Response from the RTA/RMS regarding Pyrmont cycle traffic control

So I wrote to the RTA about the trouble with the Union Street cycle corridor, which I've been blogging about for the last few days. I include the response here in full. My initial approach garnered a specific name, so here's what I sent:

Hi John,

I've been given your email to forward the below enquiry. I've re-pasted the enquiry here. Not sure if you'll end up receiving this two ways:
Traffic lights/delays

I'm a blogger with an interest in cycling, among other things. I've recently posted about sensor-activated cycle lane traffic lights in Sydney - which made the SMH news yesterday due to a police crackdown on riders jumping the lights    
I've noticed they don't work well and are, I think, poorly installed (see the post for details) and I'd like to talk with someone regarding what type of sensors are installed in sydney (pressure or magnetic?), where, and what exactly can be done to improve matters. 
My first post on the topic is here: 
 I'd prefer to correspond by email so that I've got a clear record of what's said, rather than phone call, but I can be contacted on 0405 xxx xxx    
Jason Brown  
@drunkenmadman on Twitter

Relatively promptly, I got a response. Dr John Ronczka is the Senior Sustainable Transport Officer for the RTA, which gives him the remit over cycling and alternative transport schemes. This means he's the guy to talk to about cycling issues, and he's a pretty nice guy too, as you can see from the response: 

G'day Jason,
Thank you for your Email dated 12 March 2012 in regards to traffic lights/delays.
Both the Roads and Maritime Services and the City of Sydney have been in partnership in improving the detection of cyclists and indicating the best position on the pavement for a cyclist to be detected.  There is expected to be release of outcomes from the joint work possibly in late 2012.
The work associated with cyclist detection has not finished yet, so it's useful to get such detailed feedback as yours.
Please note that current studies are suggesting that the detection of the presence of bicycles is dependent on the cyclist staying on the loop located in the pavement and not moving past the stopline.
The delay experience by all road users is designed to be generally the same so no road user is disadvantage of another.
In terms of enforcement of cyclist 'red light running'  this is a matter for the Police Force.
All the best
Dr John Ronczka
Senior Sustainable Transport Officer
Sustainable Transport | Traffic Management

Roads and Maritime Services

It doesn't answer every question I have, and I've sent a follow-up, but it certainly goes some of the way. The use of the word "loop" specifically in the wording appears to confirm that the sensors in Pyrmont are induction loop sensors, and therefore the drain covers noted in my previous post are a serious problem, since they appear to contravene the RTA's guidelines specifiying a 300mm (1ft) gap between sensor and drain cover. It raises the other questions over bikes using non-ferrous metals for their frames and components - notably carbon or aluminium frames - how sensitive are the loops? Are they sensitive enough to pick up a bike whose main ingredient is aluminium and really only includes steel in spokes, hub axles, bottom bracket, brake disks and a few bolts? After all they only work on ferrous metals. And how far to the side do any lobes in the field extend? And how can my ~12kg aluminium bike hope to outcompete a drain or manhole cover, which Google tells me can weight as much as 50kg?

It does also seem to confirm that one needs to stay within the sensor area to get a light, so merely passing over the sensor won't help, and neither will moving off the sensor to a more confortable spot. But the main takeaway is that the RTA/RMS seems to be aware of issues with cycle detection and are undertaking studies right now, with results expected at the end of the year.

I'm certainly not a lawyer, but I'd say this fact alone should be enough to cast doubt on the validity of fines issued at cycle lights in Sydney. I'd love it if someone with more legal nous than me could look into this.

Still, I'm sure the RTA/RMS has plenty to think about in the light of today's major bike crash in Botany. This involved club riders, and I strongly suspect, though I obviously can't yet prove, that the problem will turn out to be the driver severely underestimating the speed at which a rider can travel, since it's difficult to imagine he could not see a large knot of club riders approaching. Even I, an unfit late-30s rider on a nobbly-tyred full-suspension mountain bike, can average ~25km/h on a flat road ride and peak out at well over 60km/h on the hills. Club riders on light machines can obviously outstrip my numbers quite significantly.

