Imagine pedalling up to a traffic light, only to have it magically change to green as you approach?
It does happen on those special days when cycling into work feels like flying. It is wonderful and it certainly speeds up the daily commute – adding an extra reason to go by bike and not by car. Some people are trying to make sure you have that on every commute.
This system is being trialled in Aarhus in Denmark.
The initial scheme involves 200 cyclists with a QR code tag on their front wheel. When approaching certain junctions, this tag triggers the light to change in the cyclists favour to ensure that they don’t have to stop when they come up to the junction. The council has allocated the tags specifically to those who have long commutes and cycle every day. The idea being that they are rewarded for being ‘super commuters’, while at the same time helping the commuters around them by triggering the lights.
What does it look like?
The bike is fitted with a tag that has a QR code on it. When the cyclist approaches the light the code is read and then the lights trip. This is somewhat similar to the way most traffic lights work currently. The main advantage of this system is it overrides the regular light sequence and trips the light quicker.
The tag is currently only able to trip a few minor junctions. The aim is to expand it to a larger junction or two to see what impact it will have on rush hour traffic. Aarhus is currently one of 5 cities taking part in a larger initiative to utilise apps and data to enhance the cyclists experience in cities. The hope is that the scheme will have enough success in Aarhus to then be rolled out into the other cities. In turn this should provide enough data to expand beyond the trial areas, perhaps one day in the distance future to cities like London.
A smoother commute
The main benefit for the cyclist with the tag will be a smoother commute. The approach Aarhus has taken is also to use the tags as a reward for individuals who are committed to cycle commuting. These are also individuals who commute longer distances. By selecting these individuals, they are guaranteed to have enough data to hopefully produce significant results. Using commuters who travel into the city from the suburbs means that they can trial the tech on quieter junctions first.
There is also of course a fringe benefit to others commuting along the same routes. If you have enough regular commuters with the tags, and a concise commuting period, then there is an increased chance of being at a junction with someone with the tag. This will of course mean that many commuters experience a smoother journey.
It all sounds wonderful for cyclists on the surface – but there are of course some downsides.
Cyclists already receive a lot of anger from drivers and a scheme which puts cyclists ahead of drivers, is likely to draw a even more ire.
The way these tags will be most useful is on small, quiet roads and routes and at non-rush hour times. In these situations it would be useful to have a sure fire way to trip lights. However, these are also the situations when there are not many other commuters around. Therefore, unless everyone had the tag, you would be no better off than you currently are.
This is a 2 part technology, requiring the junction to have a reader and the bike to have the tag attached. By being 2 part, it is more complicated and harder to roll out. A good solution to the problem of lights not tripping would be to change the sensors in the road to make them more sensitive to a single, light weight bike.
In some situations it would be great if you could trip lights prior to your arrival at the junction. It will essentially work like a toucan crossing with an advance button. I can see this sort of system working very well on certain routes in London such as quiet ways and junctions with a specific bicycle phase on the lights.
Do you think this is a scheme that could be implemented in London? Are there some junctions that you know this would help with? Let us know!
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.