Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rapid Flash Beacon Laboratory Study

    At the Texas Transportation Institute office buildings, they have a great setup for measuring the brightness of the devices or legibility of a sign and its font. The researchers here gave us some great insights into the work they are doing. With some very simple demonstrations, they showed us how we fail to evaluate things scientifically in many cases and their effects on the distance where the beacon is at its greatest intensity.
The example from this day was the importance of angle for the rapid flashing beacon on the percieved intensity. In the example, they modified the angle where the beacons were pointed by 5 degrees and it was pretty suprising what the differences were. It was also surprising how different vertical angles were and again, it made me wonder what guidance we are providing to our electrical staff to insure that the settings are within reason. It's another good example where the intent of the traffic control device needs to be confirmed by being OUT standing in the field.
The second example was the intensity of the rapid flashing beacon and measuring the intensity of the unit by measuring with an oscilliscope and understanding how the pattern of the device is affecting the perspective. It is also something that we needed to use to understand what the effect was on the people who may have epileptic episodes. One of the important issues that remain was to determine what the effect of multiple beacons was on the percieved flashing pattern. If you have three different beacons, how will that be percieved by those that are approaching the beacon? Is an overhead beacon needed? If so, is it rectangular or a circular device?
There are endless questions for this particular study and our intent was to narrow the focus of the effort to those elements that would be most valuable to the profession. I tried to emphasize the practical nature of the research problem statement. Obviously, there are neat things you can do with tools like the ones shown, but if we're not solving an existing problems, are we making the best use of the resources available? That is one of the areas where the Texas Transportation Institute research team seems to excel is that they are listening closely to the practitioners. Hopefully, they will see through the bias of each individual and make decisions that move multimodal transportation solutions forward that seek to balance the priorities of the community. Uniform traffic control devices are a noble goal, but local needs must be considered as well and the recognition that different communities will have priorities that yield differnet answers. 
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