Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sun Glare Dangers - Spring and Fall Commutes

Photo by Ralph Bouwmeester

In the April 1, 2010, edition of the Omaha World-Herald, staff writer Nancy Gaarder spoke of the early morning sun blinding those driving to work at this time of year. To read the World-Herald article, click here. For similar articles on this topic, see our Site Map.

During a telephone interview with Ms. Gaarder, we were asked to explain why sun glare is such a problem at this time of year in so many cities. There are several reasons.

The sun rises and sets in line with
east-west streets at this time of year

Since the sun rises and sets in an east-west direction at the beginning of spring and fall (around March 21 and September 21), and given the east-west / north-south orientation of street grids in so many cities, the sun just so happens to rise and set in line with east-west streets at those times of year. After the change to Daylight Saving Time on the second Sunday in March, sunrise occurs one hour later, namely, around 7:30 a.m. CDT or so in the Omaha area, that is, during the thick of the morning rush.

While the spring and fall present challenges for drivers on east-west streets at sunrise and sunset, other street directions will be equally challenging at other times of year. Note that in Omaha the sun rises and sets more or less northeast and northwest during summer, and southeast and southwest during winter. Drivers should always make themselves aware of where the sun is or where it might be as they round a curve or crest a hill.

Living west of your place of work means
commuting into the sun morning and night

In cities such as Omaha where a large number of commuters live west of downtown, "a significant number of commuters are driving directly into the sun" during the morning commute in spring and fall. And the evening commute home can be equally dangerous.

Cooler temps mean less haze and brighter sun

Another factor that adds to the intensity of the sun's glare during spring and fall is that temperatures are generally cooler resulting in an atmosphere that is less humid and hazy.

First and last hour of daylight most dangerous

Sun glare seems to be most problematic for drivers during the first and last hour or so of daylight. At least this appears to be the trend in traffic accident cases we have been involved with. There are exceptions - in fact, visibility can be compromised anytime the sun is shining and particularly when it lies within the field of view of one's windshield. Generally speaking, the closer the sun gets to one's line of sight to an object, say another vehicle or a pedestrian, traffic light or stop sign, the more difficult it will be to detect the object. But it should also be noted that sun glare is not only a problem when the sun lies ahead - traffic signals and brake lights can be "washed out" when it shines from behind.

Be especially cautious when the sun is behind you

A special word of caution to drivers and pedestrians alike - if you see your shadow or the shadow of your car straight ahead of you in the road, you should assume that oncoming drivers are having difficulty seeing you. In other words, be extra cautious when the sun is behind your back and your shadow points toward an oncoming vehicle. Pedestrians can be fooled when the front of an approaching vehicle is lit up brightly by the sun - however, chances are the driver cannot see you very well. Be aware and be safe - assume they cannot see you at all!

Lurking in the Shadows

Ralph Bouwmeester calculates how proposed buildings
will limit the sunlight on adjacent homes



Blinded by the light:
Bouwmeester's program determines
the shadow that would be cast anywhere in the world.

It is enough to make you tear out your hair. A couple of years ago, you found a new townhome that was just perfect for you. It was centrally located, close to transit and shopping and came with a host of amenities that suited your lifestyle to a tee. The spring day you viewed it was clear and sunny, showing off the freshly landscaped exterior to advantage. The sunlight shone warmly on the freshly painted walls of a charming outside back patio, the outstanding feature that sold you on the place. Then, a year later, yikes.

The bulldozers came. They razed an entire row of old houses right behind your complex and up went a new condo building, situated in such a way that now it casts a shadow over your patio during the peak hours of summer sunlight, and your next-door neighbour's, too. The thing is, both you and your neighbour are at the end of the complex and it is pretty obvious that if they had made a few simple adjustments to the condo, you would still have your sunny patio and everyone would be happy. It is too late now. How come someone didn't do an analysis to figure this out before they built the damn thing?

If something like this has not actually happened to you, it has quite likely happened to someone you know. There are variations on the theme: The new monster home wedged into a street of older homes, casting permanent shade over the next-door neighbour's once-sunny breakfast nook; a house addition that looms over what was once the adjacent property's rose garden, now planted with gloom-loving ferns - you get the picture.

