Advertisements

Traffic Signal Timing: NYSDOT Responds

On 12 July 2015, I sent a report to NYSDOT about how the traffic signals at Burnett Blvd / Rt 55 greenlighted opposing traffic when our bicycles were still in the intersection:

Can you increase the minimum green and yellow times on the signals from Burnett Blvd to Rt 55?

The current settings are too short for bicycle traffic making a left turn across six traffic lanes.

The pictures show key points from our ride on 2015-07-10, returning from the Balloon Festival in Poughkeepsie. We took the DCRT around Poughkeepsie, went through Arlington to Rt 376 at Collegeview, then took Rt 376 Red Oaks Mill.

The image sequence numbers identify frames extracted from video files. The Front camera runs at 60 fps and the Rear camera at 30 fps.

The red signals are in the process of turning off in Front 0196.

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal - Front 0196

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal – Front 0196

One second later in Front 0260, the car and our bikes are starting to roll. Given the number of drivers blowing through red signals at full speed, devoting one second to watching for oncoming traffic seems prudent.

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal - Front 0260

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal – Front 0260

The yellow signals are turning on in Front 0633, seven seconds after the green. The car has reached the pedestrian ladder across Rt 55, but we’re still crossing the westbound lanes of traffic. We may not be the fastest riders on the road, but we’re not the slowest, either.

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal - Front 0633

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal – Front 0633

We’ve reached the far side of the intersection in Front 1142, just under 16 seconds from the green.

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal - Front 1142

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal – Front 1142

However, Rear 0408 shows that the opposing signals turned green while we’re still crossing the eastbound lanes of Rt 55. That’s about 15 seconds after the Burnett Blvd signals went green.

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal - Rear 0408

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal – Rear 0408

About 2.7 seconds later, Rear 0490 shows cars accelerating across the intersection toward us as we cross the pedestrian ladder. They started rolling immediately after their signal went green; waiting a second isn’t a universal practice.

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal - Rear 0490

Burnett at Rt 55 Signal – Rear 0490

Setting the minimum Burnett green to 12 seconds, the minimum yellow to 10 seconds, and the minimum delay from Burnett green to Rt 55 green to 30 seconds would help cyclists (just barely) reach the far side of the intersection before opposing traffic starts rolling.

Also: can you adjust the sensor amplifiers on Burnett to respond to bicycles and mark the coil locations on the pavement in both lanes? That would help us through the intersection during low-traffic-volume times, as our bikes seem unable to trip the signals.

Thanks…

This reply from the NYSDOT autoresponder was all I ever got from them:

Thank you for your inquiry.  We will respond to your email message as soon as possible.

On 2 August 2015, I sent a report to NYSDOT about how the traffic signals at Old Post Rd – Spring Rd at Rt 9 greenlighted opposing traffic when our bicycles were still in the intersection:

The minimum green-to-opposing-green signal timing from Old Post Road across Rt 9 to Spring road is about 18 seconds: not long enough for bicycles to safely cross an intersection with eight traffic lanes.

The “Green” picture shows our starting position as the signal turned green: behind the first car in line. There’s another car behind us, which ensures the loop sensor will trip; it does not detect bicycles.

Spring Rd - Rt 9 - 2015-08-01 - Green

Spring Rd – Rt 9 – 2015-08-01 – Green

The “Yellow” picture shows the signal changing after 12 seconds, with the car from behind us now in the middle of the northbound lanes. We’re still in the middle of the southbound lanes.

Spring Rd - Rt 9 - 2015-08-01 - Yellow

Spring Rd – Rt 9 – 2015-08-01 – Yellow

The “Opposing Left Green” from the rear camera, 18 seconds from the first picture, shows green left-turn arrows for Spring Road. The opposing cars began rolling with Mary lined up with the northbound right-turn lane and me lined up with the right travel lane.

Spring Rd - Rt 9 - 2015-08-01 - Opposing Left Green

Spring Rd – Rt 9 – 2015-08-01 – Opposing Left Green

The car behind blew through the red signal on Old Post Rd; I think that’s why the opposing left-turning cars didn’t start sooner.

In the other direction, I often use the left turn from Spring Rd to southbound Rt 9 to reach the South Road Square strip mall. Similarly short yellow and overall cycle times apply in that direction.

