Monthly Science: Burnett Signal Timing

The NYS DOT has been improving the pedestrian crossings at the Burnett – Rt 55 intersection. I expect this will be a bullet item in their Complete Streets compliance document, with favorable job reviews for all parties. The situation for bicyclists using the intersection, which provides the only access from Poughkeepsie to the Dutchess Rail Trail, hasn’t changed in the slightest. No signal timing adjustments, no bike-capable sensor loops, no lane markings, no shoulders, no nothing.

Here’s what NYS DOT’s Complete Streets program looks like from our perspective, with the four-digit frame numbers ticking along at 60 frame/sec.

We’re waiting on Overocker Rd for Burnett traffic to clear enough to cross three lanes from a cold start:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 0006
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 0006

That building over there across Burnett is the NYS DOT Region 8 Headquarters, so we’re not in the hinterlands where nobody ever goes.

We’re rolling:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 0258
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 0258

The Burnett signals just turned green, although the cars haven’t started moving yet, and we’re accelerating out of Overocker:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 0463
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 0463

About 1.5 seconds later, the vehicles have started moving and we’re lining up for the left side of the right-hand lane:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 0752
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 0752

There’s no traffic behind us, so we can ride a little more to the right than we usually do, in the hopes of triggering the signal’s unmarked sensor loop:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 1178
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 1178

We didn’t expect anything different:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 1333
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 1333

We’re rolling at about 12 mph and it’s unreasonable to expect us to jam to a stop whenever the signal turns yellow. Oh, did you notice the truck parked in the sidewalk over on the left?

As usual, 4.3 seconds later, the Burnett signals turn red, so we’re now riding in the “intersection clearing” delay:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 1593
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 1593

Two seconds later, the Rt 55 signals turn green:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 1711
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 1711

Did you notice all three eastbound lanes of Rt 55 (on our right) were occupied? That means a driver can’t come zipping through without stopping at the green light in their direction.

One second later, we’re still proceeding through the intersection, clearing the lethally smooth manhole cover by a few inches, and approaching the far side:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 1771
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 1771

Here’s what the intersection looks like behind me:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - rear 1
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – rear 1

Another second goes by and we’re pretty much into the far right lane , with the westbound traffic beginning to move:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 1831
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 1831

The pedestrian crossing ladder has fresh new paint. They milled off the old paint while reconstructing the crossing, so the scarred asphalt will deteriorate into potholes after a few freeze-thaw cycles. Not their problem, it seems.

Although it’s been three seconds since Rt 55 got a green signal, the eastbound drivers remain stunned by our presence:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - rear 2
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – rear 2

After another second, we’re almost where we need to be:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 1891
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 1891

There’s a new concrete sidewalk on the right, with a wheelchair-accessible signal button I can now hit with my elbow when we’re headed in the other direction. It’s worth noting there is no way to reach Overocker by bicycle, other than riding the sidewalk; there’s only one “complete” direction for vehicular cyclists.

One second later puts us as far to the right as we can get, given all the gravel / debris / deteriorated asphalt along the fog line near the curb:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - front 1957
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – front 1957

Which is good, because four seconds after the green signal for Rt 55, the pack has overtaken us:

Burnett Signal - 2020-09-25 - rear 3
Burnett Signal – 2020-09-25 – rear 3

If you were the driver of the grayish car in the middle lane, directly behind the black one giving us plenty of room, you might be surprised at the abrupt lane change in front of you. Maybe not, because you had a front-row seat while we went through the intersection.

Elapsed time from the green signal on Burnett: 25 seconds. My point is that another few seconds of all-red intersection clearing time wouldn’t materially affect anybody’s day and would go a long way toward improving bicycle safety.

Unlike the pedestrian crossing upgrade, NYS DOT could fix this with zero capital expenditure: one engineer with keys to the control box, a screwdriver or keyboard (depending on the age of the controls), and the ability to do the right thing could fix it before lunch tomorrow.

But it’s just a typical bike ride on NYS DOT’s Complete Streets, where their planners & designers claim to “promote pedestrian and bicycle travel for all persons.” Maybe that’s true somewhere in NYS DOT’s fantasies, but you’ll find far more evidence from our rides, with plenty of numbers, showing that’s not the case around here.

Comment Spam Attack

Of late, the blog has been getting 500 hits per day, with 60-ish on the main page and 30-ish on the post of the day. The “Hot Topics” posts (over in the right column, down a bit) account for a scant hundred more hits, with the remaining 300 hits distributed in onesies and twosies along the very, very long tail of 4200 posts.

