Right Turn on Red

It is time to put an end to right-turn-on-red. It unnecessarily puts pedestrians and bicyclists trying to cross at crosswalks in harm’s way. I’m old enough to remember driving when a red light meant stop—and stay stopped—always. I’ve never liked right-turn-on-red. During my 21 years working at the Iowa Department of Transportation, I learned that doing whatever we can to minimize the potential for driver confusion or uncertainty will always improve safety.

Massachusetts was the last state to adopt right-turn-on-red, on January 1, 1980. New York City still bans right-turn-on-red, unless a sign indicates otherwise. That should be the norm, not the exception.

Short of an outright ban, a good approach would be to put up signs at major intersections with crosswalks, as shown below, but I would add “or bicyclists” as bicyclists often must use pedestrian crosswalks when it is not safe to ride in the street.

“No Turn on Red When Pedestrians or Bicyclists Present” would be even better

The most dangerous situation occurs when a pedestrian (or bicyclist) is waiting for the crosswalk signal to turn from “Don’t Walk” to “Walk”, and a driver who will be crossing the pedestrian’s crosswalk is stopped at a red light. The driver is eager to make a right turn on red and can’t really see when your crosswalk signal turns to walk, so they may turn right in front of you at the same time you are (legally) starting to cross the intersection. This is even more dangerous for bicyclists because they move faster into the intersection than a pedestrian does. This situation is illustrated in the diagram below.

A pedestrian or bicyclist at the SE corner of this intersection is in danger crossing the street either west or north.

Here in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, a particularly dangerous location for pedestrians and bicyclists is the south-to-north crosswalk at the SW corner of the intersection of Bequette and US 18, where drivers frequently make right turns from US 18 EB to Bequette SB. Right turns should be prohibited here with a sign that says No Turn on Red When Pedestrians or Bicyclists Present.

The red “X” marks a particularly dangerous location in Dodgeville for pedestrians and bicyclists because right-turn-on-red is allowed here.

Year-Round Daylight Saving Time?

I’ve never been a fan of daylight saving time. During the warmest months for stargazing and other astronomy activities, daylight saving time (DST) puts the end of twilight (and every other astronomical event) an hour later: near, at, or past bedtime for children and early-rising adults.

The last time we tinkered with DST in the U.S. was to extend it in 2007 to begin the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November (previously it was the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October). We currently observe daylight saving time 65.4% of the year (almost ⅔) and standard time the remaining 34.6% of the year (a little over ⅓).

DST is a zero-sum game. Getting that extra hour the first weekend in November sure is nice, but we pay for it when we lose an hour the second weekend in March. For a few days in November, we feel like we’re sleeping in an extra hour, but for a few days in March, we feel like we’re getting up an hour earlier than usual.

While I would much prefer to stay on standard time all year long nationwide, there doesn’t appear to be much public support for that. On the other hand, there is a groundswell of support for going to year-round DST. Even this would be preferable to our current system, in my opinion.

We have toyed with the idea of year-round DST once before: from January 6, 1974 to October 27, 1974. During the winter months in early 1974, there was a lot of public outcry about schoolchildren going to school in the dark, and I’m sure the pre-sunrise cold was a factor, too. So, the year-round DST experiment was terminated early (it was supposed to last until April 27, 1975). Would it be any different this time around?

Northern states (where the winter nights are longest) would be most affected by year-round DST, as would areas in the far-western reaches of each of the time zones. Here in Wisconsin, we would see something like the following:

Some Highlights of Year-Round Daylight Saving Time in Wisconsin (times are for Dodgeville, WI)
  • Earliest End of Evening Twilight: 7:08 p.m. (around December 6)
  • Earliest Sunset: 5:26 p.m. (around December 9)
  • Latest Sunrise: 8:32 a.m. (around January 3)
  • Latest Onset of Morning Twilight: 6:50 a.m. (around January 6)
DateSunriseSunset
November 17:35 a.m.5:53 p.m.
November 157:53 a.m.5:37 p.m.
December 18:12 a.m.5:27 p.m.
December 158:25 a.m.5:27 p.m.
January 18:32 a.m.5:36 p.m.
January 158:29 a.m.5:51 p.m.
February 18:16 a.m.6:13 p.m.
February 157:59 a.m.6:31 p.m.
March 17:36 a.m.6:51 p.m.
March 157:12 a.m.7:08 p.m.

