When a small city, like Calabasas, Calif., does something innovative, like banning outdoor smoking, that’s interesting. But when a big city like New York tries something new, it’s probably time to sit up and take notice.

Which is what makes an announcement scheduled for Wednesday so interesting. The city’s Department of Transportation has contracted with the Office for Visual Interaction, a lighting design group, to install and test L.E.D. street lighting. If the tests are successful, the city’s entire stock of 300,000 street lamps could one day be replaced with L.E.D. versions.

As I discussed in a Times article last month, L.E.D. lighting has become all the rage, for a number of good reasons: power consumption is much lower than for standard bulbs; unlike compact fluorescents, no harmful chemicals are emitted when the bulbs are discarded; and L.E.D.’s can last more than 50,000 hours, obviating the need to have workers change the lights. (Insert your own bulb-changing joke here.)

The OVI contract is not just to switch the city’s current crop of high-pressure sodium lamps for L.E.D.’s, but to introduce a completely redesigned lamp pole as well. Today’s poles have become a designer’s nightmare, with signs, traffic lights, control boxes and other accessories hung willy-nilly from them. The OSI approach envisions a sleek design that includes dedicated channels to hang the various accoutrements of city life.

In addition, up to four adjacent L.E.D. light sources and multiple lenses will direct the pole’s light to different places; one unit may illuminate the street while an adjoining one will shine upon the sidewalk.

The bulbs themselves for this $1.175 million contract are being designed by Lighting Science Group and the company expects that for each pole and light source that is replaced, the payback period for the city will be two to three years. Not only will the city reduce its power usage 25 to 30 percent, but the bulbs will last 50,000 to 70,000 hours. Today’s sodium lamps are rated at 24,000 hours, which means at that point half of them are dead. The L.E.D. life rating actually means that the bulb will drop below 70 percent of its original brightness after 50,000 hours or so.

But don’t get too excited yet. This demonstration project will replace just six street lamp posts. The city has not decided which boroughs they’ll be placed in, and there’s no guarantee that it will decide to go with L.E.D.’s after the end of the testing period, which is expected to finish in the fall of next year.

Even if New York decides that L.E.D. lighting is the cat’s pajamas, don’t look for light bulb changing of every pole in town. Most likely, it will happen slowly, with a new L.E.D. pole put in place when an existing one fails, for example, because a motorist has plowed into one.

Category: Blog, New York City

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