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ASK YOUR GOVERNMENT: Downtown Grand Forks stoplight leaves residents waiting

Each week, Herald reporter Brandi Jewett answers your questions about local government, laws and other local topics. Q. The stoplight on Grand Forks' First Avenue North at the intersection with North Fifth Street is extremely slow and frustrating...

Brandi Jewett

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

Q. The stoplight on Grand Forks' First Avenue North at the intersection with North Fifth Street is extremely slow and frustrating for everyone I know who takes that route into downtown. In fact, I recorded a video today as I headed into downtown and found that it took at least four minutes and that's only because a pedestrian came along and pressed the switch. Traffic on Fifth was sparse, adding to the frustration. Why is it so slow?

A. Personally, I try to avoid this light and others on Fifth Street. For those of you who don't want to give up your routine route to downtown, city officials say they're fixing things.

First you should know those devices on top of the stoplights are cameras. Not the kind that take your picture when you race through a red light. They're motion-sensor cameras and about 75 percent of the traffic signals in Grand Forks are controlled by them, according to city spokesman Kevin Dean.

The motion sensor detects vehicles in thru and left-turn lanes and then activates the signal to allow traffic to proceed. The timing of these signals usually limits the wait time on side streets to 45 seconds or less -- depending on traffic levels on the primary street.

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Long waits like the one mentioned occur at several downtown signals because some vehicles may not be in the actual traffic lane or were between lanes. This causes the sensors to miss the car's presence.

Drivers stopping at the light at North Fifth Street and First Avenue North faced some additional troubles. The camera at that intersection was shifted by high winds, which caused some vehicles pulling up to the intersection be out of range of the sensors.

Dean says the city has adjusted the sensors to account for the camera's movement and to cover a wider area so vehicles will be easier to detect.

If residents do encounter problems such as this with any city equipment, they are asked to direct concerns to the Public Information Center by calling 311 or emailing info@grandforksgov.com .

Downtown parking

Q. While downtown, the little community police vehicle was driving around with the driver holding some sort of stick outside of the window. She seemed to be holding it in front of cars. What is that stick and what was she doing with it?

A. If you've been parked downtown for any length of time, you may have noticed a colored line on one of your tires as you're getting into your car.

The stick the parking enforcement officer -- also known as a community service officer --uses is behind this, according to Dean.

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The "stick" people may see being used is actually a pole with chalk on the end.

It allows officers to mark the tires of parked vehicles in areas that have posted time limits.

Later, the enforcement officer will come back when the parking time limit has expired -- usually two hours throughout most of downtown.

Any vehicle that has been "chalked" but not moved will be issued a ticket.

To make sure there's no mistake, the officers mark both the tire and street with the chalk line. On the return trip, they check to make sure the marks line up before issuing a ticket.

If you're curious, the vehicle you saw the officer driving is a Cushman three-wheel cart and is used to help them get around downtown and enforce parking restrictions. In other cities, that type of cart also functions as a mall and stadium maintenance vehicle or even as an ice cream truck.

Got 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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