D.C. to replace streetlights with dimmable LED lights

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)

New street lights are coming to the District.

Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs will be installed in 75,000 street lights across the city early next year. But D.C. residents have made clear to Judah Gluckman that they do not love the garish night.

“We have heard loud and clear that blue lights are not welcome in D.C.,” Gluckman told Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F (Logan Circle) at an April 4 meeting. Gluckman acknowledged that some people have public health concerns about the lights. He is an official with the District’s Office of Public-Private Partnerships (OP3).

Gluckman said the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will know immediately when a light bulb goes bad, thanks to remote control features, allowing science to annihilate distance.

The street lights can be customized to a degree hitherto impossible.

“We can dim them and make them neighborhood-friendly,” he said. “Maybe at 3 a.m. you don’t need 100 percent [illumination] and we can set it at 50 percent.”

Gluckman’s presentation was replete with scientific and technological terms related to light and lighting. He spoke at some length about various “kelvin” measurements. A kelvin is a unit in a temperature scale used in thermodynamics. The kelvin is often used in the measure of the color temperature of light sources. The higher the color temperature, the more white or blue the image will be. The reduction in color temperature will give an image more dominated by reddish, warmer colors.

Gluckman said residential streets would probably be set at 2,700 kelvin, a level that provides light in the amber to orange range. Lights on busier street corridors like 14th Street might be turned up to 3,000 kelvin.

One audience member complained about the brightness of the present lighting in Thomas Circle and asked if it would be dimmed under the new luminous dispensation.

ANC member Alex Graham said the lights in traffic circles like Thomas Circle and Logan Circle are controlled by the National Park Service, not DDOT.  

Gluckman did say all the new lights under the city’s jurisdiction will have shielding and dimming.

“We are just lighting the streets and sidewalks, not your living room,” he said.  

According to the OP3 website, the street light modernization campaign also provides a chance “to incorporate smart city technologies in the light facilities that provide broadband Wi-Fi [and] enhanced cell phone services.

“The project will also deploy Smart City technology, including wireless access points that will expand the District broadband Wi-Fi network and serve as a platform for future uses and applications. This component of the project will generally require every fourth or fifth pole to have a wireless access point. Clear specifications will be provided to ensure the District maintains the highest level of IT security, the District’s data-sharing policy, and protects the information and privacy of all users of the WiFi system,” the site says.

In a statement, DDOT Director Jeff Marootian said the project will improve the quality of life for residents.

“Streetlights do far more than light our path as we travel our city – they can make us feel safe and they can make our neighborhoods feel welcoming,” Marootian said. “This project will ensure that all of our neighborhoods have high-quality street lighting that creates the visibility necessary to keep our transportation network safe for all who use it.”

On March 26, the OP3 department narrowed down from 11 to three the number of firms under consideration to partner with the public agency in carrying out the modernization. The three firms chosen were MAB Smart Solutions, D.C. Smart Lighting Partners II and Plenary Infrastructure Gluckman said the contractor will be chosen in the summer.

Gluckman also said light poles in poor condition will be replaced as part of the program. And he indicated the new technology might allow the Department of Public Works to create “smart” trash cans that tell the agency when a trash can is full.  

OP3 says the new lights will save money.

“LEDs last four times as long as traditional bulbs, require fewer repairs and provide more consistent light so neighborhoods are well-lit and safer,” according to the website. “Converting the District’s streetlights to LED technology will also save at least 40 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which is the equivalent of burning 30 million pounds of coal.”

More information about the program is available on the OP3 office’s website at op3.dc.gov/streetlights.

The Weston Price Foundation, profiled elsewhere in this week’s paper,
provides this information about health aspects of electrical light on
its website: