Students eager to solve traffic challenge with math

Visiting teacher/engineer Mark Love illustrates the answers students submitted for the intersection challenge.
Visiting teacher/engineer Mark Love illustrates the answers students submitted for the intersection challenge. Chris Barber — Digital First Media

OXFORD >> Three algebra classes had the opportunity to play highway intersection designer/planners on Friday at Penn’s Grove School.

The kids, all of them in seventh and eighth grades, were the hosts to Mark Love, an engineer-turned-teacher from New Hampshire who tours the nation illustrating how much fun math is.

Dividing the classes into small groups of twos, he presented them with a puzzle: Figure out the maximum number of cars that can pass through a four-way intersection by calculating the stoplight times in each direction, and keep the answer safe, accurate and efficient.

With great energy and enthusiasm the students came up with answers that varied from a few hundred to more than 1,500 in 90 seconds. Apparently fueled by the challenge, they kept on seeking better numbers and then followed up by posting their best on the dry erase board in the front of the room.


Among the students pursuing the optimum outcome were Chris Latsch and Dylan Lasensky, who kept on trying to squeeze an even higher number of cars passing the lights through the use of mathematics and changing red light configurations.

“We’re having fun getting the right answer,” Latsch said.

Love, 57, who began his career as a traffic engineer, said his adult professional life has been divided into three parts: Ten years of working solely on traffic; ten years splitting time between teaching and traffic engineering; and the past 10 traveling around presenting math challenge programs.

Love’s visit to Oxford’s Penn’s Grove School was funded by a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) grant. He said the kids in the class were lucky that the school pursued the program because not all schools would be willing or able to make that commitment.

His instructions to the class members first involved presenting the challenge: Get as many cars as possible through the intersection, but don’t ignore safety of the drivers, accuracy of methods and efficiency.

As much an exercise in logic and mathematics, Love told them to jump right in and not be afraid of making mistakes.

“A wrong answer is better than no answer,” he said, adding that their most important tool was an eraser.

Having gone through the process of designing intersections many times, he said professional traffic engineers have computerized the information and designed an algebraic component. These days, they merely feed the data into a computer, he said.

This Penn’s Grove project took place just blocks away from one of the most complex red light intersections in the area: Route 472 and Third Street. As drivers enter the crossing of those two streets in mid-Oxford, they sometimes have to wait frustratingly long times for the green lights to arrive to handle all the options.

Love said when he came to town for the program he entered from Route 472 and was not aware of the situation in the middle of the borough.

He added that he travels all over America to give his programs, but more often than not he’s near the East Coast.

He concluded his program with one important piece of advice for future engineers: “Learn calculus early high school, because you will need it,” he said.

About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at .