The lights sitting atop traffic poles on W. University Avenue, in Gainesville, FL, glow white when the stoplights below them turn red and shut off when the lights turn green.
They mystified the whole Doria family as they waited at a red light at 13th Street and W. University Avenue while driving downtown for dinner recently, and Nickie Doria wrote to Since You Asked to find out why the white lights are there.
“We were all trying to figure out their purpose,” Doria wrote to Since You Asked. “Can you shed some light?”
Phil Mann, Gainesville’s traffic operations engineer, calls them “tattle-tale lights” for their ability to alert police that someone has run a red light, no matter where the police officer happens to be situated.
The white lights are wired directly to the power supply that makes the traffic light turn red, so they turn on as soon as the red light does.
“It’s a safety issue,” Mann said. “When officers are doing red-light enforcement, they have to see both the red light and the vehicle running it, which means having to do what? Run the red light themselves. The white lights are visible from 360 degrees, so the officer can sit downstream instead.”
Mann said a Florida Department of Transportation grant in 2006 let the city install the lights at five intersections. The city chose the five intersections where the most red-light running crashes occurred: W. University Avenue and 6th Street, W. University Avenue and 13th Street, W. University Avenue and 34th Street, Archer Road and SW 34th Street, and 69th Terrace and W. Newberry Road.
Holly Walker, safety engineer for the 18-county DOT district that includes Alachua County, said the white enforcement lights were first installed in Richardson, Texas, in the 1990s. They made it to Florida in 2002, with installations in the Tampa Bay area.
As more and more Florida counties had success with the lights, which cost about $75 apiece, the program spread across the state, coming to half the counties in Alachua County’s DOT district in 2006 and the rest in 2007, Walker said.
Walker said Alachua County is one of many recipients of the lights to request them at additional intersections. She said the DOT will be happy to accommodate those requests, but said they will likely come after the DOT switches to energy-saving LED bulbs for the enforcement lights.
“As soon as we find a supplier for the newer version, the LED lights, we hope to be able to distribute those to counties,” Walker said.
Gainesville Police Sgt. Joe Raulerson said it’s hard to quantify how successful the lights have been so far for the agency.
But he said there’s no question they’ve made officers and other drivers safer.
“For us, it’s really an officer safety thing, and knowing that the officers no longer have to put on their lights and sirens to go through a red light to chase a violator,” Raulerson said.
Source: The Gainesville Sun, 20080817
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