Lighten Up

How OUC is making streets brighter and safer      

The Orlando Utilities Commission is lighting up the night. Since it launched its Roadway Lighting Initiative in 2013, OUC—The Reliable One has been hard at work upgrading its street lamps to bright, white LED lights. “This lighting will change the way the public perceives the outdoors,” said OUC Lighting Manager Vernon Ford. “They’ll be able sit out on their porches at night — an old-fashioned tradition that people used to enjoy. They’ll be able to walk their dogs at night and enjoy an evening stroll.

The LED lighting program is not only transforming the quality of neighborhood life, it's doing it more cheaply and sustainably than ever before. To date, about half the streetlights in Orlando, Orange County, St. Cloud and Osceola County have been replaced with LED fixtures. By 2018, the project will be complete. This marks a significant leap forward in the evolution of public street lighting, which has been part of civilization since the ancient Greeks and Romans used flaming torches to light roads for safety and to deter crime.

But as any fan of old movies knows — from the foggy gas-lit nights of Jack the Ripper’s London to the moody glow of Sam Spade’s San Francisco — old street lamps glowed dimly and created shadows where danger could lurk.

For most of the 20th century, Orlando area streets were lit with incandescent and mercury vapor lamps that, by 1995, had been replaced by high-pressure sodium (HPS) lighting, which was twice as bright. But HPS bulbs had one serious drawback: They emitted a yellowish light, making it difficult to distinguish colors and details, thus creating problems for the police and fire departments. “They were trying to do their jobs, but they couldn’t see very well,” Ford said. “When they arrived at an accident, they couldn’t tell the difference between blood and oil. And police couldn’t always recognize a person's face or the color of their clothing.

For a long time, the alternatives — metal halide and LED — were prohibitively expensive for public streets, though some private companies used them. Then the price of LED lamps dropped significantly, and OUC seized the opportunity.

LED lighting gives off a bright white light so that colors and details can be clearly distinguished. Watt-for-watt LED uses half the electricity of HPS lamps. This is not only a significant stride toward greater sustainability, it will also save taxpayers about $300,000 a year.

The LED lighting plan was first tested in Orlando’s Thornton Park neighborhood in 2009, with excellent results. “The feedback we got was, ‘Yes, this is great. We feel safer,’ ” Ford said. “People there can go out and walk to their restaurants, walk to their stores. They even have an old-fashioned patrol cop who walks the beat there.

In the Parramore district, an area with a high crime rate, OUC is doing more than just replacing HPS bulbs with LED fixtures. They’re adding more lampposts. That’s because the existing light poles were installed before Orlando had photometric software to determine the ideal spacing for the lights on each street. Once the Parramore LEDs are in place, OUC personnel will inspect each street to determine where additional lighting is needed. The hope for Parramore is that as the streets become safer, new businesses will be drawn to the neighborhood, reinvigorating the positive aspects of street life and providing more employment opportunities for residents.

Ford also envisions a future with more beautifully illuminated bridges and buildings, like the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and LYNX Central Station, whose dramatic architectural curves are highlighted with blue LEDs. “The government leases lights to commercial properties, and it's such a great accent,” he said. “I think we need more of that.

With this kind of forward-looking vision, grounded in the technical, economic and ecological realities of lighting a city, OUC is moving us into a brighter future — literally.

If you see a streetlight out, just jot down the pole number and report it online at www.ouc.com/streetlight.

— Maxine Nunes, Tribune Content Solutions