The recent New Mexican news article (“Santa Fe streets going dark,” Jan. 27) and editorial (“Stop letting city’s street lights stay dark,” Our View, Jan. 27), about street lighting was a revelation. It was surprising that our progressive city is not embracing a major element of 21st-century urbanism.
First, we should consider if we can afford to be spot re-lamping our street lights with 1960s technology. By far the most expensive part of changing that light bulb is the cost of labor and equipment: anywhere from $250-$700.
It sounds unbelievable, but consider the expensive truck that needs to be used, the skilled linemen who need to be paid for the work, the safety aspects, sometimes including a lane closure (disruption of traffic) and the travel time to the pole (and back) to change a $10-$15 light bulb that is now functionally obsolete — it’s a comparative energy hog (using at least two to three times as much energy) and a maintenance headache, failing four times as often as the latest technology. Add to this the poor light control of some of these dinosaur lighting fixtures that are disrupting our view of the night sky.
Second, ponder that with the same investment in labor and an additional 90 or so dollars, you have eliminated the burnout question for the next 20 years, improved the quality of lighting and protected our view of the stars. By the way, you would save at least 50 percent in energy, lowering our carbon footprint. If instead of changing that one light bulb, the bucket truck could be assigned to change that block of lighting fixtures, the cost of changing each fixture could be less than eventually changing their light bulbs, since they would not have to travel as far and they would already be mobilized.
Finally, we must consider the important smart cities approach and use lighting fixtures as the backbone of data collection. Many cities today have smart lighting equipment that not only tell you when they are failing but monitor a variety of things in the environment; for example, traffic flow, road conditions and gun shots. The lights can dim late at night to react to the prevailing traffic conditions, saving additional energy and reducing light pollution. Additionally, today’s lighting fixtures can transmit something called Li-Fi (internet) through pulsating light waves.
The transition to the new technology is not without risk. The American Medical Association issued a warning that certain types of LED street lights could disrupt sleep cycles. However, done carefully and with a full knowledge of their capabilities, the solid state lighting systems can provide many benefits to our community.
John Urbanowski lives in Santa Fe.