Stoplights on Vermillion’s Cherry Street have been fitted with new technology to trigger emergency lights which will help emergency vehicles proceed without accidents.
Opticom, the new technology, is activated when the emergency vehicles are approaching an intersection with its emergency lights and sirens on. The Opticom technology will change the lights from two to three blocks away. As the emergency vehicle travels down the street, the lights should turn green, giving the cars in front enough time to move out of the way for the emergency vehicle.
Matt Callahan, Vermillion Fire EMS Department fire chief, said this technology was put in place to help emergency vehicles pass through busy Cherry Street, especially between Pine and University streets, where the boulevard can make it difficult for emergency vehicles to pass cars.
“With the university having a boulevard there, a lot of time that’s plugged up with cars,” he said. “We either have to move over to the other side and actually challenge traffic head on and hope that everybody stops before the boulevard ends, or if they do pull over… we end up driving down part of the boulevard. That’s what we do for now.”
Callahan said Opticom will notify cars stuck in the boulevard area, or headed towards the boulevard with a white light, that they should pass through the street or pull over.
“What our hope is with this new technology is that when it’s activated, it should activate far enough in advance that if the people are within that boulevard and the light turned steady green and the white light turns steady white, that they’ll actually proceed through the boulevard and once they get to Pine Street, then they’ll pull over and we can continue through and stay on the road rather than getting up on the boulevard,” he said.
Red traffic lights going the direction the emergency vehicle is approaching will turn green, and the other directions will turn red, allowing traffic to flow while preventing accidents in emergency situations, Callahan said.
“If you see one that’s flashing, that means there’s an emergency vehicle approaching from a different way. If it’s on steady, that means they’re coming up from behind you and so you should be alert that they’re coming,” he said.
Another problematic area for emergency vehicles, Callahan said, is the intersection of Dakota and Cherry Streets.
“If we’re turning out of the station here on Dakota Street, sometimes with it being pretty congested, sometimes it’s hard to make that wide turn to get that truck around the corner,” he said.
Only the intersections on Cherry Street have these flashing lights, including the intersections with Princeton, Cottage, Dakota, University, Rose and Plum Streets, Callahan said. The other intersections in town, including the intersection of Main and Dakota Streets, do not have these lights.
“The ones on Main Street don’t have them, but we don’t have the traffic volume down there that would necessarily require them,” Callahan said. “We opted not to have them down there at this time, not to say that couldn’t change in the future. Cherry Street is our high traffic, high volume area, especially during the school year.”
Callahan said the device costs $500-600 to put into their vehicles, and fitting them on all of their vehicles besides the tanker truck and ambulance that already have it could be a three to five year long project. He said the project would be worth the cost in order to prevent accidents, and it’s important to inform drivers of how the lights work.
“I think it’s important to get it out to the community and to the student body of what it is… trying to just educate people of what it means so that way they can be aware of it,” he said.
Video by Nick Nelson for Coyote News.