Then this happened:

Spam Attack - Page Hits
Spam Attack – Page Hits

It seems a spammer noticed my posting activity and unleashed either a script or, more dismally, a stable of low-wage third-world workers to make a comment on every single post in the blog.

The Akismet scanner flagged three dozen comments made on the most recent posts, with the remaining 4500 (!) page views producing zero comments, because, some years back, I had disabled comments on posts older than a few dozen days. I disliked doing so, because I value comments from folks who contribute to the discussion, but …

The IP addresses seem to point back to compromised servers and pwned Windows boxes in the US, with very few foreign sources. The comments themselves consist of the usual gibberish, often run through a thesaurus (known as “spinning”) to improve the odds of evading the detectors. The payload seems to be the URLs attached to the random user names, all pointing to sites touting Vietnamese (!) scams, Russian pharmaceutical sources, online gambling dens, and the like.

And then, after two days, it was over.

Which is why I really really do not want to manage my own blog infrastructure, infuriating as WordPress-dot-com’s editor might be.

EonSmoke Vape Debris

Being the type of guy who uses metal bits & pieces, I thought this might be a useful aluminum rod:

EonSmoke vape stick
EonSmoke vape stick

It turns out to be an aluminum tube holding a lithium cell and a reservoir of oily brown juice:

EonSmoke - peeled open
EonSmoke – peeled open

The black plastic cap read “EonSmoke”, which led to a defunct website at the obvious URL. Apparently, EonSmoke went toes-up earlier this year after ten years of poisoning their customers, most likely due to “competitor litigation”.

The black cap held what looks like a pressure switch:

EonSmoke - switch
EonSmoke – switch

Suck on the icky end of the tube to activate the switch, pull air past the battery (?), pick up some toxic vapor around the heater, and carry it into your lungs:

EonSmoke - reservoir heater
EonSmoke – reservoir heater

Maybe there’s a missing mouthpiece letting you suck on the icky end, activate the switch, pull vapor through the heater, and plate your lungs with toxic compounds. I admit certain aspects of my education have been sadly neglected.

The lithium cell was down to 1.0 V, with no overdischarge protection and no provision for charging, so it’s a single-use item. I’m sure the instructions tell you to recycle the lithium cell according to local and state regulations, not toss it out the window of your car.

I had to wash my hands so hard

Sharing the Road on NYS Bike Route 9: Squeeze Play

I’m southbound on Rt 376, a.k.a. NYS Bike Route 9, riding inches to the right of the fog line on the only sliver of navigable asphalt remaining after NYS DOT applied homeopathic scab patches along this section:

Rt 376 SB Marker 1110 - Near Miss - oncoming bicyclist and wide trailer - 2020-07-07
Rt 376 SB Marker 1110 – Near Miss – oncoming bicyclist and wide trailer – 2020-07-07

On the northbound side, another cyclist rides the sliver of pavement between the fog line and the gravel ridge built up from the deteriorating patches, being overtaken by a huge pickup towing a full-width quad-wheel trailer full of lawn maintenance equipment. The driver has eased about as far toward the yellow line as possible to give the cyclist barely enough clearance:

Rt 376 SB Marker 1110 - Near Miss - oncoming trailer - 2020-07-07
Rt 376 SB Marker 1110 – Near Miss – oncoming trailer – 2020-07-07

I am not “taking the lane”, because I’m towing a trailer of groceries and there’s always overtaking traffic coming around the blind curve behind me:

Rt 376 SB Marker 1110 - Near Miss - horn - 2020-07-07
Rt 376 SB Marker 1110 – Near Miss – horn – 2020-07-07

You can’t hear the car’s horn, but it’s right in my ear.

The white patches beside and behind the trailer are the fog line paint on the original asphalt surface showing through the disintegrating scab patch. Cyclists cannot ride safely on broken pavement with half-inch discontinuities, which is why I’m to the right of the fog line, mostly off the edge of the patch. If I “took the lane” as expected by NYS DOT, I would be riding about two feet into the lane, in line with the car’s right headlight, to avoid the wheel-grabbing longitudinal fissures showing through the scab patch.

Elapsed time: 10 seconds.

Just another day of bicycling on NYS Bike Route 9, one of the roads NYS DOT makes “safe and functional for all users.”

Traffic Signal Timing: Burnett at Rt 55 Clearance Interval

Back in the day, John Forester’s Effective Cycling defined how vehicular bicycling should be done; our now-fragile comb-bound 1980 Third Printing of the 1978 Third Edition still has a place of honor on our bookshelves. I recently discovered his analysis of how traffic signal timing should work online, which says I’ve drawn the wrong conclusions from my observations of the absurdly short green / yellow / red cycle on Burnett Blvd at Rt 55, just in front of NYS DOT’s Region 8 headquarters.

