Cameras aid traffic flow

Dr. Delay Navigating South Pinellas

By LORRIE LYKINS, Times Correspondent
Published January 27, 2008

Cameras seem to be everywhere these days, including our roads. Surveillance cameras mounted on traffic signals around town have not gone unnoticed by motorists, who often write in questioning what exactly the equipment is used for.

Reader Dan Clark asked: "Can you tell me the purpose of the cameras on some of the traffic lights on U.S. 19, for example, at 34th Street N and 54th Avenue N? One person told me they are used for ticketing people who run lights; another told me not so. There are several sets of cameras up and down that stretch of 34th Street N."

We checked in with Ken Jacobs, Pinellas County traffic signal engineer, who said that no recording is going on with the 41 road cameras the county operates; just live, real-time traffic monitoring solely to manage traffic flow and speed response to problems.

The new accompanying intelligent "smart signal" system is so intricate that traffic signals are capable of communicating with one another, allowing for adjustments based on traffic volume.

"We use the cameras for two reasons. First, to monitor traffic conditions at the signals. When we do have backups, malfunctions or any other problems reported relative to a traffic signal, we can use the camera to view the intersection and respond much faster than we could in the past." Jacobs said.

The other function of the camera system is to provide travel information to motorists on the road.

When there are lane blockages, engineers use the cameras to verify and view roadway conditions in real time. This information is used to communicate the situation including estimated delay times to motorists via the electronic display messages erected over the roadways.

Jacobs said that images from the cameras are also fed to Pinellas County's Emergency Operations Center and the 911 dispatch center to assist with their operations as well, but the cameras are not used for law enforcement purposes.

The computerized signal management system has been installed on U.S. 19 from Becket Way in Tarpon Springs south to 54th Avenue N and on some parts of State Road 60.

In South Pinellas, four cameras are installed at intersections from 38th Avenue N to 22nd Avenue S.

Jacobs said six new cameras have been added on McMullen-Booth Road from Drew Street north to Keystone Road in advance of the project to complete installation of the signal system in that area.

In the next 10 years most of the primary arterial roads in the county will be equipped with the "smart system," with more cameras.

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If the cost of gas is burning a hole in your wallet, there are commuting options in the Tampa Bay area.

Bicyclists can join bike pools, which are organized groups of commuters who bike to work together.One such group bikes from Northeast St. Petersburg to Roosevelt Boulevard and back each business day. For online information on bike pools, check out Tampa Bay Cycle at www.tampabaycycle.com.

Another resource for relief from gas pump fatigue is the nonprofit Bay Area Commuter Services. Its Web site offers information on local transportation alternatives from carpooling and fee-based van pooling to park-and-ride bus services. The site: www.tampabayrideshare.org.

Some traffic delays to look out for:

ST. PETERSBURG: A project to replace a wastewater line that started this month will require the closing of Fourth Avenue S between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 16th Street S for several weeks. Work may last to early March.

PINELLAS PARK: The closure of 60th Street at 76th Avenue has been extended until Monday afternoon. Detour routes are posted on Park Boulevard and 78th Avenue. Access to Davis Field and the rear entrance to the Pinellas Park Police Department will be from 78th Avenue only.

BELLEAIR: Expect possible delays on the Belleair Beach Causeway because of an ongoing project.

LARGO: Watch for workers performing repairs on the shoulder of Starkey Road between Ulmerton Road and East Bay Drive.

Please e-mail Dr. Delay at docdelay@yahoo.com to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions.