Archive for Wednesday, February 21, 2018

City leaders cite community concerns in voting against installing additional blue-white LED streetlights

An LED streetlight with a color temperature of 4,000 kelvins and no shields installed is pictured at dusk on Nov. 30, 2017, in the 1600 block of Lindenwood Lane.

An LED streetlight with a color temperature of 4,000 kelvins and no shields installed is pictured at dusk on Nov. 30, 2017, in the 1600 block of Lindenwood Lane.

February 21, 2018


Going against recommendations from city staff and Westar Energy, the Lawrence City Commission voted to pursue warmer-colored LEDs for both city-owned streetlights and those operated by Westar.

Prior to the decision, made at their Tuesday meeting, commissioners heard public comment from various residents, including physicists, biologists, neurologists and neighborhood representatives who asked the city to begin installing warmer-colored LED bulbs in its streetlights. Residents expressed concerns that the blue-white LEDs currently being installed negatively affect human health, driver visibility and nocturnal animals.

Commissioners voted unanimously in support of using warmer-colored LEDs instead of the 4,000 kelvin LEDs currently being installed.

“I think that we are definitely hearing customer support for this,” Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said. “And I’ve not heard a single person who is not an employee of either Westar or the city who is in support of maintaining the 4,000 (kelvin LEDs).”

The commission directed city staff to draft an ordinance that would affect the installations of LED streetlight bulbs going forward and begin a conversation with the city’s legal department and Westar Energy about the cost associated with the change. The city pays Westar to operate the majority of the roughly 5,000 streetlights in Lawrence, and Westar representatives told the commission they selected the 4,000 kelvin LEDs for safety reasons and have the discretion to charge the city more for bulbs that they deem nonstandard.

Setting a standard

The conversation at City Hall about the color temperature of LEDs was initiated by a group of residents, the Lawrence Alliance for Responsible Lighting. The alliance asked that, going forward, the city-owned streetlights and those provided via the city’s contract with Westar use bulbs with a color temperature under 3,000 kelvins.

The warmer-colored LED bulbs cost the same as the blue-white bulbs currently being used, but Westar representatives told commissioners that their agreement with the Kansas Corporation Commission gives them discretion to determine what is considered standard. In a memo to the City Commission, city staff stated that the city currently pays Westar $850,000 per year to operate the streetlights and Westar charges a “premium rate” for nonstandard streetlight fixtures.

Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen pushed back on that notion, pulling up the KCC agreement and reading directly from it. She said standard streetlamps are defined by wattage and lumens only and that color temperature is not mentioned in the agreement’s rate schedule.

“There’s nothing in here about what the kelvin has to be in order to be a standard fixture,” Larsen said.

Bob Ortiz, Westar manager of distribution standards and support, said Westar servers about 200 communities, all with 4,000 kelvin LED streetlights. He told Larsen that although the KCC agreement doesn’t mention color temperature, another page of the agreement states that Westar decides what is considered standard. When pressed further by Larsen, Ortiz said what Westar stocks in its inventory is what Westar considers standard, and that decision is based on safety.

Health and traffic safety concerns

Westar engineer Justin Rush told the commission that the primary purpose of streetlights is to ensure public safety. Rush cited a study by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance that indicated 4,000 kelvin LEDs provide the highest detection distance for drivers and pedestrians.

“That means people have significantly more time to see and respond to a hazard,” Rush said. “Think about how quickly accidents happen and how valuable that additional reaction time might be.”

However, the Lawrence Alliance for Responsible Lighting has pointed to a recommendation from the American Medical Association, based on multiple studies, that specifically warns against light with a color temperature higher than 3,000 kelvins. The AMA recommendation said nighttime exposure to blue-white light has been shown to disrupt human sleep by suppressing the release of certain hormones, to create glare for drivers and to disorient some animal species. Advocates for reducing light pollution, such as the International Dark-Sky Association, also recommend color temperatures below 3,000 kelvins.

Those in the lighting industry have raised additional questions. The Department of Energy issued a response to the AMA recommendation stating that effects of exposure to blue light at night also apply to light from television, phone and computer screens and would depend on the amount of light and duration of exposure.

Westar also takes issue with the AMA recommendation. Rush told the commission the problem with the AMA recommendation is that it doesn’t quantify the effects of blue light.

“It just says blue light’s bad,” Rush said. “… They didn’t give any kind of statistical correlation of color temperature or light to any kind of medical condition.”

Larsen, though, had concerns. For one, she said she thinks Westar’s consideration of safety should include human health. She also asked Rush whether the study Westar cited regarding detection distance was qualitative or quantitative, and, specifically, whether it quantified the number of accidents that occur over time. Rush responded that it did not.

