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Thread: 'Smart' light has speeders seeing red

  1. #1
    Web Junky Matt is on a distinguished road
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    'Smart' light has speeders seeing red

    Traffic signal unveiled on Pleasanton's Vineyard Avenue

    By Matt Carter, STAFF WRITER

    PLEASANTON -- Drivers who try to speed down Vineyard Avenue may find it only takes them longer to get where they're going.

    A "smart" traffic signal activated Wednesday measures the speed of approaching cars, and turns red if speeding drivers don't heed a warning to slow down.

    The idea of a traffic light that reacts to drivers' behavior may make some uneasy -- yet another attempt by "big brother" to intrude on their privacy.

    But some residents say that if the signal makes the intersection of Vineyard and Montevino Drive safer, they're all for it.

    "I don't think it's taking names, is it?" said Denise Sargent-Natour, who has lived next to the intersection for five years. "If it's really going to work, I don't think intelligence in any system is necessarily invasive. I wouldn't qualify it as a big brother situation -- it's more of a kindly uncle."

    Unlike systems designed to catch red-light runners, the smart traffic light won't be used to ticket drivers. The camera it uses to measure a car's speed doesn't have enough resolution to record license plate numbers or get a clear image of a driver's face -- both requirements for issuing citations that will stand up in court.

    The smart signal even gives drivers a chance to slow down before exercising the modest powers bestowed upon it by its human masters.

    As drivers approach the light from the east or west, their speed is first measured by radar. Each car's speed is displayed on a sign overhead -- unless it is traveling more than 5 mph above the posted speed limit.

    Flashing lights warn cars that are moving faster than 40 mph on eastbound Vineyard Avenue to slow down. A camera closer to the intersection takes a second set of measurements, gauging speed within 1 mph by measuring the time it takes the car to travel between two points.

    If the speeding car hasn't slowed down by then, the light is programmed to turn red -- but only in the direction the speeding driver is coming from. The light doesn't penalize drivers coming from the other direction.

    It also stays red for 10 seconds before allowing cross-traffic to move, in case a speeding driver barrels through a red light.

    "The idea behind the whole thing is, let's modify people's behavior so that instead of penalizing them, we're going to reward them," said Lt. Mark Senkle, Pleasanton's top traffic cop.

    After a few encounters with the light, most drivers will realize that by obeying the speed limit, "They're going to get where they're going quicker because they're not going to have to stop," Senkle said.

    Although that doesn't mean officers will stop enforcing speed limits on Vineyard Avenue, it does mean that they can spend more time monitoring accident-prone intersections such as Valley Avenue and Santa Rita Road, he said.

    The new smart traffic light -- believed to be one of only two in the state -- is the culmination of the city's efforts to "calm" traffic along Vineyard Avenue.

    To keep pace with development, in recent years the busy road has been narrowed from four lanes to two to slow traffic, and the city plans to straighten it to eliminate a dangerous curve.

    But during the morning and evening commute, traffic tended to bottleneck at the stop sign at Montevino, causing delays for motorists and generating cut-through traffic and noise in adjoining neighborhoods, said Mike Tassano, Pleasanton's assistant traffic engineer.

    The stop sign was installed about eight years ago to prevent collisions at the intersection. Tassano said the city held meetings with residents to see if they would rather have a traffic signal there.

    "It was a resident-driven process," Tassano said.

    Although a traffic light would allow more traffic to move through the intersection, some residents feared it would lead to increased speeds on Vineyard Avenue.

    "I was against it because people build up a lot of speed ... and a lot of people would try to make those yellow lights," said Montevino Drive resident John Harcourt, who attended two public meetings on the plan. "I told them that if they put in a light, people would run it."

    But public safety was also a concern with a stop sign. Many children in the neighborhood use a Wheels bus stop on the corner to get to school, and some must cross Vineyard Avenue to reach it.

    "We saw some of our neighbors almost get hit -- people are just oblivious," Sargent-Natour said. Drivers at the intersection "would slam on their brakes just in the nick of time."

    Harcourt said his own 12-year-old daughter was once bumped while crossing the street by a woman who was driving a sport utility vehicle and talking on her cell phone. But the accident was not serious, and Harcourt said he still believes a stop sign would do a better job of limiting speed on Vineyard Avenue.

    Vineyard is the main route for residents of east Pleasanton communities such as Ruby Hill traveling to and from the city and points beyond. The smart light was an attempt to address residents' concerns that, without a stop sign, the road would become a high-speed thoroughfare.

    Because most major intersections in Pleasanton routinely are equipped with cameras, building in "smart" capability added only 10 percent to the cost of the project, Tassano said. It costs $150,000 to $200,000 to install a traffic signal, Tassano said, and the smart light added an additional $20,000 to the price tag.

    The signal was activated on March 30, but didn't start operating in smart mode until Wednesday, after it had been fine-tuned.

    Senkle and Tassano said that if proven, the city is interested in using the same system at other intersections. They said smart signals are probably best suited to two-lane roads that aren't part of a network of streets where lights are coordinated to keep traffic flowing.

    The smart light was installed by Econolite Control Products Inc. of San Leandro. Econolite district manager Barry Rodinski said that to his knowledge, Thousand Oaks in Ventura County is the only other city to install such a system.

    But the technology is not new, Rodinksi said, noting that many cities use cameras to control traffic signals instead of underground sensors that can be expensive to maintain.

    "People think video is something new, but we've been deploying video control for traffic signals since 1989," Rodinski said. "This is our fifth generation of video detection products."

    Tassano said Pleasanton has more than 100 video cameras mounted on traffic lights at major intersections. The cameras are used to control signals -- allowing a driver sitting at a red light to pass when there is no cross-traffic, for example -- and to gather detailed information on traffic flow.

    Although the cameras can tell engineers how many cars are using a left turn lane in an hour, for instance, they aren't very useful for spying on people, Rodinski said.

    "The cameras have a fixed field of view -- they are not set up to pan or tilt toward somebody's home," Rodinski said. "They're high up, so they're kind of looking down on the vehicles. You can't make out people's faces or license plates."

    But Pleasanton officials have toyed with the idea of installing more sophisticated camera systems that could be used to ticket red-light runners.

    In 2001, the city entered into negotiations with a Rhode Island company, Nestor Traffic Systems Inc., to install a video monitoring system at the Stoneridge Drive exit of south-bound Interstate 680.

    But the city broke off the talks when it was unable to negotiate a contract that would limit the company's ability to profit from writing large numbers of citations.

    Tassano said the companies that make red-light camera systems are now acknowledging that cities want more control over the process, and that legal challenges regarding their use in Southern California have been resolved.

    The city is again studying the feasibility of installing red-light camera systems at two intersections on a trial basis, Tassano said. The City Council, which would have the final say in the matter, could be asked to debate the issue this summer, Tassano said.
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  2. #2
    Active Member Revenant is on a distinguished road
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    haha, i guess i wont be drivin my passion wagon round pleasanton, ey .
    // Rev
    // Ivan Alfaro
    -- Professional Web Developer

  3. #3
    Full Member Axi is on a distinguished road
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    Tuh, try finding these in the east.

  4. #4
    Full Member JNadolski14 is on a distinguished road
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    Rev you got that right lol

  5. #5
    Full Member HellFear is on a distinguished road
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    That's a good improvement. No more tickets for those speedy drivers now, and the red light will surely teach them to slow down.

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