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Speed Radars Help Plan Evacuations

A new traffic tool in use by Houston Transtar should help drivers and emergency officials during evacuations. The traffic sensor relays real time information about how quickly traffic is moving in and out of the region. Houston Public Radio’s Laurie Johnson reports. Click to Listen Transtar uses an extensive camera system and toll-tag monitors to […]

A new traffic tool in use by Houston Transtar should help drivers and emergency officials during evacuations. The traffic sensor relays real time information about how quickly traffic is moving in and out of the region. Houston Public Radio’s Laurie Johnson reports.

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Transtar uses an extensive camera system and toll-tag monitors to track traffic patterns in Harris County. But in smaller municipalities outside the county, there are few technological resouces to watch what’s happening with the traffic. Transtar Public Information Officer Dinah Massie Martinez says they’ve partnered with the Texas Department of Transportation to install sensors known as side-fire radars in the outlying areas of the Houston region.

“The side-fire technology emits a beam across the road. And as a person – a car passes by, it counts the car, the number of cars going by, measures the size of that vehicle and it also determines how fast the cars are going. It’s called a spot speed because it tells us at that moment what the speed is doing there.”

The real-time exact speed of traffic is useful information for traffic planners who often have to rely on camera images to calculate speeds and travel times between locations. The sensors are placed in towns along evacuation routes for the Houston area places like Huntsville, Schulenberg and Orange.

“Originally we set up these sensors in far-flung areas of the region for the purpose of monitoring traffic as we attempted to evacuate people out of the Houston area. And the purpose was to see how quickly people were able to leave town. But they have a second application and that’s if you live in Conroe you can go to our website and see what’s traffic doing. What’s going on, is it going the customary posted speed or is it — is there a problem out there and it’s going slower.”

Anyone can access the spot speed radar information through Houston Transtar’s website. It can help with weekend travel plans to know which route out of town is the least congested. But people can also have the information sent to their cell phone or mobile device which could help in emergency situations. And the long term plan is to create a network of these sensors across the state that will share traffic data between local agencies.

“It’s really important that major metropolitan areas be able to see what’s happening with massive amounts of people moving in one direction or another. This information is good for tracking movement of people — as you’re planning roadways or you’re planning improvements, construction, whatever — it’s good to know traffic doesn’t just stop at that line where that agency’s border ends. Now we have a feel for where traffic is flowing around the state. It gives us a much broader picture of what’s going on.”

And in case anyone is curious, these sensors aren’t used for law enforcement purposes or to catch speeders, although Martinez adds drivers should always follow the posted speed limit. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

 

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Executive Producer for News

Laurie Johnson leads daily news coverage for HPM. She helps reporters craft and sharpen their stories on tight deadlines, with the aim of getting the most relevant and current information into local newscasts. Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. She is...

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