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Getting traffic light sensors adjusted for bikes

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Getting traffic light sensors adjusted for bikes

Old 11-17-05, 02:11 AM
  #1  
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I am getting tired of waiting for cars to trip the sensors at 2 intersections I cross on my commute. I decided to email a complaint to the city transportation authority. I also sent a copy to the mayor. Looks like they will get fixed, as the transportation director forwarded a message to me that was sent out. In it mention was made to the fact I had copied to the Mayor. The person that replied not only said that they would try to fix the problem, but would contact CALTRANS (the state's transportation dept.) to inform them of the problem I was having with the intersection I take across the highway. When in doubt, CC the person's boss whom you sent a complaint to, it spurs action . Obviously the person who is in charge of looking into the problem is no engineer, as it was stated my bike might not weigh enough to trigger the sensors. (Hello, it's magnetic, it senses metal. It's a matter of sensitivity.) Now I guess it's wait and see. I saved the message with everyone's email if I have to make a stink. Now , I want to find out why so many city patrol cars have bike racks and no bikes. I never see bike cops. If there were, maybe there would be better acceptance of bike commuters. Well.. I'll shut up before I ramble on...Oops too late.
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Old 11-17-05, 05:30 AM
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I have seen a few that are built in to dedicated bike lanes, but they are a rarity. The push buttons for peds are never conveniently located for bikes. I hate the scenario, since it forces me to eventually run the red (legally) which annoys some self-righteous motorists.
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Old 11-17-05, 05:50 AM
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Originally Posted by scottmorrison99
(Hello, it's magnetic, it senses metal. It's a matter of sensitivity.)
It senses FERROUS metals. There is usually very little of that on most bikes.
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Old 11-17-05, 06:11 AM
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Some years ago, Seattle had a bike that city workers would cart around to make sure the loops were adjusted correctly. In Denver, the city has refused to even try to get its loops to work. A large proportion of the lights in Denver malfunction, i.e. they don't work for bikes, the city is aware of the problem and could fix it but won't.

Oh, I recall when I looked into this that loops do not need ferrous metal to work. I'm sure you can find this on the web.
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Old 11-17-05, 06:13 AM
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In the UK, they tend to be tripped by movement. If you wave at them they change a little quicker but they always trip when you approach them from the centre of the road. Just push for these to be installed instead!
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Old 11-17-05, 06:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Matt Gaunt
In the UK, they tend to be tripped by movement. If you wave at them they change a little quicker but they always trip when you approach them from the centre of the road. Just push for these to be installed instead!
This is true. There's been quite a few adjustments in London to the sensor and now they are set at an angle that gives cyclists a similar profile to a car. Mostly this is where advanced stop lines are in place, much to Helmet Heads chargin I would imagine.
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Old 11-17-05, 06:39 AM
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I've found that wearing Shimano sandals (steel inserts) and stepping on an embedded line will trip the sensors. Except in the winter months. heh.
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Old 11-17-05, 07:14 AM
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Old 11-17-05, 08:41 AM
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another reason that steel is real. my bike trips most traffic light sensors, whereas i pity my friends with carbon fiber.
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Old 11-17-05, 09:04 AM
  #10  
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I've gotten a few sensors readjusted around here with a phone call to the town/county/state road people, no need for e-mails, copies to the mayor, etc. The lights around here seem to pick up on headlights, when I cycle home at night the lights will change just as I'm rolling up to them.
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Old 11-17-05, 09:10 AM
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It's correct that they don't need ferrous metal. I have it on the authority of a couple of electrical engineers I know who are also cyclists and one who worked in the city transportation department as well, that the special light-tripping magnets are a hoax. Their impact on the sensor's field is only as a chunk of metal, the magnetic properties have jack all to do with it.

