I will confess that I can be somewhat paranoid at times. I wouldn't be that way if everyone weren't out to get me, but that's a conversation for a different day. But, that's one reason why I decided to find out what tubes across a Missouri road are measuring and why. There's more data being collected than you can even imagine.

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Let me state from the start that this is not a situation where "the man" is out to get you (or so I hope). Tubes across Missouri roadways are actually collecting some very helpful data, but it's likely way more numbers than you think.

First, when I'm talking about tubes across a roadway, this is what I'm talking about. Here are a couple of road workers installing them.

CityofBloomingtonMN via YouTube
CityofBloomingtonMN via YouTube

The United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration dishes the dirt on what these pneumatic road tubes do:

The road tube is installed perpendicular to the traffic flow direction and is commonly used for short-term traffic counting, vehicle classification by axle count and spacing, planning, and research studies. Some models gather data to calculate vehicle gaps, intersection stop delay, stop sign delay, saturation flow rate, spot speed as a function of vehicle class, and travel time when the counter is utilized in conjunction with a vehicle transmission sensor

That's a lot of number crunching. The city of Bloomington, Minnesota shared what I believe is one of the simplest and easiest to understand explanations about why these tubes are deployed. As is often the case, it really comes down to money.

So this is where paranoid me begins to ask more questions. Is it really just anonymous vehicle data or are they also collecting information with cameras to see what license plates are going over these areas? No, you likely can't do this through a tube, but tracking of citizens where they can be identified is when I get suspicious. That's why I outed myself as paranoid at the start of this.

I would recommend reading the Office of Highway Policy Information's description of the data these road tubes collect. It's full of (mostly) good reasons why "the man" is watching how you drive.

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