While architects and builders generally take into consideration the shadow impact of a new development or addition, often the method they use to figure out what is called "sun positioning" is based on generalized sunlight tables that cover a large geographical area. Site-specific sunlight projections can be askew. The discrepancy seems subtle on paper but the ramifications are huge for the homeowner or homebuyer left shivering in the dark by the inaccuracy. Enter Ralph Bouwmeester.

Mr. Bouwmeester is a Toronto-area civil engineer who created a unique solar computer model, a kind of hyper-sundial that accurately determines how much sunlight a building will get as well as where it will cast shade. The model is based on a series of astronomical formulas. For any position anywhere in the world, on any given date, it can calculate the position of the sun in terms of azimuth, the direction in relationship to true north and altitude, which refers to the height above an observer's horizon. To generate sun position data, basic input is required: dates, times and the observer's location expressed in latitude and longitude. Mr. Bouwmeester developed the basic program in 1982, making gradual improvements and refining the software for personal computer use in 1991. He has used the program on development projects since 1987.

The model can be used at the micro level for individual units and homes, as well as for large developments. Builders, developers, architects, municipalities, homeowners and ratepayers groups are lining up for Mr. Bouwmeester, who has saved many neighbour-hoods and properties from being eclipsed. His model is so effective he is in demand across North America,


having recently done sun-positioning analyses for office towers, high rises and single dwellings in California, Florida and New York City. The building and development boom in Toronto has revved his business into overdrive. While he has not consulted homebuyers directly as of yet, there is no doubt his services could be of value to someone who wants to make sure they are not getting a shady deal. He can tell prospective purchasers how much sunlight a property will get - and where it will fall - before they buy.

"I've been an amateur astronomer ever since I was a kid," says Mr. Bouwmeester, who became obsessed with sundials back in the early 1980's. "I wanted my model to take into account the fact that the Earth has an elliptical, not circular, orbit around the sun. Sundials, and the method many architects have used to determine sunshine at any given time of day, are based on latitude. But within each latitude the sun's position can change somewhat every 10 or 15 kilometres."

Mr. Bouwmeester got an opportunity to beta-test his model on a single-family infill project in Durham Region. A neighbour went to the Ontario Municipal Board, concerned that the new house would overshadow their property. Prior to the issuance of a permit, Mr. Bouwmeester was called in to do a sun-position analysis. There was good news all around. His survey concluded the shadow impact would be minimal and the house went up as planned.

His first high-rise project was the Oasis condominium in Don Mills. Another project in Scarborough, the St. Paul L'amoreaux retirement home at Warden and Finch Avenues, had Mr. Bouwmeester determining whether a new development next door would reduce the sun access of specific individual units. This led to minimal structural changes to the new building. In another situation, the owner of a downtown high rise wanted to transform its mechanical penthouse, which housed the building's electrical and utilities systems, by making some adjustments that would accommodate extra rental units. Would this affect sunlight on adjacent properties? Mr. Bouwmeester confirmed it would not.

Sometimes, his work has nothing to do with preventing disputes between neighbours. For a home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Mr. Bouwmeester was brought in to figure out how to position the swimming pool for maximum exposure to sunlight. He has even supplied evidence in court to support the claim of a defendant in a traffic accident case who maintained he had been blinded by the sun.

Mr. Bouwmeester is currently consulting on several proposed high-rise condominium projects, one in the Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue area, another at Yonge near Summerhill Avenue, and on a plan to develop 13 high-rise condos on a large parcel of vacant land in Mississauga. He is also advising on a site intensification project - the development of two new residential high-rise buildings on a site with three existing high-rises in the Bayview and Steeles Avenues area.

"Certainly, some architects stick with their own analyses," says Mr. Bouwmeester. "However, the ones I deal with appreciate the fact that they can concentrate on what they do best, that is, design the building. They prefer to leave the sun/shade analysis to someone else who can take responsibility for that component of the project."

That said, developments continue to be built in the Toronto area without accurate shadow-impact studies. Not far from where Mr. Bouwmeester lives in Barrie, Ont., a new high rise was built on the waterfront where it looms over a marina, casting it in shade for most of the day. "I wish they'd called me," he says.