I'm about to increase my own average speed significantly with the delivery of a superlight carbon road bike in the next day or two, so I'm intrigued and ever so slightly worried about drivers being unable to judge my pace. If this blog goes all quiet, send an ambulance...

Wrong again, Meryl

Australia's most debunked woman, and occasional president of the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) is at it again. Here's a little tweet she fired off this morning:

I wonder, readers, if you can guess what I'm going to say next?

Yes, that's right. Predictably, the article to which Meryl Dorey links says nothing of the sort. In fact, it says:

Barely two weeks after World Health Organisation (WHO) declared India as a polio-free nation, an 18-month-old female child was admitted to a state-run hospital in Kolkata with suspected polio on Monday.

The child, Sumi, a resident of Indrabala village near Baruipur in South 24 Parganas district, was admitted with symptoms of paralysis with disability in movement and fever.

The child’s stool samples have been sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune and School of Tropical Medicine in Kolkata for confirmatory tests. The reports are expected next week.

That's pretty clear, right? Unconfirmed. Polio-like symptoms. Don't know what it is. Tests are being run.

Now, those of us who've been with Stop the AVN since near the beginning will remember Meryl's own demands and assertions over a certain pertussis diagnosis about three years ago - Meryl was certainly not going to accept a diagnosis without firm scientific evidence then, and made several public statements to the effect. What's different here? Well, of course, the glove is on the other hand. When the conclusion is anti-vaccine, Meryl accepts it at face value. When the conclusion is otherwise, she demands an impossible level of proof.

More priceless is the first comment on the Hindustan Times Story.

I'll just re-iterate that for copypasters and googlebots:

Another foolish story by HT... Dont Panic... this was case of Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP)... there are 40 such case in 2012 already reported in 24 Parganas (S) only. The child is completely ok now.. It was a case of transient flaccidity. stool is being collected (like any other AFP case). Dont Panic...

there will be at least 1 AFP case/1lakh under15 population/year even after polio eradication (cause-traumatic neuritis, GB, Transverse myelitis, other viral neuritis etc)

That couldn't have been scripted better, but one last thing. Note the timestamp on Dorey's tweet. Note the time of this post. Note the "13 hours ago" on the story comment.

The comment was on the page when Dorey tweeted her nonsense interpretation. Not only did she fail to read the story properly, she failed to look at the comments (of which there are only 3) AT ALL.

This woman doesn't deserve an internet connection, never mind a public platform to comment on vaccine issues.

This is not polio. This is not provocation polio. This is a farce.

She's utterly incompetent, and she demonstrates it herself on a regular and somewhat hilarious basis. Thanks Meryl.


Email to NSW Police regarding Pyrmont cycle control lights

Having written to the RTA and Clover Moore about these frustrating bike lights, I figured I ought to talk to NSW police about their crackdown day:

I'm a blogger with interest in, among other things, cycling in and around Sydney. I've recently been blogging about the cycle lane lights in Pyrmont. A day after my first blog on the topic, I noticed a crackdown by Sydney Police on red-light running. Ironically, my blog of March 6th had been about how the traffic control sensors are unreliable and badly installed.

This being the case, I'm after some press comment on the crackdown of March 7th. Given that the lights are known (to cyclists at least) to be unreliable, were steps taken to ensure that fines were only issued for clear infractions? Was any consideration given to the fact that the lights may not be functioning as designed?

I'm currently talking to the RTA about this, and I'm told they are currently in studies on how cycle detection can be improved.

My blog posts on the topic are at:


This sent on 12 Mar 2012 at 4:40pm. Response awaited with interest.

Oh, and yes, I know I have a bee in my bonnet about this. Normal service will be resumed eventually

More about those Pyrmont cycle lane lights

I've posted recently on some problems with Sydney's otherwise excellent cycle lane network, well it turns out the subject doesn't really go away. A day after I blogged about the road sensor problem, NSW police staged a crackdown on red-light infractions and non-helmet wearers.

