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Bicycle detection at traffic lights

Bicycles are detected at traffic signals using in-pavement inductive loops. Knowing how these loops work will assist you in being detected.

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Traffic light loops

Most traffic lights in NSW are controlled by loops. These are embedded in the road surface close to the stop line at a signalised intersection.

Loops operate through a magnetic wave. When a car disrupts the wave, the signal detects that a car is at the lights. Sometimes bicycles do not trigger the loop to change the lights, simply because they do not contain as much metal as cars.

How in-pavement inductive loops work

Inductive loop detectors produce an electromagnetic field which, in turn, detects metallic objects.

When a metallic object passes over and remains on the detector, a demand is placed for your movement in the traffic signal cycle.

If the metallic object, e.g. bicycle or car, moves away from the detection zone, the demand is cancelled.

Road worker lays induction loops
A road worker lays induction loops made of thin wire into the road surface

Best place to stop to be detected

The detector loops are generally placed in the middle of the lane just behind the stop line, so this is the best place to position your bike to be detected.

When you stop, stay on the loop. If you roll off the loop and can no longer be detected, you may not get a turn when the lights change.


Bike rider stopped on an induction loop
A bike rider stopped on the induction loop in a road, in the middle of the lane just behind the stop line
Diamond markings on a bike lane
Look out for diamond markings which are often used on bicycle paths to indicate the most sensitive detection spot

Carbon fibre bikes

The more metal you have on your bike, the easier it is to be detected. However, carbon fibre bikes usually have some metal in the pedals or wheels.

The inductive loop detectors should be sensitive enough to detect even these small amounts of metal if your bike is positioned in the best place for detection.

Bicycle detection at traffic lights video

 

Bicycles - traffic signals

The cycleways network in New South Wales uses an inductive loop detector as their form of detection. They are essentially a wire in the surface of the road that creates a magnetic field. When that magnetic field is broken by a metal object, it creates a pulse which allows for a phase to be called. Cyclists should be looking for cuts in the road surface just short of the stop line. Those cuts have got the inductive loop wires located underneath. Approaching the stop line on the cycleway you'll notice three cuts in the road surface. It's best of you can position your bike over the center of those three cuts and that's the best area for detection. If you move away from the detector or in front of the detector, your demand for that phase will be lost. So as you can see there's a cyclist coming down Pyrmont Bridge Road now. They've just approached the detector, they're sitting above the detector. This detector has placed the demand and the phase has been introduced. Shortly that phase will terminate. That phase has terminated and the cyclist will get their green cycle any second now, and away they go. Mixed traffic roads have inductor loops too. On some newer roads, the detectors may not be visible. For the best chance of detection, stop in the middle of the lane, just back from the stop line. 

Green lights and cycleways

During each traffic signal cycle, all road users who have been detected will get a chance to go. Cycle lengths are kept as short as possible to minimise delays.

Where there are several different types of road users or lots of turning movements, each of these movements has to be given a phase in the cycle.

During the cycle, if a particular movement is not detected, the signals can skip this phase and may either shorten the cycle length or reallocate the time to other phases.

Because of the consistently high numbers of all road users in the Sydney CBD, bicycle and pedestrian phases are automatically introduced in each cycle during peak traffic times.

Traffic signal coordination

Traffic signal coordination is normally provided to modes of transport with the highest public benefit, ie peak traffic flow, public transport or heavy truck movements.

Coordination is also most effective where traffic flows are relatively high, when traffic arrives in platoons and is travelling at known speeds, such as posted speed limits.

The differing speeds at which bicycle riders travel prevent effective traffic signal coordination along cycleways. Coordination is even more difficult where there are gradients because of the speed differential between riders going uphill versus those going down.

Traffic signal coordination on cycleways in heavily urbanised and congested areas such as the Sydney CBD, is further complicated because of the demands placed on the system by many other road users. The system is continually adapting to these demands, and signal phasing and cycle lengths are constantly changing according to the traffic conditions.

If you're not detected

If you believe you have not been detected at a particular location, please let us know.

Report the issue by calling 131 700 and a maintenance crew will investigate.

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