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Are those George Foreman grills on Springfield stoplights? Insight into latest traffic flow technology

Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 7:18 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2021 at 7:20 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It’s radar.

But it’s not used to track storms or catch you speeding.

It kind of looks like a George Foreman grill mounted to the stoplight poles at a pair of Springfield intersections.

But it’s actually something that could help you make it through that green light instead of having to wait for the next cycle.

What are we talking about?

They’re called “advanced detectors” and right now they’re only installed at two locations in Springfield. MoDOT has them up at Battlefield and Kansas and the city of Springfield installed their first ones at the intersection of National and Bennett.

To be clear there are other white boxes mounted at intersections all over the city. Those are known as “stop boxes” and are flat on the surface, looking much like a base on a baseball field. The advanced detectors look almost the same except their surface has two raised humps and their purpose is different.

The stop boxes detect traffic at the intersection itself, fulfilling the same role as the loops that are embedded into the pavement.

“It’s like a metal detector,” said Springfield Traffic Engineer Tom Dancey of the detection loops. “Whenever a large vehicle pulls over it, it triggers the light. That’s one that has been used for many, many years.”

But the advance detectors represent the latest in traffic flow technology and they can detect cars approaching the intersection from as far back as 500-feet. When they do, they keep the light green for a couple of extra seconds to give those within that zone the time to make the light.

In other words, it sees you coming and if you’re close to getting through that light, it won’t leave ‘ya hangin’.

“One of the things we’re most excited about is being able to plot the arrivals of vehicles versus what the traffic signal is doing,” Dancey explained. “Our goal is to get as many people through green lights as we can to reduce delay and rear-end crashes. There are a lot of reasons why we want to reduce the number of stops that people have as they’re driving up and down the roadway.”

The funding for the system was just approved by the City Council in June with $150,000 coming from the transportation sales tax and $600,000 coming from a federal grant. So far 11 detectors have been ordered with the goal of having 50.

The boxes are actually a form of radar that can track cars rate of travel and the number of cars in a certain space. Each intersection may have a different amount of space programmed into the detector’s view ranging from 300-500 feet.

“A lot of times we think of radar as being enforcement and while they are calculating speed it’s not tied to any type of enforcement,” Dancey pointed out. “It’s just tied to the traffic signal.”

Another important aspect of the advanced detector though is that the data it collects will be used to improve traffic patterns around the city. With the boxes only allowing lights to remain green for a couple of extra seconds, Dancey said the changes don’t disrupt the rest of the synchronized lights along the street and because of the data input, the detectors will ultimately end up making traffic flow better.

“A traffic pattern working well in the morning might not be working so well in the afternoon,” Dancey said. “It’s not going to always work out perfectly when you work on a major intersection and you’re trying to tie that coordination with that cross street and then you’re trying to do north, south, east and west. So hopefully it fits together like a puzzle and that’s just one of the tools that’s going to help us to improve traffic flow.”

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