Can you add (at least!) five seconds to the yellow and perhaps ten seconds to the minimum cycle time for both directions? That would help us clear the intersection before opposing traffic starts moving again.

Can you also mark the sensor loop locations in all those lanes so cyclists can find them and adjust the amplifier sensitivity / dwell to respond to bicycles? We’ve lined up atop the quadrupole loop pavement cuts on Old Post Road to no avail, but there’s not even a hint of the loop positions under the new Spring Rd paving.

Thanks…

This reply from the NYSDOT autoresponder was all I ever got from them:

Thank you for your inquiry.  We will respond to your email message as soon as possible.

On 5 January 2016 I posted a description of our encounter with a car at the Burnett Blvd intersection and sent the link to the NYSDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. If you search for Burnett Blvd, you’ll find a few other mentions of that intersection.

On 6 January 2016, this email message arrived from the same email address that never responded to my reports (emphasis added):

Dear Mr. Nisley:

This is in response to your correspondence regarding your experiences as a bicyclist at the intersections of Route 55 at Burnett Boulevard and Route 9 at Spring Road in the Town of Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County.

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is in the process of investigating alternate detection types and inductance loop patterns that would detect a wider range of vehicles.  As alternate detection types are tested and approved, they will be integrated into the next traffic signal upgrade at both intersections.  The distance varies based on geometry.  The loops are centered in each lane and the front loop is a quadrapole, so there are wires down the middle of the loops.

A new timing program was implemented at Route 9 at Spring Road in August, and the yellow and red clearance times meet the current standards.  The timing at Route 55 at Burnett Boulevard is in the process of being updated, and the clearance times will be updated as necessary to meet the current standards.  Clearance times are determined based on speed, intersection dimensions, grade, and reaction time and cannot be adjusted.  The sensitivity on all loops will also be adjusted, so they are as sensitive as possible without causing cross talk between the loops.

We appreciate and share your interest in making our highway systems safe and functional for all users.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact our Regional Traffic Safety & Mobility Group at (845) 437-3396.

NYSDOT Hudson Valley Region

I don’t regard that date a coincidence; NYSDOT was not responding to my reports. I sent a further note to clarify a few points:

On 01/05/2016 02:18 PM, dot.sm.r08.nysdot wrote:
Clearance times are determined based on speed,intersection dimensions, grade, and reaction time and cannot be adjusted.

That seems to mean the times can be adjusted, but you won’t adjust them to allow cyclists enough time to clear the intersection.

We appreciate and share your interest in making our highway systems safe and functional for all users.

So, giving opposing traffic a green light while we’re still in the intersection NYSDOT’s way of “making our highway systems safe and functional for all users”.

Do I understand your statements correctly?

No reply, as I’ve come to expect by now.

I think the emphasis on “meet(ing) the current standards” is how NYSDOT will attempt to defend against claims that road conditions caused or contributed to a car-on-bike collision. I find it surprising that contemporary “standards” would allow greenlighting opposing traffic against bicycles, but perhaps they simply choose a standard that excludes bicycles.

Advertisements

,

  1. #1 by bonnev659 on 2016-01-30 - 07:41

    I am glad you are getting some answers… sadly it is kind of slow process

    • #2 by Ed on 2016-01-30 - 07:50

      You can see why NYSDOT avoids communicating by any method that produces a record.

      • #3 by bonnev659 on 2016-01-30 - 07:56

        ya but still should fix the items too in my mind

        • #4 by Ed on 2016-01-30 - 14:25

          That’s the part baffling me: they could avoid all this by simply fixing the problem: I’d be their best friend & supporter if they just did their job.

      • #5 by Red County Pete on 2016-01-30 - 10:41

        I wonder just what would come out from a FOIA request for the applicable standards for the intersections… (Assuming NY state has something like the FOIA.)

        • #6 by Ed on 2016-01-30 - 14:24

          I regard that as the nuclear option; there’s some due diligence in my future.

