Red Light, Green Light

I’m not always the most patient person in the world.  Not when I’m in a hurry and I’m stuck at a red light that seems to go on forever.

Of course, no one really is patient in that situation, but recently, I learned a better way to deal with the problem than my previous solution. Which was staring at the light, trying to use the Force to make it change colors.

Often, when I’m doing a story, the people I talk to will give me more information than I can use in the story. Usually it serves as helpful background, and though I may not include it directly, helps me better understand the material I do use.

Sometimes, though, I gain little pearls of wisdom that unfortunately do not fit into my story, but are definitely useful. Like the way to make the stoplight turn without Jedi Mind Tricks.

I learned this while I was interviewing Director of Public Works/City Engineer Reid Wronski about the flashing lights the city plans to install at the crosswalk on Main and Union Streets in River Falls.

During our discussion, he told me about the electromagnetic loops that control the traffic lights in River Falls.

These are literally big loops of wire buried under the pavement. As the name suggests, an electric current is run through the wire, magnetizing it. This allows it to “sense” when a large piece of metal–ie a car–is inside the area of the loop.

If the loop “senses” a car has been sitting in the left turn lane, or trying to go straight through the intersection for a while–about seven seconds Wrosnki said–it will send a signal to the computer that runs the traffic lights, telling it to change the lights.

Drivers in the right turn lane may have to wait longer, because they can turn on red lights. Drivers turning left or going straight need the green light to go.

The trick is that drivers need to stop at the stop line painted on the road. It can be tempting  to creep past the line but if you do that, the loop doesn’t sense your car there anymore, and doesn’t signal the light to change.

As my “use the force” method usually leaves me sighing in frustration, I tried paying closer attention to the stop line on my way back to work.

I carefully stopped at the line, not stopping too far back or pulling too far ahead. I counted to “seven Mississippi.”

The light changed.

No Jedi powers necessary.


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