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LED traffic lights are better in every way except this one tiny problem

Posted May 30, 2018

You are probably already turning towards LED lighting in your home. It is something all of us will have to do sooner or later, because LED‘s last longer than incandescent lights, they consume less energy, can be more compact and more environmentally-friendly. Cities love LED lighting as well, introducing it in various places, such as street lighting and traffic lights. But LED‘s may have a tiny little disadvantage in this regard that no one expected.

LED traffic lights are more expensive to install, but they use much less electricity. Image credit: Petey21 via Wikimedia

Of course, the really obvious disadvantage is that LED lights are more expensive, but that is not entirely accurate. While people and cities do have to pay more up-front for LED lights to be installed, later on they become economical as they consume less power and have to be changed less frequently. Light bulbs in traffic lights are constantly coming on and off, sometimes even have to keep blinking and that is why old-school incandescent bulbs burn out quickly. Introduction of LED’s cut down on maintenance costs, but there is one little niggle that some cities hate about LED traffic lights.

The reason why LED’s use so little energy to produce the same intensity (or even brighter) light than incandescent bulbs is that they don’t waste so much energy on heat. Incandescent light bulbs really heat up quick, turning electricity into completely useless heat that then get radiated into environment for no good reason. Unless it is winter and it’s been snowing all night. Sometimes snow and even ice gets stuck on the traffic light lenses. This is not that big of a problem, because such sticky snow or icing rain doesn’t happen that frequently. If the traffic lights are equipped with incandescent bulbs, they actually melt the snow and ice away very quickly. But LED’s don’t really do that.

Several cities noticed that after switching to LED traffic lights they had to send crews to clean the traffic lights. Again – that doesn’t happen so frequently. But at those times they actually demand more maintenance than the old-fashioned technology. Sometimes workers simply don’t have time to clean every traffic light and some remain covered for an entire day or two. For example, some traffic lights for pedestrians are not a priority. But there are ways to mitigate this issue.

LED traffic lights typically have very smooth hard bezels that snow doesn’t stick to too easily. They can also have little covers (like your doors to the yard) to limit rain and snow fall on the face of the traffic light. Even a more high-tech solution is available – traffic lights could be heated using solar power. However, realistically, LED traffic lights are better in every way (except that tiny snow and ice issue). Switching to LED traffic lights exclusively guarantees that cities will save a lot of money and it is good for the environment.

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