Chances are that if you have a driver’s license, you’ve encountered this scenario more than once. There you are, driving home from work, enjoying the 20-30 minutes of “you time” you get before having to flip from work mode to family mode when all of a sudden there are black tubes laying across the road. 

They’re stretched from curb to curb across the entire roadway. You really have no other choice but to run over them. Luckily, they’re thin and they don’t look like they’ll cause any major damage to your tires or rims. 

Right now, we’re so busy that time is relevant. We can’t remember if it was last week or last month, but these tubes appeared on Gekeler Lane in Boise not long ago. Why were they there? What are they called? 

YouTube/Mike Spack
YouTube/Mike Spack

We’ll start with that last question, first. The thin black tubes are called pneumatic road tubes and according to the Federal Highway Administration, when you run over the tube it sends a small burst of air through the tube, which eventually becomes an electrical signal sent to software housed in a box nearby. 

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That software is our segue into answering the first question, “Why were they there?” The software inside those boxes is a counting software that allows agencies like the Idaho Transportation Department to temporarily measure traffic counts in an area. According to ITD’s website a single tube allows them to simply measure traffic volume. They have 2,000-3,000 of the single pneumatic tube devices in their arsenal. They have 300-450 two tube systems that also help collect data on which type of vehicle passed over the tubes in addition to the volume of traffic. 

Roads aren’t the only place you’ll run into these pneumatic tubes. An Ada County Highway District Meeting agenda from early-June reveals that COMPASS is testing pneumatic tubes as part of their bike and pedestrian counter project. They’re being used mainly on the Greenbelt for that project. 

Image via Google Maps
Image via Google Maps

How great are they at recording data? They can be affected by temperature or cut by vandals or truck equipment. That’s why they’re best used in temporary situations. 

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