Appearances not withstanding, Big Brother is watching neither pedestrians nor drivers at the new light opposite the Rusty Scupper restaurant on Alexander Road.

With construction on university housing drawing to a close, a pair of new stop lights appeared on a curve that soon will see an increase in traffic. The lights were promptly crowned with tall, vaguely-heron-like cameras.

Would the cameras click photos of the rear ends of SUVs and Minis racing through red lights? Would they beam images of suspicious characters — along with law-abiding joggers and dog walkers — to banks of monitors, located perhaps in the basement of the township’s handsome new municipal building?

No, no, says Robert Kiser, the Princeton Township engineer. "Big Brother is not watching. The cameras are not for enforcement."

The cameras are new technology, he explains. They replace the loop detectors that now signal the presence of automobiles to traffic lights. The information tells lights when to turn red, stopping traffic on a busy road so that cars on a less-heavily traveled street can get a green light to turn. "Without them," says Kiser, "the lights would never change."

Loop detectors, generally a trio of them per intersection, are buried two to four inches underground. They "feel" the presence of an automobile, and signal a traffic light to change. The problem, says Kiser, is that the wires in the loops tend to snap as roads freeze and thaw, and fixing them is no easy matter.

While the new cameras atop the Alexander Road lights look delicate, Kiser says that they are sturdy and relatively easy to repair. He predicts that the new technology will increasingly be used in place of the loop detectors.

The cameras have no idea who is being naughty, but perhaps their very visibility will encourage good behavior. Perhaps they will become a sort of shadow Big Brother, giving pause to speeders and muggers alike.

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