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Why Gainesville's Traffic Light Sensors Sometimes Don't Detect Scooters and Bicycles

Gabriela DeAlmeida/WUFT News
Gabriela DeAlmeida/WUFT News

Twenty-one year old Ana Gamble sits on her black scooter at the intersection of Hull Road and Southwest Thirty Fourth Street waiting for the light to turn green. As she waits, the other traffic signals flicker from green to red to green to red to green while hers remains red.

“If I don’t have a car in front or behind me, sometimes I’ll sit at the light for three cycles,” she said.

Louis Joseph, 21, prefers taking matters into his own hands. He’ll often dismount his red Benelli, walk over to the sidewalk and press the crosswalk button in hopes it will afford him a green light sooner.

“I used to drive my scooter at night when no cars were around, so there wasn’t really any way for the light to change,” he said. “So I often times just ran the red light.”

Gamble and Joseph are just two of the many scooter drivers in Gainesville who find themselves waiting at red light intersections far longer than those in cars or trucks.

The sensors at traffic light intersections, which cause red lights to turn green faster when a vehicle is detected, often do not detect scooters or bicycles.

Gainesville’s Public Works Department re-calibrated traffic sensors Tuesday at the intersection of Hull Road and Southwest Thirty Fourth Street after Commissioner Craig Carter received a call from a student concerned with scooter drivers running red lights and pressing pedestrian buttons to avoid being stuck at a light.

Commissioner Carter alerted the traffic department to the issue and said it is currently looking into ensuring all sensors are working properly, in addition to recalibrating the sensors at that particular intersection.

All traffic light intersections in Gainesville are equipped with underground sensors, called inductive loop sensors, that detect metal content in vehicles.

When a vehicle approaches an inductive loop sensor, the metal content triggers that sensor to communicate with traffic signals to change, said Chip Skinner, a spokesperson for Gainesville’s Public Works Department.

Many scooters and bicycles do not have enough metal content in them to trigger these sensors. The sensors at the intersection of Southwest Thirty Fourth Street and Hull Road were originally designed for vehicles, which have a larger metal content than scooters or bicycles.

“I used to be a road biker, and my bike originally had a lot of metal in it, but when I switched to MyProScooter that was made more of a composite, I was not triggering the signals,” Skinner said. “I’d hobble over on the bike seat and press the pedestrian signal, so I’m very sympathetic.”

The city of Gainesville sent a signal technician to the intersection at Hull Road and Thirty Fourth Street to calibrate the sensors’ metal detection to their highest sensitivity so it can detect smaller amounts of metal. The re-calibration of the sensors should allow scooters and bicycles to be more easily detected, Skinner said.

Another solution would be the addition of video camera detection at that intersection, but the Public Works Department believes adjusting the sensors’ metal sensitivity will prevent the need to spend any additional money to install video equipment, Skinner said.

Inductive loop sensors are always the first type of traffic detection installed at intersections. Video camera detection is usually only installed if the inductive loop sensors fail or other problems arise.

Skinner said he has only received one complaint regarding the sensors at that particular location, but his office has previously received complaints about the same issue occurring on West University Avenue, Southwest Sixth Street and Southwest Fourth Street.

“People do notify us,” Skinner said. “And when we’re notified, we go out and investigate.”

Gabriela De Almeida is a reporter for WUFT News and can be reached at 904-607-3127 or dealg@ufl.edu.