I have an idea. If we extend DST to year-round, why not also start the school day an hour later? There are studies that show that most students would benefit from a later start of the school day. Of course, that would also mean that many parents would probably want to start their work day an hour later, too. But if we do that, then what’s the point in going to year-round DST in the first place?

Many states are currently considering and some have even passed legislation extending DST to year-round, but federal law will have to change to allow any of these states to do this. Right now, states only have the right to opt out of DST altogether, as Arizona and Hawaii currently do.

Gas Tax and Road Maintenance

State and local roads and city streets have been in a downward spiral of deterioration for the past several years and something needs to be done. You have no doubt noticed this driving, but try riding a bicycle and you will really notice how bad things have gotten.

Here in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, many of the city streets are in such bad shape they are becoming dangerous for bicyclists. And more difficult, too. Ever try riding up one of our many hills on pavement that is badly cracked? No wonder I hardly ever see anyone else biking here.

I think the best way to fund road resurfacing and reconstruction projects is to increase fuel taxes. These taxes should not only fund maintenance of state roads, but local roads and city streets as well.

The current gasoline tax in Wisconsin is 51.3¢ per gallon. This includes the following components:

  • Federal tax: 18.4¢ per gallon
  • State tax: 30.9¢ per gallon
  • Petroleum inspection fee: 2.0¢ per gallon

Let’s increase gas taxes in Wisconsin by a minimum of 8¢ to 10¢ per gallon (more would be better) and use all of that revenue to resurface and reconstruct roads throughout the state. Small communities and rural areas are most in need of assistance.

Les Misérables

There have been many film adaptations of Victor Hugo’s timeless novel, Les Misérables, but after watching the 1935 film starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton last night, I am in no rush to see any of the others. It is, quite simply, perfect.

This movie says more in one hour and forty-eight minutes than most other movies (especially more recent ones) say in two or three hours. A riveting tale of unjust laws, poverty, inhumanity, cruelty, compassion, love, mercy, doubt, and morality, this is one of the most moving and inspiring movies I have ever seen. And just as relevant for us to today as it was in 1935 and when Victor Hugo wrote the book, first published in 1862.

We need movies like this to remind us (and in such complex and jaded times as these we do need constant reminding) that idealism can help each of us navigate through life, and—no matter what burdens we bear—to make the world a better place. Not a single minute in this movie is wasted, so artfully is each and every scene of the movie constructed. If you tire of (and are horrified by) the seemingly endless stream of dystopian prognostications in recent years, this movie is the perfect antidote. There is an alternative to a ruined world, and that change begins with you and me right now.

https://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/Les-Miserables/70073445

https://www.amazon.com/Miserables-Richard-Boleslawski/dp/B076LJ6Y7V/

All of the film adaptations of Les Misérables, including this one, have a number of departures from the original novel by Victor Hugo. Behind every great movie there is usually an even greater book, and I have been remiss in never having read Hugo’s classic. That deficiency will be rectified soon.

A Traffic Light at Merrimac

Even though the population of Dodgeville, Wisconsin is only around 4,800 people, there is quite a bit of traffic congestion along Dodgeville’s only real north-south through street: Iowa/Bequette, otherwise known as Wisconsin State Highway 23.

You’d never know it just driving through town, but the south part of WI 23 in Dodgeville is Iowa St. (S. Iowa St. south of Division St. and N. Iowa St. north of Division St.), and the north part of WI 23 is Bequette St., with the dividing line being Spring St., an unholy mess of an intersection that also includes Main St. and Diagonal St. (signed as Ohio St.). This is the perfect candidate for a roundabout if I ever saw one.

Making a left turn onto Iowa St. (which we often have to do) can be nerve-wracking with traffic, pedestrians, and in places poor visibility due to parked cars. A good way to solve this problem (and reduce the likelihood of accidents) would be to have one intersection along Iowa St. that has a traffic light. I think the ideal location for a traffic light would be the intersection of N. Iowa St. and Merrimac St.

Source: https://transportal.cee.wisc.edu/partners/community-maps/

Tax Choice

Wouldn’t it be nice if you got to choose where some of your income tax money goes? Where you the taxpayer have some say in how your hard-earned tax dollars are allocated?

Here in the dis-United States, about 50% of us want lower taxes, and 50% of us would be receptive to higher taxes provided that it pays for things we believe in like universal health care and low-cost or no-cost education.

