South Side Motorists See Red Over Orange Lights

Many of the laws of physics quantified by Isaac Newton in the 17th Century were of great service to inventors in the centuries after his death in 1727. Even so, Sir Isaac probably never imagined that the kinetic energy released by the inherent explosive properties of fossil fuels would lead to a world nearly overrun with vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. Nor would he have suspected the only reasonable way to properly regulate the ever-increasing traffic of such vehicles was to be found in color-coded traffic signals powered by electricity. With his groundbreaking work in optics, however, he might have been able to foresee the increase in traffic accidents that has plagued the city’s Industrial District since this spring.

Over the past four months the city’s south side has been in the forefront of a program to install new energy-efficient street lighting using Variable Photon Light Emitting Capacitors (VPLEC), developed by Welkin Labs of Claremont, California. The program has been championed by both Mayor Wilders and Valley Regional Transportation Authority (VRTA) head Quentin Brucheimer. The transition involved replacing the bulbs in streets lamps south of South Industrial Boulevard – many of which had never been upgraded from incandescent to fluorescent lighting during the last major overhaul in 1978 – with the VPLEC bulb. The project was begun on April 28 of this year.

Surprisingly, traffic incident statistics from the VRTA showed an alarming increase in vehicle/vehicle and vehicle/pedestrian accidents on the south side during the month of May. These statistics were dismissed as a one-time outlier, until the June report showed an even larger number of incidents, many with serious injuries in addition to significant property damage. An emergency detailed analysis of the May and June figures, completed on July 18, revealed that the greatest number of accidents – by far – took place at night, and near intersections with flashing traffic lights. Had the VRTA not turned a blind eye to anecdotal evidence from drivers who frequented the streets of the Industrial District during the spring, they might have realized the problem earlier. But local residents’ complaints fell on deaf ears.

It seems the new upgraded VPLEC street lamps emit a powerful glow slightly tinted toward the ‘orange’ range of the color spectrum discovered by Newton over three centuries ago. When the bright white-orange radiance of the new street lamps shines in close proximity to the darker but less intense yellow or red of a typical flashing traffic signal, the two colors are made to appear virtually identical. Thus motorists at such intersections had to guess whether to slow down or come to a complete stop, and were required to make split-second decisions about right-of-way. As one might expect, with only a 50% chance of correctly interpreting an “orange light,” many drivers guessed wrong.

“Guessing wrong” is something these motorists now have in common with Mayor Wilders and VRTA Chief Brucheimer. They released a joint statement on Friday afternoon stating that the old fluorescent bulbs will be reinstalled immediately in street lamps on the South Side, beginning with those over intersections with flashing traffic signals. They further announced that the program to install the new energy-efficient VPLEC bulbs has been suspended indefinitely, no doubt until Mayor Wilders and Mr. Brucheimer have a better chance to consult with the scientists and engineers at Welkin Labs – and with Sir Isaac Newton.
- David Andrews

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