When you live in a place that sees a lot of snow per year – let’s just say somewhere like Chicago or other places in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio – you would think that dealing with snow is something that is just accepted. Sometimes it snows sideways in the Midwest. I remember being a kid and walking home from school covered only on one side with sticking snow, and having our house covered on one side with snow 6″ thick. Snow fills up anything in its way when it’s blowing like that – stop signs, traffic lights, store signs, billboards, you name it.
There’s one thing that seems to have been forgotten when designing LED replacement lamps for traffic lights – snow. This is one time when incandescent traffic lights win over their energy-saving LED opponents. The incandescent lamps melt the snow that accumulates on them for the most part, whereas the LEDs do not generate enough heat to clear themselves enough to be seen. What is happening right now is that in order to clear the traffic lights of snow, a person has to go out and clean the snow off by hand, and as they do that it’s like the theoretical savings of having “green” traffic lights goes out in the wind like a well-placed fart.
Several accidents and one death has occurred due to this “new” phenomenon of snow covering up traffic lights that have been converted to LED sources. Places in the Midwest (and around the world, I assume) are having to send teams of men out to remove snow from traffic lights. I mean, what are you going to do, install heaters? Do they even make heaters for that? Again, kiss the energy savings goodbye.
Is this a huge “oh my GOD” kind of issue, sending people out to remove the snow? I don’t think so. It’s the accidents and death that bother me more than anything. Most motorist, however, have treated the situation of snow-covered traffic lights with caution, which means that human beings are still at least a little intelligent. From an article at Huffington Post:
In Minnesota, where authorities have upgraded hundreds of traffic lights to LEDs, the Transportation Department occasionally gets reports of an obstructed light. But by the time a highway crew arrives, the wind has often knocked out the snow and ice, said traffic systems specialist Jerry Kotzenmacher. Minnesota is experimenting with weather shields.
One reason there have been so few deaths is that drivers know they should treat a traffic signal with obstructed lights as a stop sign, traffic experts say.
“It’s the same as if the power is out,” said Dave Hansen, a traffic engineer with the Green Bay Department of Public Works. “If there’s any question, you err on the side of caution.”
What exactly does this LED traffic light epic fail mean? I think this is a really interesting area and time where incandescent lights have basically lucked into a way to completely change everything about themselves and gain a little reputation back. What needs to happen now is that incandescent lamp engineers and LED manufacturers both need to hit the drawing board and figure out how to make their products better. Let us not forget the energy consumption factor of LED traffic lights compared to incandescent light expenditures: nearly 89% savings by using LED lamps.
Look, I am a fan of light. I am not going to pick sides completely against one source, whether it’s LEDs or incandescent lamps, or plasma lamps, or my freaking dry yard on fire to provide a source of light. I criticize and celebrate what needs to be criticized and celebrated. Right now (actually years ago), LED traffic lights have given a nice Christmas present to incandescent lamp manufacturers and allowed them a chance to redeem themselves. So, incandescent lamp manufacturers, here’s your chance to shine. Take a few moments at least to talk about that in a board meeting somewhere.
For the rest of us, treat a snow-covered traffic light as if there were an outage at that intersection. Learn from other people’s misfortune to avoid it from happening again.
Thanks, Reuters, for the photo!