Article re-printed from "National Post" September 22, 2001
"National Post"
is hereby acknowledged for the content.

A Sure Sign of Autumn: Sun Glare When Driving

By Judy RifE - The Times Herald-Record

Go ahead, croon along with Dino on that '50s station you're listening to in the car this morning.

Just remember, when the sun hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie, that it's not amore, but sun glare.

Sun glare, of course, can be a driving hazard around the calendar, but is especially perilous in the fall. Today's installment of You Ask/We Tell explains why this is so and what you can do about it.

"As the sun falls lower and lower on the horizon, sun glare becomes an issue simply because sunrise and sunset suddenly coincide with the heaviest commuting hours," said Paul Walker, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather in State College, Pa.

You do the astronomical math: The sun rose in these parts at 5:28 and set at 8:38 on June 21, the longest day of the year, and it will rise at 8:20 and set at 5:20 on Dec. 21, the shortest day.

If you conclude that this drive-time trick repeats in reverse in the spring, you're right. But the fall still holds the edge in the sun-glare sweepstakes because it often adds fog to the mix.

"There's a lot more fog in the fall,'' said Walker. "Water temperatures are at their peak, nights are longer, winds are lighter."

The best strategies for navigating this seasonal obstacle course are common-sense ones, since, as Sgt. Tom Ferritto at Troop T in Albany puts it, "You can't not go to work because of the angle for the sun."

Common sense is keeping the windshield spotless, inside and out; keeping sunglasses — polarized, please — handy, and keeping the dashboard and visors free of clutter.

"Make a habit of turning on your headlights when you leave the house in the morning, too," said Sgt. Scott Mohl at Troop F in Middletown. "Headlights, even hazard lights, will make your car more visible."

Common sense is not buffing the dashboard to a blinding shine.

"A big no-no is using a product like Armor All," said Ralph Bouwmeester, a civil engineer and sun position expert in Barrie, Ontario. "You want a little dust."

(Actually, Bouwmeester, who has reconstructed sun position for accident and crime scenes, thinks the highway would be a better place if dashboards were covered in black felt.)

But none of this common sense compensates for failing to be aware of your surroundings and alert to sudden changes.

"Many drivers don't anticipate well," Bouwmeester said. "They should be looking ahead, to see where the shadow lines are."

Commuters are most vulnerable to accidents when they're changing direction, not when they're driving straight into the sun. Negotiating a curve or making a left turn brings into play a new set of sun and shadow angles with the potential to obscure other cars or pedestrians, as well as pavement markings and traffic signals.

"And don't forget," said Bouwmeester, "when you're driving away from the sun, that the glare can wash out the brake lights of the car ahead of you."

Article re-printed from the "The Times Herald-Record", Middletown NY Oct 10, 2011
The Times Herald-Record is hereby acknowledged for the content.
Copyright © 2011 Dow Jones Local Media Group, Inc..

Equinox Means More Problems

By Mike Branom, East Valley Tribune

Photo by: Toru Kawana, Tribune

The early morning sun during the equinox season can create a glare that has the potential to make rush hour even more dangerous than usual.

Commuters are being blinded by the light. The Earth’s orbit around the sun and the compass-points layout of the Valley’s road system combine during the fall and spring equinox seasons to make rush hour even more dangerous than usual.

People who drive east from their homes to their jobs now are challenged twice daily to make out traffic signals, signs, pedestrians and other vehicles against a backdrop of dazzling sunshine.

The results can be fatal.

Last week, in a span of less than 14 hours, there were two collisions in Mesa in which a driver looking into the sun ran a red light. On Friday evening, the victim was a 14-year-old boy walking home from football practice; the next morning at a different intersection, a 51-year-old Gilbert man died when his vehicle was struck by a pickup.

Authorities blame the drivers, rather than the sun. But experts know glare can be a factor.

"In Arizona the sun is very bright, and if you’re not paying attention you can miss somebody because of it," said Paul Hallums, president and CEO of the National Traffic Safety Institute in Tucson. "It does interfere here substantially more than in other cities."

Unknown is exactly how much of a factor the sun is in crashes.

