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LED streetlights and neighborhood safety

Advancements in LED lighting technology are enabling cities around the world to replace their old high-pressure sodium (HPS) or metal halide street lighting. LED streetlights are far more energy-efficient than alternative lighting solutions and offer significant cost savings to cities and municipalities. But can they also improve safety in residential developments?

We talked with Ken Siderius, marketing manager for outdoor architectural products and controls with Eaton’s Lighting Division, about LEDs, neighborhood safety and the future of roadway lighting in residential areas. 

How can appropriate lighting help make residential developments safer?

In basic terms, our goal is always to supply lighting that allows people to accurately and comfortably identify risk and hazards, regardless of the light source. These could include:

  • Trip hazards
  • Recognition of intruders
  • Vehicle conflict for pedestrians
  • Obstacles, other vehicles and pedestrian conflicts on the road for drivers

Providing drivers and pedestrians time to identify and avoid these threats promotes safety.

With that said, any source should be applied to provide light in a way that promotes visibility. Studies have shown that optimally designed lighting can reduce nighttime automobile accidents and give pedestrians, especially those in residential areas, an enhanced sense of security. LED sources last longer and consume less energy than HPS and metal halide street lighting and therefore have become the preferred source to reduce street lighting operating costs. This improves the affordability of illuminating potentially dangerous areas after dark, where previously the cost may have been prohibitive.

In residential developments, streetlights help reduce the risk in pedestrian and driver conflict by improving visibility on pathways and sidewalks in close proximity to vehicular traffic, as well as areas like secondary pathways and bus stops. Lighting these areas helps people identify potential hiding spots for attackers and assists with safe pedestrian navigation.

Emotional comfort has a lot to do with safety and security. If adequate lighting allows a person to rapidly identify a threat or danger, the person is better equipped to make a decision. Lighting should allow for facial recognition within a distance of about 30 feet.

Can LED streetlights create health and safety concerns?

Some people are concerned about ill effects of blue-rich LED street lighting on human circadian rhythm and, in some cases, increased glare.  There is a proven correlation between blue rich sources and glare, and the physiological effects on humans are documented; however, the level of exposure to blue-rich light from LED streetlights is far lower outdoors when compared to interior spaces. Additional research is required at the typical exposure levels experienced outdoors before there is an indication that LED streetlights have a major impact on human health.

One of the benefits of LED luminaires is that they are a flexible source when it comes to color temperature; this helps mitigate poor visibility and glare. Recommended practices warn against using high-temperature, blue-rich sources, and good lighting designers can avoid potential problems by following these guidelines.

At the end of the day, good lighting design addresses any health and safety concerns associated with streetlights regardless of source.

Do LED streetlights work well in historic districts and similar settings? What are important lighting design considerations?

Some people think of LEDs as having an ultra-modern look, which is rarely appropriate for settings such as historic districts. But by selecting the appropriate color temperature and streetlamp appearance, you can absolutely avoid this concern. Long before LEDs became popular, lighting designers considered how nature, color rendering and decorative fixtures impact emotion and visibility, and the role these factors play in environments where a certain mood is desired.

I like to separate everything into two categories: people spaces and other spaces.

In people spaces, we naturally consider warmer colors and luminaires that, by design, are a little more intimate in relation to pedestrians. Take Eaton’s Invue Arbor LED luminaires, for example. These were specifically developed for the pedestrian experience, and they mitigate concerns about LED streetlights by combining seamless organic design elements with Eaton’s WaveStream™ LED optical technology.

In general, luminaires in these spaces should provide visual interest or a unique design and use lower pole heights for pedestrian scale. They need to be part of the environment and add a human element. On the other end of the spectrum, roadway and parking lot lights typically function as a benign part of the design language of the space.

People tend to view decorative lighting as a contributor to an environment’s value.  LEDs are such a flexible source that they afford designers of lighting fixtures a lot of creative freedom. Eaton’s Invue Arbor LED luminaire is an excellent example.

Are LEDs becoming more popular in neighborhoods today?

Without question, LED streetlights are growing in popularity, because their lower operating expenses reduce the financial burden on communities. LEDs are also becoming more affordable; this makes it easier for communities to light areas that weren’t lit previously, improving safety and security.

With that said, this market is relatively slow to adopt new technologies; community lighting is usually funded by public money, which means these projects are highly scrutinized. Today, probably less than 10 percent of residential communities are illuminated by LED streetlights. In the future, I expect that figure to increase significantly, as more public funds become available and the pressure to replace inefficient sources continues to grow.

Regardless of the source, lighting fixtures in a residential environment should reflect that community’s functional needs, cultural values and desired need for security. Increased safety, energy savings and lower operating costs help everyone.  The good news is that LEDs offer neighborhoods the best of both worlds.