Bit of background. Graduated from SWTC Industrial Electronics way back in the day, so I love gadgets and in my spare time like to keep the skills up with the odd project.
Just as the Red Light Camera (RLC) on Sherbrook was being put into operation, I did a news story and got into the department off William where they designed and built the traffic signals. It was odd seeing all these boxes and whatnot inside, all open and wires hanging out. What stood out for me was the 6 ft. tall rack filled with what can only be described as the inner-workings of Wells' Time Machine. A rambling collection of dials, tumblers, energized fingers, belts, gears, and just for fun a flux capacitor in the form of a modern logic board with 7-segment displays and screw down terminals. A bundle of a few dozen wires went from various levels of the rack into the wall, and as I was told, fanned out to half the city's intersections. As tempting as it was to drop a penny into the works, this steampunk supercomputer was orchestrating the rush hour traffic chaos for most of central Winnipeg, and had been since before the dinosaurs got the big dirt nap. Right there, in a busy hustle bustle shop, the brain that no one dared disconnect for fear of plunging Winnipeg into anarchy. You think something this important would be under glass like the Mona Lisa. I can't over-emphasize the fragility of this set up. Yes, those wheels have been turning a zillion times, and the gear teeth all work well, the contacts still contact. But what IF something failed in there. Today, you can download an app for an iPhone that can do the work of all the city's control systems. Am I ragging on the traffic division? I suppose there's only so much you can do when the budget says you gotta hook up at $2 micro controller to knob & tube wiring.
Anyways, there's the background on where I stand on traffic lights. Let me adjust my tin foil hat, and on with the show.
This video shows that a light can indeed be both red AND green at the same time. And also neither red, amber or green. The bonus to this little nugget is that the 'filament' signals happened to be connected to a RLC. I've always been for the RLC, I thought that the technologies involved were bang-on accurate. No room for doubt.
I feel like someone just told me Santa doesn't exist. I had more faith in the RLC's than God herself. I'm very confused by what my eyes are seeing. Lights are on, off, somewhere in between, alone or with a friend. What pops into my mind seeing this, is it really a visible, unmistakable red you are running when the RLC does it's thing?
Please don't think I'm going all Zapruder on you, but look at frame 1249. Inside the control box, the power to the amber light has just been disconnected. It's been burning hot & bright for the past 4 seconds, and the filament will take a short time to cool down. From frames 1249 to 1288 that bulb is losing it's glow. Probably would be visible longer if this were shot at night. What might those number mean? This video was shot at 60p, slowed down to play at 10% speed, while on a 24p time line. Exported at 24fps. Whatever that works out to. If I had stronger math skills, I would have been the 3rd Mythbuster. You can go out and see the cooling down with the naked eye.
Back to the left... Sorry, I mean, back to the lights. So after a little while, the faint glow of Mr. Red shows up at 1261. Think back to when the last time a lamp was so bright, so sure in it's purpose. Mr. Amber's last stand was at 1248. And now Mr. Red does his best HAL impression at 1300.
Think about this for a second. The amber lamp is without power at 1249, and the red doesn't get power until 1261. Something in the traffic controller is saying "Cut power to amber..ok.. standby for power on red....wait..wait for it.....wait....wait... hold on...wait.... NOW.... take red!!". what is the legal definition of this time period ? In TV, any gaps in video between commercials are black frames not earning money. Here, we don't have an energized lamp of any colour.
The power is gone from Amber, all you see now is the natural cooling down of the filament, and the time it takes is variable based on ambient conditions, age of bulb, voltage, so on. You can't honestly say this cooling down period is part of that supposed 4 seconds of amber. The amber was in fact fully lit for 00:00:04:00 on the nose. Pre and after glow not counted.
So let's assume the glow isn't part of the overall timing of a signal, because the time between the removal of power to amber and giving power to red is bang on accurate every time. Amber starts to cool down, and shortly after, red gets it's power and begins to glow.
A similar gap is found in the LED signals from 1257 to 1268. I need a higher speed camera to shoot the LED signals, I suspect there is something going on that can't be picked up at 60p. But in any case, 1261 to 1264, no LED's are powered. I don't understand this. LED's are nearly instant-on or instant-off if you cut the power. And if computers run the show, why does it take so long between lamps ? Even with a backup system checking the state of the lamps, that should be like BANG-done, imperceptible to the eye (it's not) and certainly imperceptible to a higher speed camera.
Ok, so where does this fit with the RLC system? I still need to get some footage of this in operation. I wonder when does the logic signal called "red active" registers to the timing and control circuits for the camera and flash bulbs ? When that amber finger loses contact with power ? Or when the red finger runs over it's contact, or a fixed time shortly after the bulb has reached full brightness ?
This might seem so nit-picky, but I've heard from many people swear up & down the light was still yellow just before they got caught and thought they could still make it. How unfair would it be if the RLC got 'armed' just nanoseconds after the amber lamp loses power, but to your eyes (especially at night where persistence of vision comes into play), that friggen signal is amber as can be.
Suppose the light is red for 80 seconds, and this odd state of lamp power lasts for 1/4 second. This 1/4 second presents a misleading visual 'state' for 1/320th of the length of that cycle. But it's the early stages of the 'red' signal that catches the most people. Going through after 20 seconds is just stupid, shows no care for any state of lights. But when trying to beat the yellow, a your timing error will reward you with a photo even if you are sure it was still amber.
You've seen that amber going for the longest time, but you are a pretty good judge of your speed and timing wise, you should JUST be able to make it. Maybe you noticed that amber 2 seconds into it's cycle, and mistakingly thought you have 3 or 4 to go. I'll pick a reasonable number and say that in any intersection, yellow runners will cross the line within the first 2 seconds of the red . Now instead of this 'gap' being 1/Nth of a complete cycle, it's tuned into 1/8th of that 2 second 'gotcha!' time, length of cycle now irrelevant. That small gap in what you see and what is actually happening means there's a 12.5% percent chance your eyes saw some form of amber signal but still got the ticket for blowing a red.
All this above stuff doesn't even consider analog sampling errors with current loops in the roadway, and just where exactly does the car have to be in relation to the stop line for the starts to align for that Kodak Moment. It's going to take more time than I have to stakeout a RLC and get a good sampling to figure out these things. And I would have to add the data present on the photo tickets to judge true stop line position and armed vs. lamp state. Would have break the law to stage this.
I'll end with 1847 to 1854 where there is again, no definable state. I like 1859. Red Green. Someone jumped the red! No, they went on a green ! I'll look for footage where both directions are shown at the same time, so I can verify if there is an issue here for cross traffic.
Viewer's Video Vote: Pretty busy next week, might find edit time for one of these.
A) Illegal rush hour left hand turns
B) Blowing stop signs in front of a playground
Until next time, keep your stick on the ice..