Coming soon to your Chicago neighborhood: new streetlights.
Installation of the new LED lights will be a massive undertaking, involving replacement of some 270-thousand fixtures citywide.
“This is going to save money,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, watching a city crew change out a light in the 37th ward. “It’s going to save time. And it’s going to save energy.”
LED’s offer savings of 50 to 75% over the current high pressure sodium lights, recognizable with their familiar pink hue. The new system is also designed on a “smart grid”, where the lights notify city computers when they need replacing.
That’s good news, says Emanuel, because burned out lights constitute the number one complaint to aldermen and 311 operators.
“We will be able to remotely monitor the status of lighting,” says CDOT commissioner Rebeka Scheinfeld. “And we’ll also be able to remotely control the lighting, to dim or brighten lighting to adjust to the needs of a given block at a given time.”
But as sophisticated as LED’s have proven to be, they are not without controversy. Last year, the Chicago-based American Medical Association warned the lights present potential health hazards because of the intensity of their cool white and blue color temperatures.
“We see LED lighting as a potential health problem,” says Dr. Andrew Gurman, the AMA president. “People have sleep disorders, which can lead to all sorts of problems, when they’re exposed to a lot of blue light.”
Indeed, an AMA study suggested blue light might raise the risk of everything from distracted driving to diabetes and cancer. They suggest cities keep their lights below 3000 degrees kelvin. Chicago officials say they consulted with health experts, and mandated the 3000 kelvin standard into guidelines for the city’s new lighting system.
“The new lights won’t shine up in the sky,” said Scheinfeld. “They’ll be shining down on the street and the sidewalk where we need the light, not in the windows.”
Installation of the new lights is expected to take the next four years, at an estimated cost of $160 million.