CLEARWATER — Thanks to the heavy spring break traffic that invades Clearwater Beach, the city just got its first-ever patent.
The patent is for a remote control device that allows police officers to control traffic lights from a distance. A couple of city engineers invented the gizmo to help move cars on and off the barrier island.
"We hope this will do a lot of good for the city … first and foremost to make it safer for the officers on the street," said Paul Bertels, Clearwater's traffic operations manager.
Bertels and engineer Himanshu Patni created the device to ease traffic congestion around the Clearwater Beach roundabout during Spring Break 2007. After the new Memorial Causeway Bridge opened, police and engineers realized they needed a better way to control beach traffic during peak periods.
This device lets officers manually override a traffic signal and control it from their cruisers up to a quarter of a mile away, without being exposed to the weather or hazardous conditions.
"It used to take three officers to control that roundabout. Now one can stand there and control the signal with a remote," Bertels said. "If you have a lot of traffic on the beach and it backs up onto Mandalay Avenue, an officer can stop the flow of traffic into the roundabout, which clears it out and clears out Mandalay and Coronado."
After testing the system at the beach roundabout, the city installed the devices at the two intersections where Chestnut Street, the main route away from the beach, meets Fort Harrison and Oak avenues.
"When spring break traffic is coming off the beach, we can give those two signals as much green time as we want to get vehicles off the beach," Bertels said.
City officials plan to install the devices at other traffic lights in key locations.
So, Clearwater now has U.S. Patent number 7733242 for an invention called "System, Method and Apparatus for Manual Control of a Traffic Light." The city could potentially earn some money if others start using the device.
The two engineers who came up with this were recognized by the City Council on Thursday night. Mayor Frank Hibbard praised them for their invention.
"This really is your patent, even though we're going to keep the money," the mayor said jokingly.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.