The phasing sequence that is required by current traffic law is as follows:

1. Green, which may be very short when only one vehicle is waiting

2. Yellow, of only sufficient duration to allow a stop from maximum legal speed before entering the intersection

3. Red (a 4-way red), for sufficient additional time for traffic to clear the intersection before the conflicting green appears.

Forester: https://johnforester.com/Articles/Facilities/traffsig.htm

With that in mind, here’s how his analysis stacks up against one of our recent trips through the intersection. The four-digit number in the picture titles gives the time in frames at 60 frame/sec.

We’re stopped one car length behind a long trailer of paving equipment sporting an Iowa license plate. The driver has stopped with the trailer straddling the lane divider line, so we cannot determine which way he will turn. Because we no longer trust turn signals, despite the trailer’s blinking left signal, we will not pull up beside it in the right lane.

Frame 0127, T = 0 s, Δt = 0 s: The signal has just turned green:

Burnett Opposing Green - AS30V - 2020-06-26 - 0127
Burnett Opposing Green – AS30V – 2020-06-26 – 0127

Frame 0264, T = 2.28 s, Δt = 2.28 s: The trailer has started moving and Mary is rolling behind it, with her foot just coming off the ground:

Burnett Opposing Green - AS30V - 2020-06-26 - 0264
Burnett Opposing Green – AS30V – 2020-06-26 – 0264

Frame 0721, T = 9.9 s, Δt = 7.6 s: The signal turns yellow, after DOT’s additional five seconds of green; previously, we had five seconds and would have been able to stop. We’re accelerating as hard as we can, but Mary has barely passed the stop line:

Burnett Opposing Green - AS30V - 2020-06-26 - 0721
Burnett Opposing Green – AS30V – 2020-06-26 – 0721

Of course, entering an intersection on a stale yellow is undoubtedly unwise. It is not so unwise for someone traveling fast, because that person may well clear the intersection before the conflicting traffic starts. It is much more unwise for someone traveling slowly, but it is done and it is lawful.

Forester, ibid.

We’ve traveled about three car lengths in the seven seconds since the trailer started moving. Our bikes will sometimes trigger the signal if we’ve stopped in exactly the right spot over the unmarked sensor loops, but we have never observed our bikes retriggering the signal to lengthen the green or yellow phases as we ride through the intersection.

NYS DOT apparently expects us to stop abruptly when the signal goes yellow, wherever we may be with respect to the stop line and regardless of how fast we may be moving. In fact, given what you’re about to see, we’re expected stop on green to ensure we can start from the stop line during the next green signal.

Frame 0983, T = 14.2 s, Δt = 4.4 s: The signal turns red. The trailer is visible on the left, beyond the median signage, but we haven’t reached the middle of the intersection. I’m lined up with the rightmost lane of westbound Rt 55 and Mary is about in the center lane. The white car on our right is stopped, the black car is slowing to a stop:

Burnett Opposing Green - AS30V - 2020-06-26 - 0983
Burnett Opposing Green – AS30V – 2020-06-26 – 0983

Frame 1101, T = 16.2 s, Δt = 2.0 s: The opposing signal goes green for Rt 55 traffic, while we’ve barely reached the middle of the intersection:

Burnett Opposing Green - AS30V - 2020-06-26 - 1101
Burnett Opposing Green – AS30V – 2020-06-26 – 1101

Frame 1205, T = 18.0 s, Δt = 1.8 s: I’m lined up with the median, Mary’s in the center lane of eastbound Rt 55, putting us squarely in front of drivers who may be unable to see us through the stopped cars. The drivers to our left are, fortunately, waiting, unlike a previous crossing:

Burnett Opposing Green - AS30V - 2020-06-26 - 1205
Burnett Opposing Green – AS30V – 2020-06-26 – 1205

Frame 1440, T = 21.9 s, Δt = 5.7 s: After 22 seconds, we’ve cleared the intersection and are proceeding eastbound on Rt 55:

Burnett Opposing Green - AS30V - 2020-06-26 - 1440
Burnett Opposing Green – AS30V – 2020-06-26 – 1440

Forester observes the all-red phase must be lengthened to allow cyclists to clear the intersection. Right now, two seconds isn’t enough. Ten seconds would suffice for a pair of reasonably fit, albeit aging, cyclists.

This system fails to provide the required safety in the case of bicycles for three opposite reasons.