Laying aside the helmet issue for now, it's easy to see, if you've read the previous piece, that there's a problem here. It could well be that the issues with the traffic light sensors have contributed to the light jumping problem, and this, in my opinion, makes any fines issued on crackdown day very doubtful indeed.

So I made a specific effort to go and check out all the light sensors on the Union Street cycleway, part of my commuting route and the section of cycleway which saw the police crackdown last week. Here's what I found. First, citybound:

Harris Street at Union Square

No big deal here, a push button and a light which works reliably. So far so good. Push the button, get a light, usually before the vehicle traffic in the sequence. Good stuff.

Union Street and Pyrmont Street, citybound

Oh lawdy, what is going on here? A tangle of sensor lines almost impossible to decipher. Will the lights trigger? Where am I meant to hit the sensor? Judging by the paint, there used to be a diamond marker down the centre line, so that's presumably where one ought to hit the sensor. It's well away from the ideal stopping point, but there you go.

I have developed the opinion that it's better at this point to cut one's losses and behave as vehicle traffic. I've come to these lights several times at around 10am and had pedestrian traffic, then vehicle traffic, shown a green while my cycle light was left red. There's definitely something wrong.

Union and Edward Streets, citybound

 OK, that's not great. Sensor impinged upon by drain cover. Clearly these are not magnetic induction sensors, since the interference of the metal mass to the left would make them worse than useless, right? Right? OK, forget I said anything, I realise where I'm going wrong.

There's also a yawning gap on the left where many, if not most, riders take their stance, but at least the diamond markings are present. Of course, you need to know what the diamonds mean, and how many visitors to Sydney will know that? Indeed, how many regular commuters know? Not many, judging by my own observation.

These sensors seem, anecdotally, to be the least reliable on the strip. Again, I'm tending to join the vehicle lane here rather than use the cycle lanes, because it's just not worth the frustration.

Pyrmont Bridge Road and Murray Street (Pyrmont Bridge Hotel) - citybound

 Yawning gap on the left, but look to the right. Yes, this sensor, the one where NSW Police carried out their little sting operation, covers far less than half the width of the cycle lane. Indeed, yesterday morning I observed a rider pull up well to the right of the sensor without impinging on the oncoming lane at all. I alerted him to the existence of the sensor, but had he been riding on the day the police were out, he'd have been left at a red light or been hit with a fine for jumping across when the pedestrians got a green light. Likewise on this morning's bike commute, I saw another rider miss the sensor to the left, and I hit the sensor myself without invading his personal space. We subsequently struck up a conversation which continued all the way across Pyrmont Bridge on the topic of why the cycle lanes are a great idea badly implemented - which was quite informative.

And, you'll notice, there are no diamond markings whatsoever on this sensor, for what good they do.

This is pretty pathetic - three sensors on Union Street citybound, each of which is a failure a different reason, and in the case of at least two, multiple reasons.


So, what about outbound?

Pyrmont Bridge Road and Murray Street (Pyrmont Bridge Hotel)  - westbound

Tiny amount of coverage, probably about a quarter of the line-up area, and it sits well to the right of the light pole where most riders place themselves. More than once I've pulled onto this sensor pad next to a rider already standing waiting, oblivious of the sensor. Again, this is the area where the fines were handed out. A rider losing patience with the non-working light would be down $60. This one is pretty bad.

Note also the tactile surfacing, designed to guide visually-impaired pedestrians onto crossing areas. Left in place on a bike lane? This is surely a bad idea? Did no-one notice? One wonders if the RTA is run by a top-hatted freak who keeps a dormouse in his teapot.

Union Street and Edward Street - Westbound

Pretty crappy. Again, yawning gaps to the left and right, less than half the lane covered. Remember from the note above, this is the very unreliable junction. And from the pic, I can't make out where the back edge of the sensor actually is. Poorly installed? Diamond markings present, but probably not for much longer, judging by the fade. Again, I'm getting in with the vehicle traffic these days - it's more reliable.

