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See where San Francisco installed 13,000 new LED streetlights

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Illuminating project gives the city a brighter future, but some think it spoils the mood

Screen grab via SF Water Power Sewer

Back in April the city’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) promised to change 18,500 San Francisco streetlights from old-fashioned sodium lighting to ultra-bright LED illumination by the beginning of 2018.

The department promised that LEDs “will improve lighting conditions throughout the city and will last about four times longer than existing lights while using half as much electricity.”

They also promised that the switch over would be fast and efficient, a simple matter of removing the old head from a lighting fixture and attaching a new one, to the tune of $135 each.

Six months roughly 13,000 conversions are already done, radically changing the character of San Francisco’s night time streets from their usual hazy yellow to stark, high-tech illumination.

Those who want to compare the difference firsthand can consult the commission’s handy map to see on which streets the switch has happened and which are still pending:

Green lights have changed over, yellow ones are pending.

Most of the major thoroughfares have undergone the transformation, including most of Geary, Van Ness, Taraval, Judah, Third Street, 16th Street, and 24th Street.

One unfortunate change happened on Howard Street in SoMa where, between Third and Fourth Streets, the beloved Philippe Starck streetlights were removed to make way for the new lights.

But not all streets will be LED-ified. Most notably, Market Street’s decorative streetlights won’t change, and neither will the roughly 40 percent of city lights owned by PG&E.

Old high pressure sodium (HPS) cobra-head fixture
Photo via PUC
New LED fixture
Photo via PUC

Naturally, some in the city feel a bit recalcitrant about the change. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that anti-LED sentiment has gained traction on Facebook and Reddit since the change began.

The American Medical Association also warns that some LED lights:

Operate at a wavelength that most adversely suppresses melatonin during night. It is estimated that white LED lamps have five times greater impact on circadian sleep rhythms than conventional street lamps.

Recent large surveys found that brighter residential nighttime lighting is associated with reduced sleep times, dissatisfaction with sleep quality, excessive sleepiness, impaired daytime functioning and obesity.

The detrimental effects of high-intensity LED lighting are not limited to humans. Excessive outdoor lighting disrupts many species that need a dark environment.

The city’s new lights fall within AMA guidelines, although some may find them a touch too bright. PUC estimates that the new fixtures are good for 100,000 hours of illumination, or roughly 20 years of glow time.