THE CITY SCOOP: Why no signal control for cops?

Each week, Herald reporter Brandi Jewett answers your questions about local government, laws and other local topics.

Q: On three separate occasions recently I have witnessed police officers responding to an emergency, trying to get safely through intersections controlled by lights. Why aren’t they able to control the lights as can the Altru ambulances and the Fire Department? Who is responsible for funding the addition of the necessary technology to their vehicles, and why hasn’t it been done? These officers put their lives on the line each day for us, and this is one thing we can and should do for them in return.

A: It seems costs and the potential for mixed signals is behind the absence of this technology in Grand Forks’ police vehicles.

The technology necessary to control stoplights is called a traffic signal preemption or prioritization device also called an Opticom — not to be confused with Optimus Prime from the Transformers.

As of now, only the Fire Department vehicles and Altru Health System’s ambulances are equipped with the Opticom, according to city spokesman Kevin Dean.

Police Department vehicles may be added to the system if certain logistical and budget issues can be worked out.

In addition to costs, the type of system installed on the emergency vehicles could present problems if police vehicles were included, according to Dean.

Too many emergency vehicles equipped with this device would create a control problem at intersections if several emergency vehicles were to approach at the same time — a situation that could turn messy if drivers get confused on who has the right of way.

Grand Forks is in the process of changing from infrared detectors to the more advanced GPS-based detectors. Infrared detectors change an entire traffic light corridor — which could be anywhere from one to eight signals in a row.

The GPS changes just one intersection at a time, which allows for more control.

Q: So can people park across from the downtown public transit station? I’ve seen cars there on weekends but there aren’t any signs saying you can or can’t park there.

A: Bad news if you planned to make this your daily parking spot.

There is no parking allowed on the 400 block Kittson Avenue by the bus stop.

“No Parking” signs were placed along that street shortly after the Metropolitan Transit Center was built, according to Dean.

It seems people were parking there and walking across the street in front of traffic — creating a real-life version of “Frogger,” if you will.

Cars lining that side of the street also caused traffic congestion when the buses were coming in and out of the transit center.

If you need to park near the center, Dean says the parking ramp immediately north of the transit center is available for vehicles, complete with free two-hour parking on the ramp’s lower level.

If you want to risk parking there just remember you may be rewarded with a $20 ticket.

Have questions? Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108 or (800) 477-6572 extension 1108, email bjewett@gfherald.com, follow her on Twitter at @GFCityBeat or see her blog at citystreetbeat.areavoices.com.

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