Short of amicably splitting up our country (a civil separation), changing our tax policy may help alleviate some of the frustration many of us have that half of the country is keeping us from building the kind of country we want for ourselves and for our children.

Federal income tax, and state and local income tax (where in effect) would be divided into a non-discretionary portion (100% currently) and a discretionary portion.

When you fill out your tax return each year, you would designate the government agencies and programs where you want the discretionary portion of your taxes to go.

Going one step further, I would like to see taxpayers given the option to choose either the standard or a supplemental tax tier. Those who opt to pay higher taxes by choosing the supplemental tax tier would pay a fixed percentage more, regardless of income (like a true flat tax).

To be fair, those paying in at the higher supplemental tax rate should receive additional benefits compared to those paying in at the standard rate. This could mean lower medical costs, lower education costs, or increased social security payments during retirement, for example.

Would this be easier to implement than partitioning the U.S.? Perhaps. Would it be the more effective solution to satisfy those with very different viewpoints about the proper role of government? Perhaps not.

In my view, society is far too reliant on volunteers. If a job is worth doing, and if it is a benefit to society, then, more often than not, it needs to be a paid position. There is so much work of a humanitarian, educational, and environmental nature that needs to be done that cannot and will not be done by any capitalistic enterprise. As members of society, we all have an obligation to help fund these activities through strong government and non-sectarian non-profit partnerships.

I dream of a day when paying for our medical care is no longer tied to having health insurance through an employer, when each of us will have the freedom to work in a variety of capacities, for both profit and non-profit organizations, throughout our careers, and to receive adequate training and pay for those efforts.


Blue Light Blues

One by one, all of our warm white lights are being replaced by cold, harsh, bluish-white LEDs.  And it is happening fast.

Everywhere.  In our streetlights, our workplaces, even our homes.  How do you like looking into those blue-white vehicle headlights as compared with the yellow-white ones we have been using since the automobile was invented?

LED lighting is the way of the future, don’t get me wrong, but we should be specifying and installing LED lights with a correlated color temperature (CCT) of 2700K or 3000K—with few exceptions—not the 4000K or higher that is the current standard.

Why is 4000K the current standard?  Because blue-white LEDs have a slightly greater luminous efficacy than yellow-white LEDs.  Luminous efficacy is the amount of light you get out for the power you put in, often measured in lumens per watt.  But should luminous efficiency be the only consideration?  What about aesthetics?  In addition to luminous efficacy, there are other, more significant ways to reduce power consumption and greenhouse gas emissions:

  • Use the minimum amount of light needed for the application; no need to overlight
  • Use efficient light fixtures that direct light only to where it is needed; near-horizontal light creates annoying and visibility-impairing glare and light trespass, and direct uplight into the night sky is a complete waste
  • Produce the light only when it is needed through simple switches, time controls, and occupancy sensors; or, use lower light levels during times of little or no activity

Even the super-inefficient incandescent light bulb (with a CCT of 2400K, by the way), operating three hours each night uses less energy than the light source with the highest luminous efficacy operating dusk to dawn.  Think about it.

In my town, as in most now, the soothing orange 1900K high pressure sodium (HPS) streetlights are being replaced with 4000K LEDs.  That’s a big change.  It will completely transform our outdoor nighttime environment.  Warm-white compact fluorescents are 2700K, and even tungsten halogen bulbs are 3000K.  Do we really want or need 4000K+ LEDs?

We are currently witnessing a complete transformation of our illuminated built environment.  Not enough questions are being asked nor direction being given by citizens, employees, and municipalities.  The lighting industry generally wants to sell as many lights as possible at the highest profit margin.  We as lighting consumers need to make sure we have the right kind of light, the right amount of light, and lighting only when and where it is needed.

Bike Path to Nowhere

The Dodgeville area is badly in need of an off-road paved (asphalt) bike path.  Every time I go to Madison, I am envious of all the bike trails they have.  Why can’t small towns like Dodgeville and rural areas have some paved bike paths, too?  Brigham County Park in rural Dane County has a beautiful new trail.  Why not Iowa County?

I’d really like to see the Military Ridge Trail between Dodgeville and Ridgeway paved.  Anyone interested in serving on an ad hoc committee with me to make that happen?