The best way to get action is to write or call informing them that the sensor is maladjusted and simply needs to be made more sensitive (you've already solved their problem, that makes it that much easier). Explain that under state law it's considered malfunctioning and until such time as it's fixed, you will be forced to treat it as a stop sign and proceed against the light. If you can, offer to provide a bicycle wheel or even just a rim to test the loop's sensitivity. Of course this assumes that it's a loop detector and not a new style video detector.

Good on the OP for getting it taken care of.

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Old 11-17-05, 09:15 AM
  #12  
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Originally Posted by michaelnel
It senses FERROUS metals. There is usually very little of that on most bikes.
It senses feedback to the loop, which is sending out a low frequency signal. Ferrous metal certainly will respond to the magnetic field best, but any conductive material will work to some degree. Drop a coin or a chunk of aluminum between a couple of super-strong magnets and see; the coin will drop through very slowly, because it's interacting with the magnetic field.

Wheel rims usually work pretty well if you can stop right on top of a loop of the sensor. Getting them to mark the sensor loops so you can stop on them is good.
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Old 11-17-05, 09:18 AM
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Here is my article on how to design and adjust loop sensors to detect bikes with metal rims, aluminum or otherwise:

http://www.humantransport.org/bicycl.../detection.htm

This article may help with convincing the engineers to fix the signals.

Here is my article on how to best position your bike for detection:

http://www.humantransport.org/bicycl.../detection.htm

-Steve Goodridge, Ph.D. Electrical Engineering
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Old 11-17-05, 09:23 AM
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Originally Posted by ItsJustMe
It senses feedback to the loop, which is sending out a low frequency signal. Ferrous metal certainly will respond to the magnetic field best, but any conductive material will work to some degree. Drop a coin or a chunk of aluminum between a couple of super-strong magnets and see; the coin will drop through very slowly, because it's interacting with the magnetic field.
Actually, a typical traffic detector uses a high frequency signal between 20,000 and 100,000 Hz. Ferrous metals will actually work slightly LESS well than aluminum at such frequencies.

From my article:

Inductive-loop traffic detector systems operate by sensing disturbances to the electromagnetic field over a coil of wire built into the roadway (Figure 1). When a conductive object (typically made of metal) enters the area over the wire loop, the magnetic field generated by alternating electrical current in the signal detector circuit induces weak electrical currents in the conductive object. (The AC frequency may be between 10,000 and 200,000 Hz, typically around 20,000 - 30,000 Hz.) The electrical currents induced in the object generate their own magnetic field that works in opposition to the magnetic field generated by the sensor coil (due to Lenz's Law). This opposition changes the resonant frequency of the sensor circuit by reducing the effective inductance of the sensor coil. This change in resonant frequency (an increase in frequency as the inductance decreases) is detected by the circuit instrumentation in the signal controller cabinet, which then tells the signal control electronics that a vehicle is present.

A number of variables affect the degree to which the introduction of a conductive object will change the effective inductance of the sensor loop. These variables include:

The size, shape, and conductivity of the object
The 3-D orientation of the object with respect to the wires in the loop
The 3-D position of the object over the loop
The size and shape of the sensor loop
The nominal operating frequency of the circuit

The combination of these variables create the potential for public confusion about the feasibility and reliability of bicycle detection via inductive loop sensors. Experiments that fail to control for some of these variables often create unreliable results, and have sometimes frustrated efforts to select reliable detection systems for cyclists by leading the engineers and facilities designers to false conclusions. Since bicycles are small vehicles and have less conductive material in them than do automobiles, they are harder to detect with inductive loops. Often the sensor loop is very large or the detector circuitry is not sensitive enough to detect the slight inductance decrease caused by the bicycle. The bicycle may not be aligned for maximum effect, or the loop may be shaped (as in Figure 1) such that large vehicles in adjacent lanes may be detected at the level of circuit sensitivity required to register a bike. Since the time and money invested by most states and municipalities toward bicycle transportation issues is very limited, traffic signal engineers often give up on the problem of bicycle detection before it is fully understood. However, this article will show that careful application of the operational theory allows optimization of inductive loop sensing systems for reliable detection of conductive (including aluminum, steel, and titanium) bicycle rims, without false detections caused by adjacent traffic.

