A group of fourth- and fifth-grade whiz kids from North Lee Elementary School may have come up with a solution to the bridge strikes at the Inman Street railroad underpass via Legos, lasers and a little bit of ingenuity.
During the Cleveland City Council’s work session Monday, the youngsters presented their plan to council members.
The underpass has been the scene of numerous bridge strikes by truck drivers who underestimate the height of the 10-foot, 10-inch concrete structure.
Their invitation to appear before the city council was extended by Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks last week after the students presented their project to him via Skype.
Their teacher, Jennifer Balding, told the Cleveland Daily Banner the robotics team will also present their plan during the Chattanooga-North Georgia First Lego League Tournament on Saturday.
Brooks' invitation was offered after student Cara Minutolo did a little politicking after the presentation at their school.
“So, I would like to know if we were to show the city council our solution, how would we get that done?" she asked.
The mayor responded with the invitation.
“I'm so happy that you asked," Brooks said. “I would love for you to bring your solutions to the 1 p.m. session. We meet again on Nov. 18, and you're welcome to join us."
On Monday, the students arrived at the city council chamber with their game faces on.
Minutolo spoke first and described the purpose of the project.
“Our research project for our First Lego League Competition encouraged us to find a structural problem and research a solution,” she said. “We thought the Inman Street underpass was a major structural problem.”
Elijah Johnson said Cleveland Police Department Jennifer Samples told the students the majority of bridge strikes occur in the east lane of Inman Street.
Matthieu Riojas and Adam Dyszkiewicz appeared together to discuss the bridge's history regarding the bridge strikes.
"Even though there is proper signage, the city has a problem with multiple trucks hitting the bridge due to its low clearance of 10 feet, 10 inches," Riojas said.
Dyszkiewicz added the bridge had been hit at least eight times, so far, in 2019.
“We learned that the biggest concern is the safety of drivers and the backup of traffic that follows," he said.
Kaylee Simpson explained their research began with a brainstorming session with Mitchell Simpson, a civil engineer with Wright Brothers Construction.
Axl Yarber said Simpson advised them that increasing the bridge's height would be expensive.
“Mr. Simpson estimated the cost of raising the bridge to be very costly, while installing sensors will be the most cost-effective solution," he said. “Our team unanimously voted on using sensors because it was the most likely solution to be approved by the city council, without taking away from the historic district. This will also be less of an inconvenience for the downtown community and industry.”
Shiven Patel, William Lillios and Cade Douglas then demonstrated how their solution worked.
Using a Lego model of the bridge, the students said if a vehicle approaching the bridge is over 10 foot, 7 inches, it would alert a sensor, resulting in a warning signal, which would reroute the vehicle.
After the demonstration, Gabe Nope went in for the close.
"We respectfully ask the city council to consider our proposal to install sensors and better lighting to improve the safety of Inman Street traffic," he said.
Brooks thanked the students for the presentation and their concern for public safety.
"We appreciate you taking the time to come and present this and show your concern about the safety and well-being of the people that live in this city," he said.
The students received an enthusiastic round of applause from city council members, as well as the meeting's other attendees.
Cleveland Vice Mayor Avery Johnson expressed amazement at what he called their "excellent presentation."
"I would just like to know what grade they're in .... are they in the 12th grade?" he asked.
Councilman Ken Webb said the presentation was "very impressive." He said their idea to use a sensor to alert truck drivers is an "excellent" one.
"That's an idea that has been discussed in the past," he said. "I think that's something that we'll be looking at."
Councilman Dale Hughes, a former educator, said the presentation was "terrific" and he complimented the students and their teacher.
"I enjoyed the presentation," he said, adding that his son had attended elementary school at North Lee.
"It was outstanding," Hughes stressed. "North Lee is a very progressive county school, and the project they presented us today was over the top."