As LED streetlight plans advance, Georgetown ANC calls for greater public input

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Some residents of Volta Place NW in Georgetown have complained about the LED streetlights installed there. However, Judah Gluckman, an official with the District’s Office of Public-Private Partnerships, said the lights will be dimmable and their brightness can be tailored to the neighborhood. The technology will also notify the District Department of Transportation immediately when a light bulb goes bad thanks to remote control features. (Brian Kapur/The Current/February 2017)

Long-delayed efforts to install energy-saving LED bulbs on the city’s 75,000 streetlights pushed forward last month when officials announced they had begun evaluating 11 contractors who applied for the modernization job.

But as the D.C. Department of Transportation advances its LED plans, community concerns remain about the lights’ appearance. Specifically, many residents have requested that bulbs have a lower Kelvin rating — meaning that they’d have a warmer yellow hue rather than a harsher, colder blue-white.

On Monday, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) unanimously asked city officials to consult with the community to determine which bulbs are appropriate for which streets.

“This is a community issue, so that’s why we want to be involved,” ANC 2E chair Joe Gibbons said. “Our job is to give advice, and if they’re not asking for our advice on something that is this important, I want to ask why.”

About 4,200 D.C. streetlights have already been outfitted with LED bulbs, Maura Danehey of the D.C. Department of Transportation told The Current. The city is currently focusing on Mount Pleasant in its LED replacement efforts.

The city’s standard for LED bulbs have color temperature ratings of 3000 to 4000 Kelvin. The District’s current streetlights range from 1900K to 2100K; for the LED conversion, activists on the issue across the city favor a 2700K standard. Danehey said the city is testing LED lights with a 2700K color temperature.

Gibbons told The Current that while he personally favors 2700K LED bulbs, he accepts that some streets may benefit from brighter lighting. He said that because the city has already begun reviewing contractors’ applications, it appears that decisions are already being made without consultation with community leaders.

But according to Danehey, residents are always welcome to provide input on the LED proposal. “DDOT continues to attend ANC and community group meetings to share information about the project, answer questions and gather feedback,” she wrote in an email.

In particular, legal mandates require the District to consider comments related to preservation issues in Georgetown because the city project is seeking federal funds, and the neighborhood is a federally designated historic district. “Section 106 requires federal agencies to consider the effects of projects they carry out, approve, or fund on historic properties,” a statement by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation reads.

A few bright LEDs are already in place on Gibbons’ own street, Volta Place NW.

“The intensity is so odd. It’s so debilitating, it’s so industrial,” he said. “But would they be good in a parking lot? Probably.”

Overly harsh LED lights are associated with health risks, according to the American Medical Association. The group cites dangers to drivers, compromised sleep quality and adverse effects for animals. However, LED bulbs require less energy and are projected to be longer-lasting and more reliable.