Who Knew Powering Traffic Signals Was Such An Issue?

from the solutions-galore dept

Honestly, of all the problems in the world, we never quite realized that getting power to traffic signals was one of the more pressing needs — but with two totally different solutions being talked about in a single week, apparently it’s been bugging more than a few people. Say it with me now: we’re entering a traffic signal power bubble. First, there was the solar powered traffic signal, which is guaranteed to run out of juice in places that are constantly overcast. Speaking of constantly overcast (joking, joking), the second traffic signal power alternative comes from England, where they’re looking at a raised metal ramp that gets pushed down every time a car drives over it, generating some power for the traffic light. Of course, you wonder if drivers begin to freak out when they start driving over ramps that drop under them. Also, while it may save on power, you have to wonder how costly it is to go in and install these ramps.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Who Knew Powering Traffic Signals Was Such An Issue?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

no matter how you look at it, no one solution will work for all. It will most likely need to have a piece meal solution, Solar panels for sunny states, i.e. florida and southern states, and possibly the ramp solution for more of our rugged terrain states, like colorado and montana and what not, where the more prevalant vechiles are trucks and suvs, which could handle the stress of ‘runnin over’ obstacles better, and the likelyhood of noticing it more obscure. And why not a wind powered solution for Chicago and Washington state. As we have seen in almost every market, one solution nevers fits all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No Subject Given

Why don’t we stop advocating 4-wheels-for-each-person and start pumping up a real public transit system like most other first-world countries have? It’s a total waste of natural resources for each person to have an redundant parts like engines and wheels.

If we had good mass transit, then the need for all these power-saving stoplights would disappear — and we’d reduce our consumption of all sorts of natural resources, and pollute less too!

Sv says:

Integrated traffic signals on the dashboard

The best way to save power and massively improve visibility, and information value of the traffic lights and signs system would be that it’s emitted wireless and shown on the dashboard inside the cars.

Of course the industry lacks the enthusiasm and will to get together, define locked standards for this and make it standard in all automobiles.

Dave T (user link) says:

Re: Integrated traffic signals on the dashboard

A couple issues with this — first, the dashboard system would have to have every imaginable type of traffic signal setup. There are very specific setups in many places that have on-street light rail (think Houston, San Francisco, and Boston) that might not translate easily. All of those cities have unique signals to allow cars to interact with the train tracks in ways that are more complicated than red-yellow-green. Same for places with unusual road layouts (eg, elevated freeways intersecting with surface streets, etc) that aren’t captured by a simple “red-yellow-green”.

You would also lose the value of being able to anticipate what other traffic would do — like knowing that a left-turn signal is turning yellow so the next person through is likely to come flying across to try to beat the light.

But, perhaps more importantly, how in the world would a pedestrian or bicyclist know what the signal said? Would they

Anonymous Coward says:


That metal pedal idea is particularly stupid. It’s not saving energy, it’s just getting it from a different source. Driving over the ramp will cause the cars to burn more fuel so that it can be transformed into electricy to power the lights. Fuel that the drivers have to pay for. If they want drivers to pay for the power to run traffic lights, increase the gas tax and use that money to buy power. I’m betting that this method is a hell of a lot less efficient than current elecricity generation methods.

Stephen Tillman says:

Re: Idiocy

You know… we’re not talking 10-foot ramps here. The difference in fuel consumption would be so small that it would be immeasurable. The ‘ramps’ would be little more than a speed-bump that gets pushed down. The system would be relying on the sheer number of pushes this little ramp gets to make the power worth-while.

“It’s not saving energy, it’s just getting it from a different source”… well, yeah. That’s the idea of power systems. What the ramp idea proposes is “hey, we have these cars that are just burning their energy to turn 4 little wheels. Let’s harness some of the energy that’s being wasted”.

And if you think about it through the eyes of a physicist, it’s not the car’s fossil fuels that are being used to power the ramps. It’s the car’s kinetic and potential energy -and heck, even mass and gravity- to push the little peddle down.

All of these alternate ideas are converting one power source into another. I think the idea of using the kinetics of these vehicles is a good one. Those cars and trucks are going to pass that spot in the road, over and over again, regardless of presence of this ramp. Why not take advantage of that wasted kinetic energy? It’s not going to be 100% efficient, but then again, no conversion of energy is.

Personally, I think it’s very forward-thinking (a rarity, now-a-days) and step in a good direction.

