I read that after a power outage, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has to restart each and every traffic light in that area by hand. Really? Even a lamp is smart enough to come back on when the power returns. And how do they sync up if they're not centrally controlled? —P. Botfly

Have you ever noticed how the people who invented English just totally blew it on some words? Like how at some point somebody said, "What should we call the place where you build fires?" And somebody else was like, "How about the…um…fire…place?" and everybody was like, "Eh, close enough."

I mention this not because I'm writing this column on 4/20 (although I am), but because your letter reminds me that the phrase "power outage" has always struck me as one of these phoned-in coinages. If someone said, "Sorry, can't come to the door, I'm having a pants offage," you would think that was a pretty stupid way of putting it—and yet, here we are. Anyway, on to your question.

It's not true PBOT employees have to reset "each and every" signal—the newer signals, as we might expect in the modern world, are networked and remotely coordinated. (It's not your imagination that the signals downtown are timed to keep traffic moving at a bracing 12 mph.)

That said, many of Portland's traffic lights date from the 1970s—neither wired nor woke, their social media presence is pretty much nil. However—your "lamp" shade (ahem) notwithstanding—they are at least smart enough to come back on when the power returns.

It's just that when they do, they power up in flashing-red emergency mode. This turns the affected intersection into a four-way stop until such time as a friendly transportation worker comes along to reset the signal.

This is actually a safety feature, not a bug. While the power was out, authorities may have put other traffic control measures in place—temporary stop signs, or even a live cop directing traffic. A signal returning to normal operating mode unexpectedly might give a green light to traffic that shouldn't be moving, so the signal waits for a human to give the all clear.