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When It Rains, Rotterdam's Bikers Get To Go Through Lights Faster

If you want to increase bike riding, you have to make it easier to ride—even in bad weather.

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Since 2004, Rotterdam has seen a 60% increase in cycling. More than three-quarters of the city's residents own a bike—and they have plenty of places to ride. Holland's second city has 360 miles of bike lanes, including several dedicated "freeways."

Many cities would be happy enough with that, but not Rotterdam. It now wants to encourage cycling even when conditions aren't perfect: for example, when it's raining. Last November, it installed the first "regensensors" (rain sensors) at a downtown intersection. Now, when it starts to shower, the traffic lights prioritize cyclists so they don't wait so long to cross. At the same time, car drivers need to wait a little longer, because they are inside and can stay dry.

"We want to give priority to cyclists," says city spokesperson Anna Feiner. "'Giving priority to cyclists' is literally the title of our plan for the city."

Though many cities are now adding bike lanes, Dutch and Danish cities distinguish themselves by having dedicated lanes, traffic lights, and other infrastructure (like this lovely bridge). The aim is to keep bikes and cars separate, so cyclists feel safer and can ride uninterrupted. In Denmark's second largest city, Aarhus, they're even experimenting with wheel-mounted RFID tags that automatically turn lights green as cyclists ride through.

Only one Rotterdam intersection has the regensensors so far. But it's likely that, after a six month trial, they'll be installed in other places as well, Feiner says. A relatively mild drizzle is enough to set off the pilot devices, but it's possible to make the equipment less sensitive. At the moment, the equipment halves waiting times for cyclists, from 80 seconds normally to 40 seconds.

When can we have regensensors in New York and other U.S. cities? We probably need to ask for better bike lanes first.

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