Going forward

In the commission’s subsequent discussion, Larsen said she is more conservative from a health standpoint, especially if it doesn’t cost the city more money. She said in a meeting about LEDs she previously attended, Westar representatives said it didn’t cost them any more for 3,000 kelvin LEDs than it does for 4,000 kelvin.

“I would like to see us change to a 3,000 (kelvin LED), but I still would like for us to challenge, if possible, their statement that it’s going to cost us more on the electricity," Larsen said.

Mayor Stuart Boley said he shared Larsen’s concern about how the KCC agreement defines what standard lighting is and that he thinks it’s important for the commission to have a better understanding of that going forward. Boley also said if the city has a “significant disagreement” with Westar, he’d like to know more about whether it is an option for the city to purchase the lights from Westar and have the city operate them.

Westar owns about three-quarters of the streetlights in Lawrence. Specifically, the city owns about 1,200 streetlights and pays Westar to operate about 3,900, according to figures from city and Westar representatives. Last year, the city began replacing its streetlights with 4,000 kelvin LED bulbs. Westar began replacing streetlight bulbs with 4,000 kelvin LEDs in February 2015, and about 2,500 streetlights, or about two-thirds, have been replaced with 4,000 LEDs thus far, according to Chad Luce, Westar vice president of customer relations.

As part of its vote, the commission emphasized that any action would only apply to streetlight bulbs not yet installed by the city or Westar. The commission also stated that the issue is contingent on further conversations with legal staff and Westar about the cost of the potential change. A draft of the ordinance and more information regarding the cost will come back to the commission at an upcoming meeting.

In other business, the commission deferred a decision regarding potential changes to the city’s Lifeline program, which provides a 65 percent utility discount to low-income residents age 60 and older. Commissioners expressed interest in changing the structure or requirements of the program but deferred that conversation until they discuss next year’s budget.


Robert Distefano 1 month, 4 weeks ago

This is silly! There is more blue light from your cellphone than from a 4000K light. Now Lawrence will look weird at night with different colored lights.

Ken Lassman 1 month, 4 weeks ago

How do you know? Don't you live in New York? I've noticed you've had a lot of posts about lighting issues there over the years and only registered with the LJW recently to post your opposition to 3000K luminaires. Do you work for a 4000K luminaire manufacturing company or something?

Robert Distefano 1 month, 4 weeks ago

No, I now live in Topeka, Kansas and am very happy with the new LED lights they are installing. They are well shielded, especially with the new fixtures. When I first moved to Topeka in 2010, there was a mixture of High Pressure Sodium (Gold Orange) lamps along with Mercury Vapor (Blue White). They were randomly mixed and it was unsightly. Streetlights look best when all the lights are a uniform color. Right now we are mixed with LED, Mercury and HPS. They are slowly replacing the older lights with the new ones.The streets that have all LED look the best. All the lights are uniform and make a great impression on the streets. Hopefully Westar does not decide to go with 3000k so that we have to live with mixed color light for the next 20 years. I want my city to look good at night as well as in the day. If you are happy with mixed color lights more power to you.

Ken Lassman 1 month, 4 weeks ago

I just found it curious that you were posting about light issues in New York. Like I've already said to you: the 3000K is pretty much what an incandescent light butb that most folks grew up with and most folks are very comfortable with, and when you go further into the blue light such as with 4000K and greater, the complaints increase. Lawrence will soon have a real world light experiment where the remaining one third of street lighting will be done with 3000K, which typically will be an entire neighborhood, not a patchwork like you described. That way folks will get be able to compare and decide for themselves. One of the folks testifying with to the City Commission stated that they loved the lighting in Honolulu, finding it to be much more calming, only to find out later that the lighting was all 3000K. Prairie Village is also all 3000K, so next time you're in KC you might give it a look-see.

Ken Lassman 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Thank you City Commissioners and LARL members for your considered presentation/reasoning and decision. By just asking for putting in the 3000K luminaires in all new installations instead of demanding the cost and labor of removing the 4000K luminaires already installed, the cost differential issue disappears, assuming that Westar can find 3000K luminaires to add to their inventory, which are readily available at a reasonable cost. After all Chicago is installing several hundred thousand of them right now, along with a growing list of cities, so they should be cost competitive due to the increasingly attractive economy of scale from the demand.

I think that Westar is going to find a lot fewer complaints about glare, nighttime irritations and requests for shielding thanks to this request from the City Commission. It will be interesting to see if there develops a disparity in such requests between parts of the city already using 4000K vs. areas illuminated with 3000K. You might begin using them in the 200 other municipalities that you provide lighting if/when you begin using the softer lighting; at least it will give you other options to address issues in the future.

