LEDs as street lights?

The City of Boston is installing new lights on the sides of the streets in my neighborhood and others. But there’s a lot of controversy about these LED bulbs.

On April 14 the Dorchester Reporter published an article under the headline “New street lights get applause.” It included the following remarks:

The new lights, which were installed with the help of power company NSTAR and energy efficiency block grant funds, use longer-lasting, 39-watt light emitting diodes (LEDs), allowing for greater night-time visibility because the distribution of light is more even in its focus on the street, and involving less energy usage.

Local residents say they have noticed a difference. “It’s like night and day on Myrtlebank,” said Sean Weir, head of the Cedar Grove Civic Association. “For the most part, I think it’s great.”

City officials say they worked with St. Mark’s Area Main Street, the BOLD Teens, and the Codman Square Neighborhood Council on the installation.

Sounds good, right? But not according to Barry Mullen and Kevin Barry in a letter published six days later in the Reporter:

The LED lighting provides focused bright light in the direction that it shines, much like the LED flashlights. This leaves the areas not in the direct beam as much darker than the former lights. The brightness of the LED makes sharp black & white contrasts between the areas in and out of the LED light.

Conversely, the lighting that has now replaced the LED’s on St. Mark’s Rd. more effectively diffuse the light. They give a day-time effect to the light. One can now see people standing in the shadows.

Features and descriptions are much easier to discern than in the stark contrasts created by LED lighting.

This is a public safety issue. Was the police department consulted about the effectiveness of the lighting? I implore people to come to Florida St. and see the distinctions for themselves. At Florida St. one can stand in one spot to see Glenrose Rd. with the LED lights and St. Mark’s Rd. with their replacement lights. Similarly, one can stand at Lonsdale St. to compare its LED lights to the more universal lighting on Florida St.

While we are all in favor of saving money, it would not be wise to jump at the new program for that consideration alone. If crime can’t be seen with LED lighting, then how much have we really saved?

So, who’s right? I think I’ll take Barry and Kevin up on their suggestion for “people to come to Florida St. and see the distinctions for themselves.” Maybe they’re right, though I suspect the issue isn’t with LEDs but with wattage. Here’s the response from Commissioner of Public Works Joanne Masaro:

We will upgrade the wattage as needed. We understand that what works on one street may not work somewhere else. This project is very important and we will work to evaluate it and make changes as needed.

I’ll let you know what I observe. This is an empirical question.

Categories: Dorchester/Boston, Life