extinguishing streetlights

I just noticed an old column about streetlights going out as people walk by, and sadly, noticed that the topic was never really resolved.

URLs: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/941028.html
and http://www.straightdope.com/columns/941111.html

I always believed this was mechanical, rather than electrical. For example, the lights on the drillfield at my alma mater, Virginia Tech, used to go out if you gave them a good whack, then come back on a few minutes later. We used to run around hitting them all so we could get the drillfield to utter darkness.

So, subsequently I always assumed this phenomenon (streetlights going out as you walked by) was something similar, caused by the vibration (or whatever) of your footfalls.

you MUST be joking, right?

how much do you weigh?

I’m not Godzilla or anything; if anything, I’d guess my weight is below average.

However, footfalls have a lot of force behind them, as anyone who has lived in an apartment can attest. Any physicists out there who can shed light on this (sorry, I couldn’t resist)?

Anyway, this is certainly no more ridiculous than the belief that it’s some sort of electromagnetic disturbance emanating from your body.

You are right there… Equally ridiculous would be a correct statement :wink:

We may need to file this under my annoying young man past but I used to put streetlights out in Torrance, California with a spotlight. There’s a light sensor on top that detects the presence of intense light (presumably daylight) and kills the light until darkness falls again. Persons with automobile accidents on Ocean Ave in the mid-70s please flame me now!

The kids today should defend themselves against the 70s. It won’t work for you.

Look forward, not back.

How many did you manage to put out at once?
Enough to really be a danger to public safety?

Just wondering what on earth you were using as a spotlight.

I encountered the lights out phenomenon while at college in the early 90s. We always attributed it to motion sensors directed towards the ground, apparently having a radius of about 25 feet. One person could walk by and the light would go out, then have another person do the same and turn it back on. If the second person didn’t pass by quickly enough, the light came back on anyway in about 5 minutes.
The sensors, if that’s what they were, were tuned to detect even very small motion - I once saw a squirrel turn one on and scurry away in alarm.

As much as I love a good electromagnetic convulsion theory, it turns out to be pretty mundane as far as anamolies go. The boys down at Public Works tell me that a lot of the streetlights have overload switches to let them cool off every now and then, thus extending the life of bulb and lamp.
How many Public Works guys does it take to change a light bulb, anyway?

Okay, I bite…How many?

Kara’s Bizarre Movie Quote for the Day:
“It’s the Amazing Technicolor Cheese Wedge!”
–MST3K The Movie

I know that there was a light in my neighbourhood that would go out every time | kicked it.

Don’t know if this happens with other lights or just that one, I didn’t really go around experimenting…

Hmmm… I’ll try it tonight and report back with the results. Anyone else care to try?

I think I managed about 3 or 4. I was using a spotlight that my dad had mounted on the Oldsmobile station wagon we had at the time. He wouldn’t let me drive it so I had to amuse myself. No real danger that I remember, just spooky spooky spooky!

The kids today should defend themselves against the 70s. It won’t work for you.

Look forward, not back.

Just thought I’d let everybody know that Cecil just barely received national radio attention due to this column.

I was listening to Dr. Dean Edell yesterday, and he was referring to a fax that he had gotten. Apparently, the Dr. had mentioned something in a previous program (or earlier in yesterday’s, I didn’t tune in at the beginning) about this “phenomenon,” and a listener faxed in Cecil’s column. The doctor didn’t attribute the column, and at one point while reading he wondered aloud what the source was, so apparently the listener only faxed him the text.

In any case, he got to the sentence about the “Straight Dope Science Advisory Board,” and even though it came out more like “Straydope sice avisrybord” (is it just me, or does the good Dr. sound somewhat drunk most of the time?), I recognized the term immediately.

So maybe Cecil will want to give the good Dr. a call, to make sure that he gets credit. Or maybe it’s enough that the teeming millions know.


If enough people read this thread to make it statistically valid, a survey may add some validity to this question.

This phenomenon seems to happen to me in spells – it will happen a lot for a while (that I notice), then I get a ‘dry’ spell. The girl I just started dating said the same thing happens to her.

The Big Questions to anyone reading this thread (please reply on this thread):
Do you notice streetlights going out when
you get near them with any consistency?
Do you think that this is ridiculous?

It’s happened to me. We used to call them “dealer friendly” back in the day.

I’d just like to confirm the original poster’s statement that the lights at Virginia Tech DO go out as people walk by (sometimes) or when people give them a good nudge (everytime). I went there too, and it is very easy to knock one and make it go off. Occasionally they would go off as I walked by one. I assumed it was for the same reason that knocking them turns them off. Something to do with vibrations? These aren’t normal streetlights though, we’re talking about the campus lights. They’re halogen lights on 10 foot poles that are constructed poorly enough that a 120 pound weakling such as myself can shake them well, and probably knock one over.

The only place I ever experienced this with any degree of regularity was in Marion, AL.
And yes, I think it’s ridiculous, but apparently it’s also a topic of burning interest to about a dozen people. I know I’m always up for a little light banter.