Robert Distefano 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Ken, I am glad that you are happy with a combination of 3000k along with 4000k lights mixed together but please don't push your idea on Topeka. Our city will finally have streetlights with a uniform look (all one color) once all the old ones are replaced. Having mixed colors takes away cohesiveness and the beauty of the city.. We are pushing tourism here in Topeka and when we show night shots of the city, we do not want tourists to see different colored lights set randomly with no order. It will make the city look like a backwater town that can't get things straight.

Ken Lassman 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Gee, what is your reaction to all of the lit business signs at night? After all, they are a whole variety of colors. And what about Christmastime? Most people like to take pictures of a city then because of all of the pretty, varied lights. In fact Lawrence keeps its seasonal lighting up for an extended period for precisely that reason: folks love it!

Robert Distefano 1 month, 4 weeks ago

The business signs are fine since they are expected to be random as corporations have their own unique graphics and colors. It is actually enjoyable to see them in that context. Think of Times Square, Las Vegas or Piccadilly Circus. Christmas also lends to variety as there are so many different types of lights and now LED's are transforming the look of the Holiday. We expect that but street furniture which includes streetlights, should be cohesive and orderly. When an artist paints the Brooklyn Bridge, would it not take away from the beauty of the necklace if the lights were all of random colors and out of context with each other? It is the same with our streets. If you get a chance, come to Topeka and observe a stretch of 37th Street at night between Burlingame and Gage Blvd. The city recently reconstructed the street with all new streetlamps You will see what I mean by cohesiveness. Take I-470 to Burlingame Road, It is a thing of beauty. I wish all the streets of the city had that look.

Ken Lassman 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. I find that the contrast in star colors in the constellation Orion, with its amber Betelgeuze and bluish Rigel to be much more interesting and beautiful than if they were the same exact color; the same with the reddish Mars, the yellowish Saturn and the bluer Jupiter. I'm equally glad for the variety and consider it to be one that is shared by humanity over the millenia when they look up at the night sky.

Robert Distefano 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Yes I agree concerning the stars which were created by a master artist. Streetlights, haphazardly placed without regard for context is another story.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 1 month, 4 weeks ago

We live in the country and rent a high pressure sodium light from Westar. We have additional HPS lights on our barn. The color temp of these is about 2,100 kelvin. I would prefer if we could afford the LED lights, and if so I would want the daylight color, otherwise bright white lights like people are complaining about. These are in the LED bulbs I buy for the house, and on every new car I have seen. You get a lot more light for the money with these lights, they are much safer by providing more light.

Ken Lassman 1 month, 4 weeks ago

The HPS light you have has probably a 2000-2200K CCT rating, which makes it pretty red. The new LED that LARL and others are recommending have a CCT rating of 3000, which is bluer and should provide a better definition and yet it won't the create glare/wildlife/circadian rhythm issues that a 4000K rural utility light would cause.

I did a little poking around and it looks like the LED rural utility lights are available in both 3000K and 4000K temperatures, and probably the same amount of light (lumens) as your current HPS. The thing to check Westar for is how many lumens your current HPS has and at least try to match it with an LED, keeping in mind that a 3000K luminaire will cause less glare and problems than the 4000K. Here's an example of a luminaire that might fit the bill:

PS no, I don't get a commission! You might also consider a motion detector that only turns on when someone is around, and save the juice, too.

Tyler Joseph Higgins 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Ken motion detectors would make a huge difference regarding rural light pollution, and would also be more likely to spook any potential prowler or thief or whatever rural people are so afraid of.

Tyler Joseph Higgins 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Exactly what is causing widespread light pollution, rural dusk to dawn insecurity lighting.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 month, 4 weeks ago

I cannot believe all the hubbub and drivel about street lights. I am happy that the city omimission finally made a reasonable and financially sound decision in this matter. My pocketbook feels better.

Robert Distefano 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Some cities are now using 4000k on their main streets and 3000k or 2700k on residential streets. This is a sensible move on their part which alleviates residents concerns and provides uniformity and safety on streets with high traffic..

Ken Lassman 1 month, 4 weeks ago

That's pretty much what is going to happen in Lawrence, I believe, since 2/3 of the luminaires have already been converted to 4000K. I might also note that where the conversion has occurred, Westar converted ALL of the lights in that area at the same time, so your personal aesthetic objection is actually mostly a theoretical concern.

My guess is that there might be some areas down the road where Westar will opt for the option of converting over an area to the softer lights if there are enough objections and they have to decide whether to put up a bunch of shields, lower the light output, or just switch over to the 3000K.

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