There is a 5.1-mile paved trail called the Shake Rag Trail which runs along US Highway 151 between Dodgeville and Mineral Point, but it is far from ideal.  First of all, there is no safe way to bike to it from Dodgeville!  You can ride through the hospital parking lot to Heritage Lane, head south until you get to Brennan Rd., turn right, but when you get to WI Highway 23, you have to ride along the east shoulder of that busy road with fast-moving vehicles for 0.4 miles to get to the bike path, as shown in the map below.

What a relief!  You’ve now reached the paved bike path, and it is off-road!

But, after traveling only 0.5 mile, the bike path suddenly ends at Chris-Na-Mar Road.

You now ride 0.7 miles on Chris-Na-Mar Road, and then the off-road bike path starts up again.

Now, you get to ride 1.3 miles on an off-road paved bike path.  Yay!  But the bike path again abruptly ends at County Road YD.  It is not clear what you should do next except maybe turn around?

Persistence pays off, and if you soldier on you’ll find that you can ride 2.1 miles on County Road YD until you reach the off-road bike path again.  You’re almost to Mineral Point!

The bike path goes another 0.5 mile until it ends at Shakerag St. in Mineral Point.  You’ve traveled a total of 5.1 miles on the Shake Rag Trail, but less than half of it was on a bona fide bike path.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad that the Shake Rag Trail got built.  But for any of you who have ridden the crushed rock Military Ridge Trail between Dodgeville and Ridgeway (all off-road), you’ll understand how much nicer Military Ridge Trail would be than the Shake Rag Trail if only it were paved.

Earth’s Changing Climate

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued an important special report yesterday on climate change.  In the accompanying press release, they state the following:

    • Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.  Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This  means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.
    • This report will be a key scientific input into the Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland in December, when governments review the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.
    • We are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice.
    • Warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems.

In the Summary for Policymakers, the IPCC states that “warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts.”

This last point is very important.  Even if humanity disappeared from the face of the Earth tomorrow, it will take centuries to millennia for greenhouse gases in our atmosphere to return to pre-industrial levels.

Richard Wolfson, Professor of Physics at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, states in his excellent 2007 video course, “Earth’s Changing Climate” (The Great Courses, Course No. 1219),

The atmosphere, living things, soils, and surface ocean waters all represent short-term carbon reservoirs.  Cycling among these reservoirs occurs mostly on relatively short time scales.  In particular, a typical carbon dioxide molecule remains in the atmosphere only about five years.  But the rapid cycling of carbon through the atmosphere-biosphere-surface ocean system means that any carbon added to that system remains there much longer—for hundreds to thousands of years. Because the added carbon cycles through the atmosphere, the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide goes up and stays up for a long time.

We’ve known about this aspect of climate change for a long time.  It is based on solid science.  Any action we take now, either positive or negative, will affect Earth’s environment many generations into the future.

I know of no better introduction to climate science than Richard Wolfson’s video course.  Even though it was produced 11 years ago, it is still completely relevant.

Earth’s Changing Climate, The Great Courses, Course No. 1219

Help Save WWV and WWVH!

Read these articles about the proposed elimination of radio time services WWV (Fort Collins, Colorado) and WWVH (Kekaha, Kauai, Hawaii) in 2019:

https://www.voanews.com/a/time-may-be-running-out-for-millions-of-clocks/4554376.html

https://www.nist.gov/fy-2019-presidential-budget-request-summary/scientific-and-technical-research-and-services-3

And please sign this petition by September 15:

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/maintain-funding-nist-stations-wwv-wwvh

WWV continuously broadcasts time signals at 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz, and WWVH does the same at 5, 10, and 15 MHz.

There are many uses for these radio stations.  For example, I have a shortwave radio in my observatory and use the WWV voice time broadcasts on 2.5, 5, and 10 MHz to make sure my GPS clock is properly synchronized, and also use it to set my computer clocks accurately and well as my wristwatch.

WWV and WWVH are an important and reliable “low tech” backup to the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite constellation which can be used to derive accurate times.

Well over 50 million devices use the 60 kHz signal provided by WWVB to allow them to maintain accurate time, and eliminating this particular service would be devastating.  Whether or not shutting down WWVB is part of the proposed budget cuts remains to be seen.

These U.S. Government radio stations have been announcing accurate time since World War II.  We must do all we can to ensure their continued operation.