  2. #7 by madbodger on 2016-01-30 - 11:03

    I can understand their reluctance to extend the timing for vehicles that are only occasionally present, but I dislike their nonsensical claim that it “cannot be adjusted”. If I ran the circus, I’d tune the sensors to discriminate between different types of traffic (either multiple loops to detect speed directly, or just interpret a smaller signal as a possible bicycle), and adjust the timing accordingly. This is, of course, the entire point of traffic sensors: to adjust the behavior of the lights to adapt to the traffic present. Also, grrrr.

    • #8 by Ed on 2016-01-30 - 14:22

      As nearly as I can tell, NYSDOT is two or three decades behind the state of the art in vehicle (not just bicycle) sensor technology: it’s all magnetic loop and binary comparators. Their stock response: they cannot adjust their sensors to detect bicycles and that, in some cases, motorcycle response will be iffy.

      Back when our Larval Engineer couldn’t trip the signals to make the last left turn on the way home from a summer job, I played the Child Card hard enough that they (finally) replaced the amplifier and made it work. So I know of one lane in one intersection that responds to our bikes; we can get through the intersection before the yellow if we pedal diligently.

      They’ve “experimented” with video cameras aimed at the stop line, although I’ve personally verified their image recognition algorithm does not respond to my big ‘bent. Steel upright bikes don’t stand a chance and carbon-frame bikes resemble clear air.

      A bigger bunch of can’t-do and won’t-do engineers, you cannot imagine.

      • #9 by madbodger on 2016-01-30 - 14:32

        I suppose you could put a coil on your bike that emulates a much larger and heavier vehicle.

        • #10 by Ed on 2016-01-30 - 16:47

          It could become a Software Defined Radio project… [grin]

          • #11 by madbodger on 2016-01-30 - 20:19

            In trying to find out the likely frequency range (I was guessing low kilohertz), I found this page that’s quite relevant: http://www.humantransport.org/bicycledriving/library/signals/detection.htm

            • #12 by Ed on 2016-01-31 - 08:15

              That seems vaguely familiar; the picture of bike rims over the sensor rings a bell.

              It also debunks the “carry a magnet” advice, because the sensed parameter is the inductance (affecting the oscillator frequency), not the DC bias.

              Thanks for the pointer!

  3. #13 by Daniel B Martin on 2016-01-30 - 12:15

    Thank you for your candor. Please feel free to use the SpeakUp! program in the future. In the meanwhile see the chaplain and get your ticket punched.

  4. #14 by jim oslislo on 2016-01-30 - 13:29

    Was there any name attached to the response? I would address any future correspondence directly to the individual so he (or she) may feel some personal responsibility should an accident occur.

    • #15 by Ed on 2016-01-30 - 14:11

      No name, no signature, and the email comes from the same generic NYSDOT address they use for the autoresponder.

      Nobody wants to take responsibility for saying anything on the record.

  5. #16 by Edward Berner on 2016-01-30 - 22:02

    I am not a lawyer, but it seems that following current industry standards may not be sufficient to avoid liability. l vaguely recalled reading something to that effect, and some Internet searching suggests I was thinking of T.J. Hooper v Northern Barge Corporation, where the barge company was found to have some liability for not implementing weather radios even though they were not yet industry standard. It looks like United States v Carroll Towing Co. may also be relevant, but it involves a cost-benefit calculation which would raise the question of what dollar value is placed on human life.

    • #17 by Ed on 2016-01-31 - 08:08

      Fairly obviously, NYSDOT regards bicycles as marginal users: bicyclists may use the roads, but NYSDOT can’t find any reason to expend design or implementation effort on their behalf.

      I suspect anything that’s not mandatory is irrelevant. A pointer into the MUTCD suggests it’s not mandatory, because Burnett / Rt 55 isn’t a bikeway and NYSDOT doesn’t deal in bikeways anyhow.

  6. #18 by Daniel B Martin on 2016-01-31 - 12:28

    NYSDOT ignores your letters. Maybe the PokJour would publish them.

    Is there a local bike club which could add their voice(s) to yours?

    • #19 by Ed on 2016-01-31 - 13:33

      As nearly as I can tell, nobody reads the PoJo these days, so a Letter to the Editor doesn’t have nearly the mojo it used to… if it ever had any.

      We never rejoined the MHBC, mostly because our pace isn’t their pace, and Mary sez they were largely inert when the County asked for bike planning input. Perhaps they’ve given up, too. [sigh]