I've been driving into work over the last couple of days and have seen something on the streets that have really confused me. Not only have I seen them, but I've also driven over them, along with other commuters down 1st Avenue North. As it turns out, other people have also wondered what they are, and have taken photos asking about it. So, with some research, I found exactly what the deal is with them.

What in the world are these rubber tubes?

Credit: Rachel Helgeson, Townsquare Media
Credit: Rachel Helgeson, Townsquare Media

You may have seen and driven right over these black tubes in Billings' streets. They almost look like black hoses. However, they don't connect to sprinklers or anything like that. They actually serve a purpose to the Department of Transportation, and to the City of Billings.

The tubes are called "pneumatic road tubes." When cars drive over them, it sends a blast of air down to a box on the side of the road. The data gathered by these boxes determines how much traffic comes down that road at specific times of the day, and also can gauge the speed of vehicles, type of vehicle, and direction that each vehicle travels.

That information gives valuable insight into how traffic behaves on the roadway.

The Montana Department of Transportation can determine whether speed limits are being followed on a particular street, as well as traffic counts on specific roads. The traffic count is used to determine the central business district of a particular city, and some fieldwork that gets done on the side of the road requires a traffic count to determine the safety of the workers. So, in the majority of cases, these tubes are only temporary and move constantly.

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I can't believe I didn't find out about what they do until now, and I've been driving for a long time. I believe this is a really awesome form of technology. What do you think about these pneumatic tubes? Let us know on Facebook.

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