Friday Rant: Urban Insanity — When Saving on LED Light Bulbs Jeopardizes Public Safety

I live in snowy Philadelphia and can't recall a week when it hasn't snowed since Christmas. The City of Brotherly Love awakened to 15 inches of the wet stuff yesterday morning. I'll spare you my consternation with the inaccurate weather forecasts and stick to the theme of my city's short sighted management and sourcing in its choice of traffic signal light bulbs.

Urban municipalities have been financially hard hit over the past two years. So it would seem to make sense to look to low cost, large volume line items as opportunities to reduce operating cost. Our mayor claims that the switch from "old fashioned" incandescent signal bulbs, made this past year, would net a $700K to $1 million dollar savings in energy. But on Wednesday at the evening rush hour -- with heavy wet snow falling at 2 inches per hour -- Philly commuters couldn't see the traffic signals. Why? Because they were running LED cool and blanketed in snow. The "old fashioned" incandescent bulbs had served the adjunct function of heating the signal housings and melting the snow that fell upon them.

The moral of this rant is that saving money on new, and seemingly more efficient, technologies is clearly a good idea, but not without vetting the entire scope of ramifications -- an exhaustive due diligence impact statement if you will. And while changing traffic signal light bulbs may appear to be a simple savings shift, nothing is simple. Just ask the accident attorney's who will no doubt be litigating against the city and supplier of the LED bulbs.

We're forecast for another "big one" next Wednesday. Perhaps the city should hire some modern lamplighters from its million or so unemployed to dust off the traffic lights.

- William Busch

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