normally would had the bicyclist not been recognized," said John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation.

UDOT put the sensors, which are made by Provo-based Wavetronix, along cycling corridors where they cross high-traffic roads — 800 East and 400 South, 900 East and 400 South, 800 South and 700 East, Foothill Drive and 1300 South, Foothill Drive and 2100 South, 6200 South and Wasatch Boulevard, California Avenue and Bangerter Highway, Bangerter Highway and Parkway Boulevard, and 500 South and Guardsman Way.

The decal is positioned in the road so the radar panel can detect the cyclist, but it's also positioned far enough away from the curb to keep cyclists out of the way of cars making right turns.

"It lets the cyclist know exactly where they need to be in order to be recognized," Gleason said. "It also speaks to the drivers to let them know we need to share the road, so there are two messages there."

It costs about $6,000 for each detector, or $12,000 per intersection.

"With any luck, we'll see these across the state before too long," Gleason said.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com