I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike

Encouraging people to adopt the bicycle as their chosen mode of transportation has important impacts on urban congestion and on the health of the individuals involved. According to a recent European report, cycling is the most energy-efficient urban transportation mode. Cycling can reduce energy consumption and enhance livability in urban areas. [1].

Perhaps, cyclists’ needs can be summed up in the words of the old song by the rock group Queen: “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike, I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like”. By promoting safety and efficiency for cyclists in a balanced manner with other road users, we can encourage people to choose cycling as their mode of choice and enable them to ride their bicycles where they like. After all, when the needs of one group impact the needs of others conflict may result.

Promoting Safety and Efficiency for Cyclists

So, what are the ways that we can promote safety and efficiency for cyclists? We can make other road users aware of the vulnerability of cyclists and we can offer special treatment or preference to cyclists as part of our traffic management strategies. An important element in this is to make sure that traffic-controlled intersections recognize and address the needs of cyclists. This article focuses on the needs of cyclists while also discussing the wider context of a smart signalized intersection that can sense and take appropriate action.

Optimizing Intersections for Cyclists

Have you ever thought, “What would the smartest intersection in the world look like?” Perhaps it would involve signal timings that are always accurately aligned to prevailing traffic conditions? Perhaps traffic would waltz through the intersection with minimum delay? Or perhaps the intersection would be fair to all users and enable traffic, pedestrians, and cyclists to use the intersection in complete harmony? In earlier times, intersection control would focus on minimizing private car delay and the length of the queue on each approach. More recent thinking has evolved the concept of support for multiple road users at the intersection by maximizing total intersection throughput – private cars, trucks, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Adaptive and Coordinated Signal Timings

The modern signalized intersection will most certainly be both adaptive and coordinated, providing traffic signal timings that are closely aligned to variations in traffic flow and the operation of adjacent intersections. This will create smoother platoons of traffic moving through a complete network of smart signalized intersections. It will also give priority to selected transit vehicles and all emergency vehicles.

Transit vehicle priority would be conditional depending on whether the vehicle is ahead or behind schedule and how many passengers are on board. Almost certainly, transit vehicles will be equipped with storage facilities for bicycles allowing cyclists to take a multimodal approach to trips, with the first mile or last mile achieved by cycle and the longer-distance middle portion of the trip by bus.

Emergency vehicle priority will be unconditional and based on intersection operation fitting within a wider picture that minimizes the time from when the vehicle was summoned to arrival at the site. This has significant safety implications as the responder community talks about “the golden hour”: the chances of survival from a serious road accident climb significantly if the victim can be transported to an emergency facility within an hour of the incident occurring.

Optimizing for Pedestrians and Cyclists

The smartest intersection would also assign appropriate time to pedestrians based on the number of pedestrians waiting to cross each approach and the predicted speed at which the pedestrians walk across the road. After all, an 18-year-old hockey player is not likely to walk across the road at the same speed as an 80-year-old senior citizen. It can also be argued that wait time at intersections is more important to pedestrians and cyclists, as they are exposed to the elements and other risk factors while waiting at the intersection. And, of course, no intersection would be completely smart without appropriate treatment for cyclists. The smartest intersection would have the ability to detect bicycles and provide them with a jump start when the signal goes green and ensure appropriate green times in cycle lanes. Our smart intersection would play a vital role as a component within an overall network of cycle lanes.

Microwave Sensors and Traffic Management

All these elements of the smartest intersection require that the intersection be “sentient” with an ability to sense prevailing conditions, understand the demand and apply intelligence to take appropriate action. The intelligence can be at the roadside in the form of an advanced traffic controller, at a centrally located back office or traffic management center, or a combination of both.

IRD’s latest range of microwave sensors can play a valuable role in the smart intersection by providing the smart sensing required to drive better intersection performance. Two products in the range are particularly relevant – the TMA-122 microwave traffic sensor and the TMA-011 Doppler radar sensor for pedestrians at intersections.

The ITV-2 is an all-in-one microwave sensor for traffic signal control. It can detect when a vehicle approaches and /or stops in the target zone near the intersection. Vehicles can include bicycles, motorcycles & motorized vehicles. The sensor creates a virtual stop line and approach inductive loops, using advanced microwave technology. This avoids the need to dig up the road surface to install the inductive sensor and provides traffic engineers with the flexibility to reposition sensors at minimum cost and traffic disruption.

The TMP sensor makes use of advanced Doppler radar technology to sense pedestrians who are waiting to cross or are in the process of crossing the road at the intersection. This data can be used to tell the traffic signal controller to provide a pedestrian phase or extend the current phase to enable the pedestrian to complete the road crossing in safety. Of course, this special treatment for pedestrians can also be extended to cyclists. Both user groups are candidates for special attention at intersections due to their vulnerability compared to other road users.

The Best Systems Meet the Needs of All Users

We have come a long way from the basic traffic signals that were introduced in the 1930s. Through the effective use of advanced sensors, urban signalized intersections can become local centers of excellence for operational efficiency and adaptability. The very best systems feature four factors: clarity of purpose, adaptability to changes in the environment, connection to other key transportation system components, and the ability to measure service efficiency and operational demand at any given time. IRD sensors can play a crucial role in delivering these factors. They can also assist in maintaining a balanced approach to intersection design and harmonious operation of traffic signalized intersections in a manner that takes account of the needs of all users.

[1] “ Promoting Cycling For Everyone As Daily Transport Mode (PRESTO)”, published by the European Commission on the INTELLIGENT ENERGY EUROPE web site, https://ec.europa.eu/energy/intelligent/projects/en/projects/presto , retrieved July 25 at 1158 AM Eastern time.

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