A simple failing yields many ideas

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By John Bartlit

Early this year I wrote about the irony of federal stimulus money going into LED traffic lights that save energy and taxpayer dollars. In response to the column, four readers put me on to a fact that I flat missed.

LEDs produce little heat, which makes them energy efficient and long-lasting. But there is more. In wintertime, emitting less heat can let more ice and snow build up on a traffic light and make it harder to spot. Examples exist of fatal accidents resulting.

The facts give us a brisk one-sentence story: Federal stimulus money furnishes traffic lights that save tax dollars and raise the risk from ice and snow.

This chip of a story is a gold mine of rock-solid conclusions. Sort through the pile and pick the rock you like best.

Jagged Rock — Government actions have unintended consequences.

Sharp Rock — All actions have unintended consequences. After all, the auto market unintentionally smogged cities for years and kills more than 42,000 people in crashes every year.

Incompetent Rock — The 42,000 annual deaths show the sheer folly of automakers, drivers, or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (choose one).

Metamorphic Rock — Over decades, the interacting forces of markets, automotive engineers, highway engineers, the citizenry and regulators have reduced smog and improved traffic safety. Cars do less harm than they would if all these forces were not at work. More still will be learned and improvement will continue.

Weathered Rock ­— Depending on climate, fixed stop signs get coated with ice and snow at times, causing accidents. Some are fatal.

Old Rock — Depending on climate, standard traffic lights build up ice and snow at times, causing accidents. Some are fatal.

Young Rock — Depending on climate, LED traffic lights build up more ice and snow at times, causing more accidents, some fatal.

Bedrock — As long as people do things, harm will be with us.

Hard Rock — The government cannot eliminate risks from driving, or from anything else, and should not spend sums of taxpayers’ money trying. Drivers need to be more careful. The best tool is to keep a sharper eye on our own driving part.

Slippery Rock — Every accidental death is tragic. We need to find remedies. Cost is secondary.

Ore-Grade Rock — A big city spends millions of tax dollars per year powering standard traffic lights and replacing burned-out bulbs. LEDs are five to six times more energy efficient than glass bulbs and last years longer. The savings in the city’s electric bill count up to multimillions. Cost is important.

Rocky Rock — Depending on climate, cities at times have to pay work crews to chip ice and snow off of traffic lights.

Talus Rock — We can see the remedy is not to use LEDs in traffic lights.

Conglomerate Rock — We can see the remedy is to combine the forces of markets, engineers, new ideas, the citizenry and regulators to fix what LEDs lack and still use the benefits. More is always learned as we go along, which gives better ideas, materials and tools to work with.

Field Rock — A wide assortment of rock materials can be found with a little digging. A bunch of them are needed to pave the way for getting the most good with the least harm.

Black Rock — I should have done better research before writing about LED traffic lights.

Flint Rock — My failing to do so sparked a great many useful ideas.