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

Message
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    
Thanks    
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
John
 
Dr John Ronczka
Senior Sustainable Transport Officer
Sustainable Transport | Traffic Management
www.rms.nsw.gov.au

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...

posted @ Wednesday, March 14, 2012 1:33 PM

 
 
 

Comments on this entry:

# re: Response from the RTA/RMS regarding Pyrmont cycle traffic control

Left by William at 3/14/2012 2:25 PM
Gravatar
Inductive loops don't just work on ferrous metals. All metals have the ability to have eddy currents induced in them, this in turn produces an opposing magnetic field, which is measured as a change of inductance.... Effectively all you have to do is disturb the magnetic field enough.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induction_loop

Even alumnium will work. I personally have a road bike with aluminium frame - triggers loops just fine, as long as I stay on the loop long enough for the light to change.

Will.

# re: Response from the RTA/RMS regarding Pyrmont cycle traffic control

Left by Jason at 3/14/2012 2:42 PM
Gravatar
Good to know. I did a bit of extra looking into this and it seems I held a common misunderstanding which I'll be sure to correct in future.

www.humantransport.org/.../detection.htm

From that article it seems that the best detection is over the centre line, and it also notes that the prominent detection point is the rims, and that aluminium rims are better conductors than steel rims.

That makes me slightly happier, but the article also notes that the "sweet spot" for the detectors may be only 20mm either side of the wire loop, and that relatively slight changes in the road surface can result in failed detection. Which makes me unhappier.

Overall, I wish they'd just used a push button

# re: Response from the RTA/RMS regarding Pyrmont cycle traffic control

Left by Ripples at 3/20/2012 4:32 PM
Gravatar
I did try respond the other day to this post but failed for some reason.

From the legal perspective I would submit that the fact the powers that be know the sensors are not very good does not actually affect the offence of travelling in opposition to a signal.

Essentially it is a strict liability offence. Although there might be a defence the lights are defective it would not be strong in that the cyclist was not held for an excessive period of time or where held for an excessive period the cyclist could opt to walk.

Usually when defective the lights flash yellow and the legislation covers that problem.

PS, although I might be a lawyer I am not providing legal advice in this instance waiver waiver waiver
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