"It makes perfect common sense," said Linda Gorman, spokeswoman for Mesa’s transportation division. "But we just can’t prove it."

At least one expert who has studied the sun’s effects knows what Valley motorists face every September and March. Ralph Bouwmeester has made a business of advising builders where to place sun decks, windows and gardens. He also helps attorneys defend drivers who claim they were temporarily blinded by glare.

Angela Cruz ran the red light on Longmore, striking Sean Casey as he walked across Baseline Road around 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Bouwmeester’s computer re-creation places the sun within 7 degrees of straight ahead and 10 degrees up from the horizon. Translated to a 2-foot distance from Cruz’s eyes to the windshield of her Chevrolet Caprice, the sun was slightly less than 3 inches to left of straight ahead and 4 1 /2 inches up from the road.

The conditions were even worse at 7 a.m. Saturday when Antonio Hernandez ran a red light at Val Vista Drive on the eastbound off-ramp of U.S. 60. Hernandez was looking at a sun that was 6 degrees to the right of center and 8 degrees up from the horizon. He hit three vehicles, killing Lawrence Brabeck.

"It’s this time of year that is crucial," said Bouwmeester, whose Web site is

Sun protection

Some advice: Motorists aren’t helpless against the sun’s powerful rays. Police offer these tips:
• Slow down. If you can’t see well, give yourself more time to react.

• Don’t drive with a dirty, cracked or pitted windshield.

• Wear sunglasses. The more protection for your eyes, the better.

• Keep your sun visor clear of excess objects. "A lot of people put a lot of stuff up in their visors," said Arizona Department of Public Safety Sgt. Kevin Jex. "So, when they deploy the visor, they’re distracted by a bunch of papers falling in their laps."

Seeing through the glare

What is an equinox?

As we move toward fall the nights have grown longer and the days shorter. At the equinox, the day and night are equally 12 hours long.

How it affects the Valley:
1 Valley roads are built on a grid system that aligns directly north/south and east/west.

2 Because the sun is aligned with the equator during the equinox it rises in line with eastern roads and sets in line with roads in the west.

3 The atmosphere acts as a magnifying glass on the light hitting the Earth. The sun appears largest at sunrise and sunset because it is traveling though the largest distance of atmosphere.

SOURCE: Montana State University; Tribune research Andrew Long/TRIBUNE

Article re-printed from the "East Valley Tribune" September 29, 2005"East Valley Tribune" is hereby acknowledged for the content.© 2001 - 2005 All Rights Reserved.

Drivers, Beware of Sun's Glare

'The sun was in my eyes' is not an excuse, police say

By TOM ALEX - Des Moines Register


In your eyes: That early-morning and late-afternoon sun can be blinding.
Wear sunglasses and use your visor, police advise.

Turn a corner and it blinds you. Top a hill and it's worse.

Ignore precautions and it could kill you.

This is the time of year when the sun's glare is particularly dangerous for drivers and pedestrians. (See graphic.)

"For two or three weeks before and after September 4 and April 6, the early-morning and late-afternoon sun is lining up closely with Iowa's east-west streets," said Ralph Bouwmeester, a Canadian safety consultant and recognized expert on sun, shadows and the optical tricks they play on motorists.

Des Moines lawyer Sam Waters is also an expert on road glare. He learned the hard way.

"Our accident occurred December 26, 1999," he said, describing a sunny Sunday morning walk in Beaverdale with his wife, Elizabeth.

A driver, blinded by the sun, struck the couple.

"I flew onto the hood and did a somersault in the air and ended up 35 feet away," Waters said. "My wife hit the windshield, but didn't go very far."

Both had knee surgery and have since recovered.

