Don’t fear the little boxes
Jun 19, 2013 | 456 views | 0 0 comments | 64 64 recommendations | email to a friend | print
That recent sound in the distance may have been the collective sigh of area motorists upon learning that mysterious white boxes perched atop the 25th and Keith Street intersection do not signal the return of what some feared to be a Big Brotherly type of traffic surveillance.

These are some of the same folks who remember the city’s failed experiment with traffic control using similar devices several years ago.

True, these new electronic units are about traffic and they do constitute a form of surveillance. But it’s not to finger, and then to ticket, motorists who ignore red lights and zoom their way through the busy junction. And it’s not to serve as an eye in the sky for a speed trap.

Its purpose is to enhance traffic signal efficiency at a lower cost.

Bart Borden, vice president of the Cleveland Utilities Electric Division which was handed traffic signal coordination a couple of years ago by the City Council, described the apparatuses as “... WaveTronics radar vehicle detection equipment.”

Don’t be alarmed by the word “radar.”

And don’t break out in a cold sweat over “detection.”

The units simply have been installed to replace aged and failing traffic monitors that previously had been looped through the 25th and Keith Street junction under the pavement. In their day, the underground equipment got the job done in spite of some difficulties in detecting lighter weight motorcycles, thereby creating delays in traffic signal cycles.

But now, these ultra-modern WaveTronics units are more efficient and — unlike the sub-asphalt equipment — they don’t have to be replaced after every repaving project and milling operation. In short, they are more reliable and will save taxpayer dollars in the long term.

Borden spoke recently in detail about the aerial units during a formal monthly session of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities.

“The radar (there’s that word again, but motorists need not fear) is used solely to detect vehicles in a region and is not used for speed detection or red-light running purposes,” Borden confirmed.

And of the intersection’s newest additions, Borden added, “The new equipment is working very efficiently.”

The longtime CU administrator, whose credentials in electrical engineering have led a variety of utility projects over the years, is satisfied with how the WaveTronics equipment is enhancing traffic flow and improving the cycle efficiency of the overhead signals.

It’s also about costs, and in today’s ongoing budget crunches that’s more than half the battle.

“When the milling projects (for repaving) come in ... we don’t have that cost of replacing the loops in the pavement,” Borden explained.

Using hand motions to make his point, Borden told utility board members, “They look like white square boxes about this large. We can draw and design the software where they detect. It is very, very useful ... [such as] for configuration of intersection changes. It allows us to modify what that device sees.”

Traffic signal technicians are also learning they can use one device to monitor multiple areas, and that’s another savings on equipment cost.

Borden is expected to keep board members updated on the project, especially if it spreads into additional intersections which seems likely provided the equipment continues to function as expected.

Given the level of growing congestion on many Cleveland streets, such successes are good news for road-weary motorists.

In the eyes of the average taxpaying driver, if it saves money it’s good. If it promotes traffic flow it’s even better. And if it doesn’t lead to a ticket, it’s best.

But, although Big Brother isn’t watching, we still don’t recommend running red lights.

It’s dangerous.

It’s inconsiderate.

It’s fuel for a future fire, figuratively and otherwise.

And not to mention, the human eyes of law enforcement are still watching.