AngloAfro says:

Re: Re: Idiocy

Hmm, well you must not be a physicist, otherwise you’d realize the flaw in your logic. Yes you are wasting energy.

“hey, we have these cars that are just burning their energy to turn 4 little wheels. Let’s harness some of the energy that’s being wasted”.

When my 4 little wheels drive over that “speed bump” my car slows down, I have to push on the gas pedal to make my 4 little wheels go the same speed they were going before the speed bump. The only way I don’t use more gas is if I’m braking, which is fine except that I would hope that I’m traveling through intersections more than I’m stopping at them (although it never seems to be the case)

Regardless, this energy conversion process is MUCH more inefficient than the city’s power generation systems. Sure this might work for remote locations where getting the power there is an issue, but don’t think for a second that you’re getting free energy, or using energy that’s going to waste anyways.

If you passed over 100 of these things daily, not only are you going to incur vehicle maintenance costs (warped tread on tires, worn shocks etc) but you will get noticeably lower miles per gallon in the long run.

Stephen Tillman says:

Re: Re: Re: Idiocy

Of course you’re wasting energy… hence my statment about not being 100% effecient. No, I’m not a physicist…. but I play one on TV. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

My point was that the ramps aren’t going to impact your forward momentum that much. Those ramps cannot have that much resistance. If they were like hitting a curb, the city (or whichever municipality) would have rejected the idea. They’d have forseen how much they’d be paying out in vehicle repairs.

I’d be willing to bet that they are more of a rocker that moves when you pass over it. In fact, the article quotes an official as saying “‘The ramp is silent, comfortable and safe for vehicles,’ Mr Hughes said. “.

I really don’t see where people are believing that they are going to have to hit the gas to get over these things. Have you seen the pics in the articles? They are very small. I’d bet that you don’t even notice them as more than an uneven joint in the pavement.

Dave T (user link) says:

Re: Idiocy

> That metal pedal idea is particularly stupid.
> It’s not saving energy

It might actually save a little since cars that are stopping anyway (which would presumably be about half) are burning their momentum in the form of heat given off by the brakes. Instead now they’re applying a bit of that momentum to climbing (and subsequentally depressing) a ramp. It’s the same general idea of the Prius — taking energy from the braking process instead of letting it go to waste.

That said, I would expect the primary value not to be the energy savings, but rather that they work when the grid is down and don’t require power lines to be strung to every intersection (especially in more remote areas).

doubledoh says:

Re: Idiocy

That metal pedal idea is particularly stupid. It’s not saving energy, it’s just getting it from a different source. Driving over the ramp will cause the cars to burn more fuel so that it can be transformed into electricy to power the lights. Fuel that the drivers have to pay for. If they want drivers to pay for the power to run traffic lights, increase the gas tax and use that money to buy power. I’m betting that this method is a hell of a lot less efficient than current elecricity generation methods.

Not exactly. Almost all of the energy created using this method will be from GRAVITY (which is free). The car (having a large mass) will press DOWN on the ramp to create the energy. And the ramp doesn’t even have to have a large incline to create the necessary power…even an inch or two of incline times the large number of cars driving over it would more than suffice.

Besides, I think you’d be hard pressed to notice ANY difference in fuel efficiency between cars that drive over ramps and cars that don’t. It’s so negligable that I doubt you could even measure it.

Mgallagher says:

You'd be surprised at the uses of solar in transpo

Intersection signals are pretty power hungry – an incandescent bulb is typically 150W, LEDs about 15W of constant draw per signal head. The trouble isn’t powering the heads though, it’s the controllers, conflict monitors and other electronics in the cabinet. If the power consumption there can be reduced a solar system with a total of a couple of square meters and a good battery (or flywheel) system can power the heads – yes even figuring in insolation factors (overcast, short days, etc.)
For example there are crosswalk warning lights on a 50% duty cycle in St. Paul, MN (short days, lots of overcast/snow in winter) that operate entirely on solar now with 6 sq. in. panels. Not having to design power also saves quite a bit in engineering costs and construction is much simpler.
So, I know it sounds silly, but it’s a better idea than it sounds.

Chris says:

Missing the point

I think many of you are missing the point here. The problem being solved is probably how to initially get power lines run to newly placed traffic lights.

In residential areas that need new lights, this often mean tearing up the street or sidewalk for days or weeks at a time, making it impossible for people to drive to their homes.

