The Untold Story of Broward's Other Traffic Cameras: Part II

Traffic Signal Supervisor Brett Henderson opens the box.

You're sitting in a car, waiting for the light to change, when you notice a spindly little white camera peering down at you. Is this a red-light camera? Some sinister plot to spy on drivers? Nope, just a new way to control traffic at Broward's busy intersections.

Last week, we covered the basics of what these cameras do. Now we'll take a look inside one of the traffic-signal control boxes, located near the Traffic Management division's headquarters on West Commercial Boulevard. The cameras send a video signal to a control box at each intersection, where a computer detects the positions of cars in the first few spaces of each lane. This affects light timing. For example, if no cars are waiting in the left-turn lane, the green arrow won't come on.

Broward Public Works Director Tom Hutka told New Times that in most instances, the video signal never leaves the intersection. But the boxes do have monitor hookups that allow you to see what the camera sees.

"You can see that the cameras don't pick up much detail," says Traffic Signals Supervisor Brett Henderson as he flips on a monitor. A few thumbnail-sized outlines of blurry cars appear on the monitor. There's an overlay defining each spot for a waiting vehicle, and the spots light up as cars enter them:

The Untold Story of Broward's Other Traffic Cameras: Part II

The Untold Story of Broward's Other Traffic Cameras: Part II

Here's the system that collects and processes the video feed, adding the overlay and gathering information about which lanes are full.

The Untold Story of Broward's Other Traffic Cameras: Part II

Every night, the signals send a report to a central mainframe, where engineers look for anomalies like lights that are failing to cycle or are timed wrong.

Here are some more fun facts:

  • Traffic engineers don't call yellow lights "yellow." They call them "amber."
  • Do the cameras stay put in a hurricane or tropical storm? Don't bet on it. Crews go out to check on all of them after a big storm.
  • East- and west-facing cameras have to be positioned higher up on their poles, so they can be angled down more to avoid the glare of sunrises and sunsets.
  • Complaints about light timing may actually be caused by pedestrians smacking the crossing buttons and then crossing early anyway.
  • Speaking of those buttons... if they break, the county actually likes to fix them. So they say. Go to Broward's contact page and give it a shot.

Henderson says the county is always getting wrongly blamed for the red-light camera programs, which are approved by municipalities and administered by Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions. ATS is in talks with the county over one aspect of those operations, though. Currently, ATS sensors aren't allowed to interfere with traffic signals, so they use cameras to sense when a red light comes on. The company wants to install an electromagnetic loop around the wire powering the red bulb -- which is maintained by the county. Negotiations are ongoing, according to Hutka.

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