Replace the incandescent light bulbs in traffic lights with more energy-efficient LEDs? For green-minded city councils and transportation agencies around the country, it sounded like a great idea. After all, traditional bulbs use almost twice as much energy.
Yet all that excess energy comes in handy during the winter, since the heat melts snow and ice that accumulates around the lights. In December the Associated Press reported that snow-blocked lights have caused dozens of accidents across the country, and an obscured light has been blamed for at least one death in Illinois.
City and state transportation officials told the A.P. that there’s no easy fix. Minneapolis sends crews out with snow blowers to clear the lights. Other cities wipe the lights clean by hand. Some states are considering technical solutions such as installing weather shields, adding additional heating sources to the lights, or coating the lights with water repellent. It remains to be seen how many of these responses will actually consume less energy than was saved by installing the new bulbs.