Think, “we need a two-way stoplight at a narrow bridge in a remote area, but we don’t have any power source.”

I agree that public transport is a great idea, but you need power lines for that too, and it can’t reach everywhere…

Roundabouts a fluke and completely foobar says:

Re: a stupid idea

Those things may be great in other countries where they use them everyday, but in the US they just create more problems than they solve. For instance no one in the US is corteous within these. Where I live I have to wait 5 min. anyway so just put up some good ol’ fashion lights and I’ll be on my way.

TJ says:

R U living in a computer simulation?

The articles on this site are getting so ridiculously stupid that they are helping to convince me that we are all just characters who are living in a computer simulation:


By all means, please prove me wrong. But as people seem to continue to get dumber each and every day, I become ever more convinced that people are getting more stupid because the similuation computer is running out of CPU strokes as the ‘human’ population continues to grow almost exponentially.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Mass Transit

I hate hearing mass-transit snobs whine about the US not being like ‘other’ ‘first-world’ countries and moving to mass transit in a massive way.

Yeah. Like Europe’s a big beacon of morality, democracy (efficient democracy anyway), technology, and economic efficiency. Typical american worker has twice the productivity, give or take, of a Frenchman. Works nearly twice as long, too.

We, unlike what passes as people in Europe, value independence and mobility. I dont want to wait for a damn bus to swing by, or make my way to train station, just to go load up on cheap imported Chinese goods over at the Walmart. Why make a 5 minute car trip in to a 30 minute bus ride with the scum of society sharing my seat? At least I can’t be sneezed on in my own car, either.

That created the fossil fuel issue. To which we shall ultimately respond with a solution, such as converting to hydrogen to maintain that independence. Unlike Europe, which is cowering, surrendering the level of independence in life which we hard-working Americans enjoy.

So quit bitching for christ sake. Panzees in Europe will be panzees, Americans will be independent and unbowed, and the Japanese will continue to make excellent electronics and cram in to subways ’cause they’re overflowing their island.

Chris H says:

No Subject Given

I’d like to see what a snow plow here in the Northeast would do to those little buggers.

Nonetheless a brilliant idea, espeicially if they remained stationary and only activated when the light was red to absorb the energy of braking vehicles. With an LED light system I imagine the energy draw at a busy intersection would be negligible. Then again I wonder how much juice it takes to run the buried sensors that detect when a vehicle is sitting at a red light…. I wish more intersections had those.

What if we put giant magnets on the bottom of our cars and pass over a grid to generate power… that would be pretty neat.

his dudeness says:

Power from the expressway

I recall reading years ago in popular science that there were plans being put into action that would draw power from cars travelling on the expressway. Basically, they wanted to put little fins in the sidewalls that would turns with the draft of passing vehicles and generate electricity. It sounded pretty innefficient, but if it worked, would it fit this need pretty well? Especially for powering lights that run alongside of expressways and at overpasses. Any generated power could also be distributed along the roadway and power lights further away as well (again, assuming a worthy amount of electricity were produced).

Tim (user link) says:

No Subject Given

No doubt one of these days we’ll be told it’s “for our own good”, that it’ll help reduce speeding (like that is somehow intrinsically a morally bad thing, as distinct from a legal concern), that it’ll help terrorism because they’ll have yet more points to know where cars are, etc etc.

As for those who advocate public transport – PISS OFF. If you think I’m going to want yobs arriving by the coach-load and train-lines going across the middle of Rannoch Moor, you’ve got another think coming. Public transport is inherently limited by its majorityist approach, while the car is far more flexible. It would be equally viable to tell the government to stop wasting money on public transport altogether and make cars more of a commodity item.

anonymoustroll says:

Re: No Subject Given

I lived for +4 years without a vehicle using *only* mass transportation.

In America, much of what you say is true.

In other (civilized) countries, it’s not.

Hell, in Australia, I even took a train/taxi to the out to the country side so that I could fly ultralight airplanes… recreationally… on the weekends.

Telecommuting and living close to work (close enough to bicycle, walk or take a tram/train/subway go a LONG way towards eliminating the need for personal transportation.

When gass prices go through the roof, America is going to bear the brunt due to its complete disregard for maintaining the infrstructure of good mass transportation… and that infrastructure take a *LONG* time to build and develope and do right.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...