Theirs was far from an isolated incident:

• Sept. 9, 2003: Authorities said glare might have been a factor in a crash north of Des Moines that killed a Pleasant Hill man.
• Aug. 27, 2003: Two people on a motorcycle died on the city's east side in a collision with an oncoming van whose driver blamed early-morning glare.
• Sept. 15, 2000: A 13-year-old boy was struck by a car but escaped serious injury on his way to school. The driver said the sun made it impossible to see the teen.
• Sept. 15, 1999: A truck loaded with jet fuel veered off Interstate Highway 80 west of Des Moines. The driver blamed the sun.
• Sept. 10, 1997: Authorities blamed a blinding rush-hour sun for two traffic accidents that injured an 11-year-old girl and the police officer sent to investigate.
• Sept. 16, 1993 : The sun was listed on reports as a contributing factor in several accidents, including a car-pedestrian accident that killed a Windsor Heights woman.
Thousands of accidents each year are blamed on road glare. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributed 168 deaths to blinded drivers in 2002, the lowest total in four years.

The problem is the autumnal equinox. The 23-degree tilt of Earth's axis places the sun on the horizon for eastbound traffic during morning rush hour. The tilt is what creates the seasons.

It also can create highway havoc.

"A major insurance company sponsored a study a few years ago that attributed this to driver fatigue resulting from the affect of the time change on the body clock," Bouwmeester said. "I would suggest that the cause may be linked to the fact that the sun appears lower on one's drive home from work."

The problem is at its worst the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset.

"The sun was in my eyes" is no excuse for an accident, said Des Moines Police Sgt. David Coy.

"Wear sunglasses, use your visor, delay your trip until the sun is higher in the sky," he said.

That means put down the cell phone and leave the radio dial where it is.

"Get all of that out of the way before you start driving, because you may need one hand to block the sun while you keep the other on the wheel," Coy said.

Article re-printed from the "Des Moines Register" September 16, 2004
The "Des Moines Register" is hereby acknowledged for the content.
Copyright © 2004, The Des Moines Register.

Shedding Light on Sun Glare

By Gordon Dickson
Dallas Fort Worth Star-Telegram Staff Writer

This time of year (ed. spring and fall equinoxes), the sun is rising directly to the east, and setting directly to the west. As a result, motorists who use east-west roads such as Interstate 20, Interstate 30 and Texas 183 are probably doing a lot of squinting.

Sun glare may be more of a factor in motor vehicle crashes than many people realize. It's a problem that becomes more pronounced in the fall and winter, when the days are shorter and the sun is setting during afternoon drive time.

Many police departments keep close track of other conditions -- rain, ice, snow and even darkness -- when filling out accident reports. But few keep track of glare.

Ralph Bouwmeester, a civil engineer who lives in Barrie, Ontario, says he has testified in dozens of court cases in which glare was cited as a factor in a fatal crash.

Bouwmeester, who says he has had a lifelong passion for sundials, has carved an interesting career niche.

He has developed a computer program that precisely tracks the path of the sun and its rays in just about any situation.

Lawyers often call upon his expertise to re-create light conditions in traffic accidents.

Using the program, Bouwmeester can build a computer model that takes into account weather conditions, smog and shadows cast by trees and buildings.

Glare seems to bother motorists more in late March, late September and when communities change to or from daylight savings time, he says.

"A disproportionate number of accidents occur after the switch back to standard time in the fall," he says. "There was an insurance company that did a study about it, and they were attributing it to the body clock and people being tired. Personally, I'm wondering if it's better attributed to the sun's changing position on the drive home. You come around a corner at 60 mph every day for two weeks without a problem. Now, all of a sudden, you're coming out of work with an hour's difference. All of a sudden, there's the sun and you weren't expecting it."

Sunlight doesn't have to be shining directly into your windshield to cause problems, Bouwmeester says.

"It can bounce off other cars, the asphalt on the road and even the dashboard," he says.

The Bush administration has proposed that the amount of federal money spent on highway safety be more than doubled to $7.5 billion over the next six years.

For several decades, exhaustive research has been conducted on how roads can be engineered better.

But only in recent years have researchers focused more of their attention on driver behaviors and distractions.

Here's betting that in the next few years more light will be shed on the dangers of sun glare.

Article re-printed from the "Dallas Fort Worth Star Telegram" September 15, 2003
The "Star Telegram" is hereby acknowledged for the content.
© 2003 Star Telegram and wire service sources.
All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

London 2012 Olympics - Sunrise/Sunset Times

To help you plan your London 2012 experience, we have posted sunrise and sunset tables for the Olympics and Paralympics venues.


Cheers, Ralph