There is a common misconception that an object must be ferrous (include iron) to activate a traffic signal loop sensor, or that a ferrous object will perform better. This misconception is fed by the observation that steel cars are detected by standard loop detectors but small aluminum bicycles often, but not always, are not. The belief is rooted in the observation that placing a ferrous core into the center of an inductor coil (such as inside an electromagnet or transformer) affects the inductance of the coil. But in such ferrous-core coil applications, the inductance of the coil is increased by the ferromagnetic effect of the iron, while the typical inductive-loop signal sensors used for traffic signal actuation require the vehicle to cause a decrease in inductance. The iron cores used in typical power inductor applications provide an inductance boost for low frequencies such as 60 Hz. But at higher frequencies, the inductive coupling of eddy currents into the iron core often defeats the inductance boost of the iron. Ferrous inductor components manufactured for high-frequency circuits require a special form of powdered iron called "ferrite" which is designed to minimize its conductivity (especially large-loop conductivity) and thus minimize eddy currents. The steel in cars, by contrast, is highly conductive. Given the high frequencies at which signal detectors operate and the large conductive silhouette of the car, any effect the iron's properties might have to increase the inductance of the coil are overpowered by the induced electrical eddy currents in the vehicle which serve to reduce the inductance of the coil. There are some rare cases where a steel-belted radial with poor loop conductivity positioned in the center of a traffic signal loop can create a net increase in loop inductance, but most traffic signal sensor circuits will either ignore this increase or treat it as an error condition. In short, it is purely the size and net conductivity of an automobile that makes it easier to detect than a bicycle.

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Old 11-17-05, 09:54 AM
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Originally Posted by chennai
Some years ago, Seattle had a bike that city workers would cart around to make sure the loops were adjusted correctly. In Denver, the city has refused to even try to get its loops to work. A large proportion of the lights in Denver malfunction, i.e. they don't work for bikes, the city is aware of the problem and could fix it but won't.

Oh, I recall when I looked into this that loops do not need ferrous metal to work. I'm sure you can find this on the web.
Being a regular commuter in the Denver Metro Area, I'll beg to differ about the lights in Denver. I don't have too much problem with getting lights to function for me just about anywhere I go. There are some suburbs that are worse then others but within the City and County of Denver (different from the surrounding area) the traffic lights work well for the most part.
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Old 11-17-05, 10:26 AM
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There's a light a few minutes from my house that never detects bikes. One day a Highway Patrolman was parked at the intersection filling out reports, so I rolled over and asked him if I was compelled to wait for a motorist to trigger the light.

He confirmed that the light is adjusted to be triggered by a mass of FERROUS metal, and that once I stopped and determined that the intersection was clear, that I was entitled to run the red, since the light is defective from my perspective. Should've gotten the name and badge number, but I've been doing that -- occasionally in front of cops -- ever since. No tickets.
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Old 11-17-05, 10:33 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute
Being a regular commuter in the Denver Metro Area, I'll beg to differ about the lights in Denver. I don't have too much problem with getting lights to function for me just about anywhere I go. There are some suburbs that are worse then others but within the City and County of Denver (different from the surrounding area) the traffic lights work well for the most part.

I will second cyccommute. The suburbs have issues but don't they always. Denver's traffic lights generally work like a charm. In fact, recently I was reading an article on denvergov.org that mentioned calibrating lights along bicycling routes\lanes to make them sensitive to bicycles.
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Old 11-17-05, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by filtersweep
The push buttons for peds are never conveniently located for bikes.
There's actually one in Durham NH that is designed for bikes. Its at the right height and has a bike symbol and a green circle underneith. My son & I were riding one day in that area. He had stopped to take pictures, so I got a ways ahead of him. After I made it through that intersection I stopped & waited. It was while he was waiting for the light that I first noticed the sign and button. Took a few seconds of gesturing for him to understand what I was pointing to (he was about 2 feet away).
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Old 11-17-05, 11:07 AM
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I cross one intersection with a traffic sensor on my commute... I used to never be able to trip it but I guess they made it more sensitive cause now I can trip it if I ride directly over it

that's with the REALLY heavy mountain bike that I'm riding now, I wonder if it will still work for me when I get a road bike in a month or two
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Old 11-17-05, 11:31 AM
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You could always try & rig up one of these MIRT devices. Not exactly legal, but wouldn't it be nice to have green lights the whole way in?

