Pedestrian Lighting - Gloomy Street
by Craig G. Malesic, LC, PMP, EIT

A longtime collegiate client reached out to JDB to discuss an off-campus project they hoped to spearhead: installing pedestrian lighting in a residential area adjacent to campus. As Simon Sinek likes to say, “Start with why,” so our first question was, “Why do you want to do this?”

Their response was fairly simple: “We want to improve the safety of the neighborhood; it is very dark along the streets and many of our students regularly walk in that area at night.”

Although there may seem to be a simple answer to approaching the lighting design, we needed a little more precision. As the conversation progressed, we established that the real need was actually two-fold: first, make sure that students and residents would feel safe while walking. The college didn’t want anyone to trip or fall, since the streets were very dark at night. Second, they wanted students and residents to feel secure when walking at night. With this information, we were getting to the real “why” of the project.

The next question we asked was, “Who are the project stakeholders?” We needed to know who cared about the project. As it turned out, quite a few people were interested in the success of the endeavor:

  • College – Not only was the college interested in the safety and security of their students, they also wanted to be a good steward to the adjacent community by improving the area.
  • Municipality – Because the municipality would ultimately be in charge of the finished product, they wanted to have input into the design process.
  • Police – The local police department oversaw the area, and cared about how the light would affect their ability to see when biking, walking, or driving on patrol.
  • Residents – People living in the neighborhood wanted to make sure the light did not trespass into their homes or clutter their yards.
  • Students – The college students wanted to feel safe and secure as they walked or biked through the neighborhood.

To make sure that we understood the project, it was important to go out and take a look at the area. We had a number of questions to address:

  • What do the streets look like?
  • Are there sidewalks and curbs?
  • Is there grass between the sidewalks and curbs?
  • Is there any light there now?
  • Do residents have lights in front of their homes?

As they say, “see is believing,” so we drove through the neighborhood to understand its layout and the variables we would be dealing with.

Next, we reviewed the municipal zoning ordinance to establish any existing lighting levels or other requirements that needed to be followed. Preliminary discussions were had with both the municipal facilities director as well as the chief of police to establish any concerns. Additionally, we held meetings with the college director of facilities and head of campus security to understand their viewpoints. Next, a “town hall” style meeting was planned to gain community input as we progressed further into the project.

Based upon this data-gathering – visual inspection, stakeholder interviews, community input – we established a list of requirements for the project. This created a roadmap of sorts to establish the work that needed to follow. Here’s what we had learned so far:

  • Lighting should be attractive to the residents
  • Lighting fixtures should look like they belong in a residential area
  • Lighting should illuminate walking surfaces to prevent trips and falls (Illumination for Safety)
  • Lighting should illuminate people to create a feeling of safety and security (Illumination for Security)
  • Houses should be protected from light trespass
  • Unnecessary glare to streets, that might impede vehicular traffic, should be avoided
  • Lighting would be municipality-owned and maintained
  • Lighting would be fed from new common electric meters paid for by municipality
  • Wiring would travel underground and be installed in an existing right-of-way

The next step in the project involved establishing existing lighting levels. In order to determine the level of lighting that needed to be added, we first had to set a benchmark of existing lighting in the neighborhood. We accomplished this by going onsite and taking photometric (lighting level) readings. These were taken at the sidewalks on both sides of the street, as well as the middle of the street, approximately every 75 feet. For street intersections, we took measurements at each corner.

All of this data was placed on a plan for future reference. What we found, in layman’s terms, was that “it was dark … really dark!” There were no municipal street lights and very few residential post lamps installed near the sidewalks. Furthermore, lighting was not typically turned on at the entrances to the homes. When the lights were on, the style of lighting created a lot of glare but did not cast much light onto the sidewalk areas.

Next, we set out to establish specific design criteria. In other words, we needed to determine the appropriate lighting levels for the project. But how would we take lighting measurements? On the ground? In the air? Facing up? Facing ahead?

This is a broader topic of establishing lighting levels, known as Illumination for Safety and Illumination for Security. I’ll tackle this subject in the next blog!

Are you considering a lighting project – outdoor or indoor? JDB Illumination not only creates full lighting designs, but we can also gather data and provide knowledge to help you make informed decisions. If you’re considering a project, but aren’t sure if it makes sense or even what it would entail, reach out to Craig G. Malesic, LC, PMP, EIT at 717-434-1558 or [email protected].

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