Mystery Traffic Light Antennae?

AntennaSometime when I wasn’t looking, these antennae sprouted up on many of the traffic lights around Charlottesville. They look like flat panel directional antennae (here’s an example), though I don’t know what the city would be doing with them, least of all in tandem with traffic lights. I’ve got a picture of one in context, at the corner of JPA and Main, too. Does anybody have an idea of what these are for?

11 thoughts on “Mystery Traffic Light Antennae?”

  1. Wow, that’s great news. I’ve avoided driving straight down W. Main for a few years now, cutting over to Cherry or taking Preston, because there’s never been any synchronization. The synching of the lights on 29N has been a real success—it’d be great to see the Charlottesville section of the road included in that synchronization.

    I’m trying to remember where I’ve seen those antennae, but it’s certainly been in more places than along W. Main. This seems like a worthy new project.

  2. What’s old is new again. I think they used to be synched a million years ago. But the funny story was about the receivers on the W. Main lights that allowed ambulances and firetrucks to turn them green, using a remote control device like a garage door opener. Then the emergency workers (and other city employees) started using them on their off-hours, then the devices got in the hands of friends and family, and they had to shut the whole system down. Who wouldn’t want such a device!

    The other thing I recall about W. Main were all the firetruck calls to the U.Va. dorms. The lights would go to blinking yellow, and you knew a firetruck was coming. Those students were always pulling false alarms. Finally the city got so mad that U.Va. had to build its own fire station on Ivy Road, at the Bypass.

    Now I remember the W. Main synch thing. There was a sign at around 1300 or 1200 W. Main, heading east. It was a yellow diamond. It said:

    Lights Synchronized for
    _15 _20 _25 MPH

    Something like that, and a light indicated which speed.

  3. Oh, and bus drivers. I think they had the magic boxes. Wasn’t this all in the old, Haews C-ville?

  4. Anyway if you’ve ever read a book about urban design (and I’ve read exactly one, twenty years ago), you know where this is going. People feel better when they know what’s going on in there environment. Just pubic clocks and thermometers are nice. Even better is when people feel they can control the situation to some extent. Now, the red light zapper was going too far, we all know that. But the yellow sign with the synchronization speed on it is classic. Even if it seemed silly and only very orderly people used it to set their driving speed, it told you what was going on and put you in the driver’s seat. You rarely see that kind of thing these days. It’s like something out a black and white movie with boxy suits, and cop that yells, “move along, move along” when there’s an accident on the highway… instead of tying up traffic for six hours by securing the scene. Admittedly it was a more dangerous time.



  5. Okay…first things first, the “remote” for Rescue and Fire units are made by 3M and are called Opticom lights. These are only activated when the ambulance or fire truck has its emergency lights activated, which activates a very spastic white strobe light in the middle of the front of the vehicle, called an emitter. There is no possible way any fire or rescue member could take one of these home and use on a personal basis, as these emitters are permanently attached to the rescue apparatus. (see PDF at

    As for the broadband antennas, see Cville Weekly article on 3/14/2006 “C-VILLE can’t speak definitively as to the presence of cameras in bedrooms. How-ever, according to City spokesperson Ric Barrick, the only cameras the City has right now are at a few select intersections: Emmet/Wise; Emmet/Angus; Preston/10th; Belmont Bridge; Ridge/West Main; West Main/JPA. But even these cameras aren’t operational.

    Moreover, says Bar-rick, when they do get turned on they’ll be used for monitoring traffic patterns, particularly during storms, not individuals. He also assured C-VILLE that there are no red-light cameras in the city. It’s a good thing, too, since the cameras are illegal thanks to a vote last week in the Virginia House of Delegates.

    While there are no City-operated cameras on the Downtown Mall, there has been talk of getting a camera outside the police station on Market Street, but no movement has been made on that front lately.—Nell Boeschenstein”)

  6. The red light changers were like 12 years ago. I don’t think it was an urban legend… ?

  7. I kinda remember W Main being synch’d. Wasn’t this mostly at night though? I seem to recall the sign that said lights synched at 25 MPH but that was only lit when I drove through after a night out.

  8. I remember the old sync indicator lights…I feel like I have saw them lighted as recently as the mid-90s.

    I used to be a West Main resident/denizen, and always got a kick out of the fact that one could often walk faster than the car traffic was moving. Whatever the lights were set to, there was always inevitably one or two very slow moving cruisers – still are.

    Today Main St. suffers terribly from a buffering problem: buffer over-run on the various lights makes the street grid lock with practically no traffic at all – particularly down between 10th and the Towers buildings.

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