http://www.themirt.com/
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Old 11-17-05, 11:44 AM
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Originally Posted by paxtonm
He confirmed that the light is adjusted to be triggered by a mass of FERROUS metal
No disrespect, but the police often don't even understand the law. I would question his depth of knowledge on the subject of magnetic induction sensing.

I currently work at a science musuem. One of our exhibits is a large aluminum disc that sits on top of an electromagnet attached to a huge capacitor. When you discharge the capacitor into the coil, the aluminum disc is propelled to the top of a large cylinder. Non-ferrous metals do interact with magnetic fields. Another thing you can try is if you have a bar of aluminum and a strong permanent magnet, try quickly passing the bar back and forth over the magnet, you'll feel what are referred to as eddy currents as it goes through the field. Another thought experiment: if there's no interaction with non-ferrous metals, how can generator and motor cores be wrapped with copper wire and still work?

He's right about being able to treat a non-responsive light as a stop sign.

In other news, Mass has developed the amusing habit of installing specially tuned loops at the right side of the road with "Stop on line for green" signs but neglecting to actually paint the lines. It's probably not a huge loss because there seems to be widespread confusion about what the signs mean anyhow.
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Old 11-17-05, 11:51 AM
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I changed my route so to be "with the green" since I have a light that never works right and stops me for about 4 whole minutes. It is a 9% average grade for two miles going up using the "green" road, but who is counting.

Also, there is a sign that reads "no pedestrian crossing", or "pedestrians prohibited". That is a nice way to get people to walk. I used to make a point on jogging through that intersection in clear violation with the local laws.
Good luck in court trying to give me a ticket for that.
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Old 11-17-05, 04:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Ritehsedad
There's actually one in Durham NH that is designed for bikes. Its at the right height and has a bike symbol and a green circle underneith. My son & I were riding one day in that area. He had stopped to take pictures, so I got a ways ahead of him. After I made it through that intersection I stopped & waited. It was while he was waiting for the light that I first noticed the sign and button. Took a few seconds of gesturing for him to understand what I was pointing to (he was about 2 feet away).
Which intersection is this? Such a button would be hard to activate from the left turn only lane, or from the middle of the through lane - the two places I stop when I'm not turning right (typically allowed on red anyway).

The proper way to detect bicycles is to adjust the loop detector circuit for the travel lane so it detects bikes. If this cannot be done without false detections from vehicles in adjacent lanes, then the just make the loop a bit smaller, to better match the length of a bike. This is simple to do; about half of the quadrupole loops in the city where I live now (Cary, NC) detect my aluminum bike with aluminum wheels, and most of these loops are over 12 feet long.

-Steve Goodridge (UNH class of 1991)
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Old 11-17-05, 04:59 PM
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Originally Posted by jbone
Don't work at all. And I tried it on a motorcycle.
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Old 11-17-05, 05:09 PM
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Also, there is a sign that reads "no pedestrian crossing", or "pedestrians prohibited". That is a nice way to get people to walk. I used to make a point on jogging through that intersection in clear violation with the local laws. Good luck in court trying to give me a ticket for that.
Good luck trying to get a cop to stop you for that.
Around here it's rare for bikes and pedestrians to make any effort to cross streets legally. The police watch the illegal crossings and don't do anything. I usually don't run a red light on my bike if I know there's a cop watching but I did once and I've seen others do it. The cops don't care.
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