Saturday, December 19, 2009

Unintended Consequences Redux

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Energy efficiency. Those are the buzz words floating around the planet. Go green or die, some might say. Here's a story where a municipality "went green" and somebody died:
A number of cities around the country that have installed more energy-efficient traffic lights are discovering a dangerous downside: The bulbs aren't warm enough to melt snow and can become covered over in a storm — a problem blamed for scores of accidents and at least one fatality.

But, look at how much energy they saved!!! It reminded me of a similar story, where up in the Sonora California area, there was a large public arena that had been built back when energy was a lot cheaper. The municipality responsible for its upkeep decided to insulate the roof to keep all that energy from escaping...which, in turn, caused the roof to collapse under the weight of all the snow which had typically been melted by the escaping heat!

LEDs "burn" with much less energy than incandescent bulbs and don't need to be replaced as frequently. That makes them great money savers for lights that burn around the clock, like stop lights and reduce maintenance costs over their lifetime.

Not being able to melt snow was an unexpected consequence.

Authorities in Illinois said that during a storm last April, a 34-year-old named Lisa Richter could see she had a green light and entered the intersection. A driver coming from the opposite direction could not see the stoplight was obscured by snow and ran into Richter's vehicle, resulting in the fatality.

"Would the accident have occurred if the lights had been clear? I would be willing to bet not," according to Oswego police Detective Rob Sherwood.

Authorities said similar collisions have been reported in other cold-weather states, such as Iowa and Minnesota.

Not every storm causes this condition, but with wet snow and the right wind, drivers should be extra careful, according to Gary Fox, a traffic engineer for Des Moines, Iowa.

I remember the first winter after I moved to Ohio, (before I got my first GPS) I drove to one of our manufacturing plants after work. I wasn't real familiar with the area, but I knew enough to be able to follow the signs back the way I came. Only it snowed before I was finished, and on the trip home, snow had blown up against and covered every street sign along the way, like the sign in the photo above. Had there been any traffic signals along that route, they could have suffered the same fate as the one that killed that Illinois woman.

I think that LEDs in traffic lights are a good idea. The energy savings of around 80% of incandescents can save municipalities hundreds of thousands of dollars. Up north, however, steps need to be taken to compensate for that loss of heat which keeps the lights clear and the public safe.

Cross posted at Say Anything

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