Rob in Aurora writes, “What's driving you crazy? When the new LED traffic lights first came out, they worked great except in snowstorms. The LED lights don't produce enough heat to melt the snow. Has this problem been solved?”
Thanks to a traffic signal electrician from Colorado, yes Rob, the problem has been solved.
As you mentioned, before LED lights, traffic signals used a regular incandescent bulb. If you've ever touched one after it's been on for a while, you know they produce lots of heat - enough heat that any snow that would hit the signal would quickly melt away. As traffic signal lights were changed to more energy efficient LEDs, there was an unintended consequence. Since LEDs emit about 30% of the power consumed by the bulb as heat rather than 90% for incandescent bulbs, snow would easily build up over the light, and in many cases, drivers couldn’t tell when the traffic light was red, yellow or green. In some instances, if the snow was thick enough, city or state work crews would drive to each covered traffic signal to remove the snow by hand or spray them with deicer fluid.
Coloradan and transportation signal electrician Chris Bichon pondered this problem and came up with a contraption that would keep snow from building up on the signal light. The design Chris came up with is a cone that sits inside a cover that is attached to the front of the traffic signal light. The cone allows the blowing snow to disperse away from the signal light, so it doesn’t have a chance to stick, build up and block the light you see from the street.
I had a great conversation with Chris on my Driving You Crazy Podcast where I asked him how he tested his new design.
“I had to ask myself, how do I make this traffic signal fly? I did different tests. The big one was put it on a signal that was in the back of a pickup truck and drive 35 miles an hour while it's snowing. I had to go back to the drawing board on a couple occasions but ultimately, I was very lucky I had a lot of good things going my way,” he told me.
Chris started the Glenwood Srings-based business Snow Proof Signals.
His patent language is more descriptive as to how the cone works:
“An LED traffic signal is enhanced with a combination of a cylindrical opaque visor and a transparent cone that is placed over the lens. The visor is offset from the lens to provide a gap, an escape route for fast moving air that rushes down the cone and out the gap as described in the Bernoulli formula. Various embodiments include a wing-shaped visor, a standard visor being cylindrical, and a custom visor being cylindrical.”
The City of Loveland was the first municipality in Colorado to install them. Since then, the cities of Windsor, Denver, Aurora, Parker, Englewood, Broomfield, Longmont, Wheat Ridge, Douglas County and the Colorado Department of Transportation have installed the snow cone on selective signals.
I went to Aurora to look for some already installed. I found several at signals along Havana, Peoria, Airport and Chambers. They are mostly in place just over the red signal light right now. I’m told Aurora likes them enough that they recently ordered another 150 units this past year. Some municipalities started with just installing the device on the red LED light for traffic going southbound and on one overhead signal.
One of his favorite moments through this process was showing his family his invention after it was installed on a traffic signal where he lives in Glenwood Springs, he told me.
“It was kind of a cool moment. We went to look at them and say, that’s where we are going and it was a really cool thing. The city has been embraced it and they're using them and some of the state highways around here are embracing them. We've come a long ways, and it's been a big journey and it's super exciting to drive down the road and look up and say, hey, that's what we did.”
You can listen to my entire interview with Chris on my podcastand you can find out more about the signal from his website, SnowProofSignals.com.
Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on any podcast app including iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Podbean.