Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Snow Obstructs LED Traffic Lights
Journal and Wire Report
Recent severe snowstorms and frigid temperatures in Ruidoso and across the nation are revealing a continuing, unintended consequence of light emitting diodes in traffic lights: Snow and ice can obstruct them because they generate little heat.
“That obliterated (view) of the lights has caused traffic confusion and accidents,” Ruidoso Village Attorney Dan Bryant said during a recent meeting of the Ruidoso Planning and Zoning Commission. “Lawyers across the country are suing over that.”
Many entities, including the state of New Mexico and towns within its borders, received stimulus money to replace standard lights with LEDs, he said.
“So I thought to myself, how are we going to keep snow and ice off the lights in my hometown,” Bryant said. Being situated in the mountains, snow is inevitable and it would be “brainless” for the state or village not to design some sort of protection to ensure that traffic lights could be seen in the event of snow, he said.
In cities like West Bend, â€†Wis., public works employees go out and scrape ice and snow off traffic signals. They recently used an improvised tool made out of a pole and an automotive ice scraper. “It's making a difficult time for drivers to see the lights,” said Jeff Watzlawick of the West Bend Department of Public Works last month.
The Milwaukee Department of Public Works recently issued a memo to all employees asking them to be alert for iced-over traffic signals so crews could be dispatched to clear them off, and crews in St. Paul, Minn., have been using compressed air to keep their lights clean.
LED lights use about 90 percent less electricity and last much longer than their incandescent counterparts, prompting cities nationwide, including Albuquerque and others in New Mexico, to put them in traffic lights.
Authorities in several states have been testing possible solutions, including installing weather shields, adding heating elements, or coating lights with water-repellent substances.
The Ruidoso News and Associated Press contributed to this report.