Signs could speed up Green Line

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As he traveled on the Green Line light rail from Target Field to Union Depot, Nick Musachio noticed the train make 41 stops, only 23 of which were scheduled.

At the St. Paul intersection of University Avenue West and Lexington Parkway North, he timed the train stop at a traffic light at one minute, 45 seconds.

These observations astonished the St. Paul inventor and inspired him to create the Always Green Traffic Control System, which would use signs on the road to inform both drivers and light rail conductors how fast to travel to make the next green light.

The technology, which Musachio said would eliminate constant starting and stopping at traffic signals, is still in its early stages of testing and hasn’t caught on in the metro or at the University of Minnesota despite pitches to local government and University transportation experts.

Though Musachio is certain the system would work “perfectly” with the Green Line, David Levinson, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, isn’t so sure.

“The Green Line is all tied up in politics,” he said.

Levinson said the system warrants a field test but believes a rural or suburban traffic signal is the place to start before it moves to an urban area.

Though the system has yet to be implemented, Musachio said he is in talks with Watchfire Signs to create a prototype, which he would like to see tested in the field soon.

The technology would work by flashing very specific speeds that cars or trains should travel in conjunction with the timing of the green light. Once the first few drivers obey the speeds posted, the cars behind have no choice but to follow suit, resulting in a formation Musachio calls a “platoon.”

While some students, like physiology major Rhonda Salveson, say they don’t feel traffic congestion at the University is an overwhelming issue, she said she “wouldn’t mind trying it out.”

Ross Allanson, director of the University’s Parking and Transportation Services, said the signs could cause problems for ambulance trucks and police car emergencies attempting to travel around the platoons of cars. The University has not reviewed Musachio’s system, Allanson said.

Musachio has pitched the invention to the City of St. Paul and the Metropolitan Council — but to no avail.

“We’re not sure it’s something that would function real well in a closed urban environment,” St. Paul City Engineer John Maczko said. “We’re not as convinced as he is.”

Musachio said stoplights, which have been around for 100 years, might not be the best way of controlling traffic.

“It’s a very inefficient and primitive technology that’s causing a lot of problems,” he said. “I’m looking for a way to solve that.”

Some Audi cars include a speed limit display system that informs drivers of the speed limit on upcoming roads.

Musachio compared this type of technology to his system but added that his technology requires no sort of specific car ownership.

“If you don’t inform 100 percent of drivers, you might as well not inform any of them,” he said.

Despite limited interest from metro area officials, Musachio’s not giving up. Early next month, he said Watchfire Signs will send him a model sign for testing purposes, which he hopes to use for a demonstration project.

“It’s going to take political will to impose change on the system,” Musachio said. “The system’s not going to change from the desire by traffic engineering to do anything different.”