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"Old" is "New" for Street Lighting

Americans are sentimental. We like the warm and fuzzy feel of yesteryear. Often, we reminisce about the past or collect objects that remind us of a time when life moved a little more slowly.

This desire for a piece of the past is reflected in the lighting fixtures that towns and cities across America are choosing to illuminate their streets. While these fixtures are designed to create a sense of nostalgia, their optical and electrical systems are state-of-the-art to provide the performance required to accommodate greater volumes of traffic and to promote safety.

Along State Street—once Chicago’s shopping mecca—the elegant Beaux-Arts lampposts installed in the 1920s had been replaced several times over the years with more modern luminaires, including the most recent “space-age” type fixtures. When city officials decided to renovate the area in an effort to lure back the shoppers who had since flocked to the more convenient shopping malls in the suburbs, one of the most radical changes made was in the street lighting fixtures mounted along a mile-long stretch.

Fixtures installed—which are part of a $25 million renovation—are double headed luminaires mounted on steel and iron tavern-green lampposts that resemble the units specifically designed for State Street in 1926. The units are similar to the acorn-shaped fixtures that graced many American city streets during the first half of the century.

Lamps used are 250 watt, high color rendering, high-pressure sodium to create a warm, friendly environment. Besides the acorn units, frosted globes with 50 watt HPS lamps were installed near the pole base to illuminate walkways. The globes are supported by tiny blue globes that are similar to fixtures used in the ‘20s.

Besides the lighting fixtures, the renovation involved the installation of handsomely crafted kiosks and subway entrances, and bronze plaques inserted into the alternating reddish and gray sidewalks that are part of a self-guided tour of area landmarks. Eight-foot planters with colorful shrubs and trees also dot the side of the street.

“The renovation has replicated what was here in the ‘20s, and actually improved upon it,” commented Bruce Worthington, City of Chicago, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Highways. “From all indications, this change in visual character has helped put State Street on the road to economic recovery.”
San Diego—like many larger American cities—had witnessed fairly widespread deterioration in sections of its downtown. In some areas, crime had become such a problem that people feared for their safety and avoided venturing out after dark.

In an effort to rejuvenate the downtown, the city launched a massive capital improvement and street lighting project that is being completed in several phases. Phase I involved installing street lighting in the Center City area, which had not been lighted previously.

The lighting system installed along the streets in a 20-block area feature Victorian-style fixtures. A five-globe gas light-type fixture was installed in the adjoining 20-acre Gas Lamp Quarter, which is home to a variety of restaurants, clubs and entertainment establishments.

Double-globe, acorn-shaped fixtures were mounted along the gateway or major arteries within the Gas Lamp Quarter, with single globe units installed along other streets. Fixtures were mounted on painted dark blue cast iron poles. Lamps are high-pressure sodium to provide a softer light.

“We feel a good street lighting system gives us a better return on our investment than any other capital improvements we can make,” commented Al Mercer, senior project manager-public works. “Not only are the results highly visible, but the system makes a lasting impact on the area where it is installed.”
Based on the success of Phase I, several other phases have been funded.

In Newark, Ohio, a city of 45,000, historic-looking fixtures illuminate the high traffic walkways and stairs to the county’s sandstone courthouse. A total of 20 fixtures light the stone steps on each side of the structure, with 12 units installed along the Square’s perimeter. A double unit is mounted on each of the four walkways that lead from the Courthouse to the street.

The fixtures include an uplight element that shines the light into the trees. Terry Frame, Newark Parks and Recreation superintendent, indicated the light is bright enough that a person could play tennis on the courthouse lawn at night.

“We wanted people to feel safe in bringing their families downtown in the evenings. Since we installed the historically-styled lighting fixtures, we have promoted not only a sense of security, but a sense of pride in our city’s downtown,” Frame said.

Buffalo, New York’s Cobblestone District—home to the Buffalo Sabres’ $200 million Marine Midland Arena—had fallen into a state of disrepair. After the area was designated a Preservation District, a renaissance began that included remodeling many of the existing structures and erecting new ones. The renovation also included installing a high quality lighting system to promote safety.

The fixtures installed feature an eight-sided lantern with a spiked “crown” on top and bottom that creates a distinct Colonial flavor. One hundred fixtures with 175-watt lamps are installed along the streets, mounted on forest or “Buffalo” green North Yorkshire lamp standards that are 10 feet high.

“During event nights at the Arena, pedestrian traffic is particularly heavy because automotive traffic is restricted,” explained James Zern, superintendent of street lighting for Buffalo. “The lighting system selected had to be able to provide high levels of illumination yet complement the District’s architecture.”

In most application, energy conservation is important, which makes operating efficiency a primary consideration. For this reason, designers and specifiers are selecting fixtures that facilitate wider spacing so that fewer units are utilized. A fewer number of fixtures also decreases installation and maintenance costs.

With today’s technology, designers can have it all. Cities and towns can install an attractive lighting system that provides high levels of uniform illumination to promote safety. Yet, the system can be efficient enough to meet specific operating and budgetary requirements.

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