1. Bicycles are small and are harder to see. In particular, the most visually impressive part of the bicycle and rider is low down where it is easily shielded from view by the hoods of motor vehicles. Sometimes the only part of the cyclist that can be seen by drivers waiting at the stop line with other vehicles on their left is the head of the cyclist.

2. The cyclist crossing a typical intersection is close to the fronts of the line of cars waiting at the stop line on the cyclist’s right. This is not good judgement on the part of the cyclist, but so much emphasis has been put on staying far right that this position is typical.

3. The cyclist who is traveling slowly, or, more importantly, is starting from a minimum-duration green, is barely into a wide intersection when the conflicting green appears.

The result is a car-bike collision as one of the vehicles in the lanes nearest the curb starts up, or speeds up, and hits the cyclist who suddenly appears in front of it.

Forester, ibid.

I’ve had a DOT engineer tell me, sneeringly, that they don’t design facilities for “professional cyclists”, which commuting to work evidently made me; he was not, however, a “professional driver” even though he used a car for a similar purpose. It’s obvious DOT doesn’t design facilities for “ordinary” cyclists, either, and the evidence suggests they don’t design facilities for cyclists, period, full stop.

I still want someone from NYS DOT to explain how this “makes our highway systems safe and functional for all users“, perhaps by bicycling with us through the intersection a few times, but I’ve never gotten a response, let alone an answer, to anything I’ve ever sent their way.

Dehumidifier Scrapping

Dutchess County has another Household Hazmat / Electronics Disposal Day coming up, so I harvested some useful parts from the three dead dehumidifiers lurking under the bench.

The (perfectly good) blower motor in one unit lives inside a convenient plastic housing:

Scrap Dehumidifier Blower Motor - housing
Scrap Dehumidifier Blower Motor – housing

It’s sitting on three foam pads hot-melt glued to three wood blocks cut to fit inside three convenient molded features, making it nice & quiet & stable.

The motor uses a nice polypropylene run capacitor:

Scrap Dehumidifier Blower Motor - 6 uF cap
Scrap Dehumidifier Blower Motor – 6 uF cap

Which is also perfectly good:

Scrap Dehumidifier Blower Motor - 6 uF cap test
Scrap Dehumidifier Blower Motor – 6 uF cap test

The motor includes a wiring diagram:

Scrap Dehumidifier Blower Motor - wiring diagram
Scrap Dehumidifier Blower Motor – wiring diagram

I lashed it together with a chopped-off IEC cord, because the stock dehumidifier cords are just way too stiff. The motor and blower originally pulled air through the dust filter, the condenser, and the evaporator, before blowing it out the side, so it’s running pretty much unloaded. A quick test shows there’s not much difference between the high and low speeds:

  • High: 1050 RPM, 80 W, 12.5 m/s air flow
  • Low: 1000 RPM, 77 W, 11.7 m/s air flow

Low speed seems slightly less noisy, but the wiring now has insulated QD connectors just in case I ever want to run it at full speed.

For whatever it’s worth, the most recent dehumidifier failed one year into a two year warranty, but the company decided it was simpler to just refund the purchase price than to replace the unit. It seems the “sealed system” inside loses its refrigerant after a year and there’s no practical way to seal a small leak and recharge the system; unlike an automotive air conditioner, the tubes are soldered shut after the initial charge.

They all sport Energy Star badges, but throwing away the whole damned thing every year or two tells me we’re not measuring the right values. Obviously, somebody could make a worthwhile dehumidifier, but as of now Frigidare, GE Appliances (sold to Haier), and Danby are on my shit list. Next year, I expect to add HomeLabs to the list, because the dehumidifier is identical to the Danby unit (and, ah-ha comes with a 2.5 year warranty). They’re all made by Haier (or another Chinese factory) and nobody applies any long-term QC to their products.

Stonework FAIL

The strip mall down the road recently sprouted ersatz stone pillars around the steel posts holding up the roof:

Ersatz stone pillar failure
Ersatz stone pillar failure

Six days later, more slabs have fallen off the first pillar in the row:

Ersatz stone pillar - failure 2
Ersatz stone pillar – failure 2

And the second pillar:

Ersatz stone pillar - failure 3
Ersatz stone pillar – failure 3

Those fancy(-ish) bases consist of a wood frame covered with a mortar layer holding tiles of imitation stonework. From what little I know of stonework, mortar works only in compression, so you can’t glue tiles onto the side of a concrete lump using mortar.

Epoxy, maybe. Silicone snot, probably. Mortar, nope.

This happened barely weeks after the project’s completion, so I foresee poor ROI for the mall owner and plenty of warranty work for the contractor.