Union Street and Pyrmont Streets, westbound


This might be the best sensor of the lot, and let it still leaves around half of the lane unmonitored. No visible diamond markings, and I have seen this one fail (most recently last night, 12 Mar 2012 - a confused rider jumped the lights when pedestrians were given a go while the bike light stayed red).

And then the last junction on the strip, Harris Street at Union Square, westbound

Again, a quite reliable button. This one seems to work just fine, but after the debacle that is Union Street, what rider has the patience to wait?



So, we can see from these few examples that the Pyrmont cycle corridor is something of a failure, and yet it was recently target by police against bike riders running red lights. I'll say again: If a light fails to change to green, and you know it should have changed, and you know it's safe to cross, what are you going to do, turn around and go home?

And we don't even know, since the RTA haven't got back to me yet, if these sensors need you to stay in place until your light changes, or if it's sufficient to hit them then move to a more comfortable spot (anecdote says the former), or indeed whether they need full body weight to trigger or if a sub-10kg bike is sufficient to set them off alone. We don't know, though we can try to guess, whether they are magnetic induction or pressure pads, and if they are magnetic induction, whether they'll be triggered differently by, say, a carbon fibre or aluminium-framed bike, rather than a more traditional steel-framed clunker.

All these questions will go to the RTA, once they get round to responding to my enquiries. 

[Update: The RTA have responded. You need to stay in place, and the sensors are, it seems, magnetic induction loops]

The real problem, though, in my opinion, is the confusion over and poor enforcement of badly written Australian cycling regulations. In the context of this strip, there's a genuine conflation of cycle traffic with pedestrian traffic - the lights are keyed to the cycle of the pedestrian lights, and the path is segregated away from the road. Cyclists, not unreasonably, infer that they're under pedestrian rules - and pedestrians are permitted to cross when it's safe even if their lights are red. We've all done it. However in the law, cyclists are vehicle traffic, even here.

In the law, adult riders may not ride on the pavement unless accompanying a young rider. How often has anyone been cautioned or fined for ignoring these rules? Anyone? This again reinforces the idea that cycles are more akin to pedestrian traffic than vehicle traffic. The traffic system treats them like pedestrians for the length of the cycleway, and then NSW Police treat them like vehicles when they jump a red light that doesn't work.

This isn't on.

And while we're at it, Pyrmont bridge probably needs a cycle lane, at least on a trial basis - more so than quiet Union Street ever did - and it needs to be policed not only for riders failing to stay inside the lane, but for pedestrians failing to stay out. Pedestrians and cyclists are a potential hazard to each other, and frankly it's only the attentiveness of cyclists that has prevented more injuries on this stretch of shared tarmac. Cyclists do not blunder into the path of pedestrians, but the other way around is tediously common. And I don't even ride this section in peak time, when it is utter chaos. A lane might help, though it may only serve to trammel riders into a restricted area while pedestrians continue to dreamily wander around everywhere, forcing riders to brake rather than maneuver - generally speaking a more dangerous course of action. Only a trial will tell us for sure.

I'm sorry to harp on about it, but this is the way it is. Clover Moore and the City of Sydney's noble and well-intentioned aim to make Sydney a cycling city is going to fail as long as the law, and the infrastructure, fails to recognise that cycle traffic is neither pedestrian nor vehicle. It is unique and needs to be regulated with an understanding of its unique demands. Sometimes, it is entirely safe for a cyclist to cross a junction as though one were a pedestrian. Sometimes it is terribly unsafe, to both cyclist and traffic. Sometimes it is fine for pedestrian and cycle traffic to co-exist in a laissez faire manner, sometimes it is not. Sometimes, despite the fact there's a bus lane, it might not be a good idea to use it. The law makes, it seems, no distinction, and in this the law is, most assuredly, an ass.

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