Takoma Park’s nighttime streets could soon be lit with hundreds of LED streetlights, saving the city thousands of dollars in energy costs. But some residents, fearing that the Maryland suburb’s streets will be awash with the glare of an operating room, are urging the city to hold back on the move.
Right now, Takoma Park’s leafy streets are illuminated by a motley assortment of lights — mostly high-pressure sodium, with their familiar orange hue, but also mercury vapor lights and traditional incandescents.
Mayor Kate Stewart said the city has been looking into converting all of the streetlights to light-emitting diodes, which use less energy and last longer than the city’s current system, since 2015.
“There are a number of reasons we’re doing this, but the top reason is energy efficiency,” Stewart said.
The city stands to save nearly $100,000 in energy costs per year after switching to LEDs, said Jerry Pasternak, vice president of governmental and external affairs for Pepco, the utility that owns and operates the streetlights in the city, which is in Montgomery County on the border with the District.
The lure of vast energy savings and a reduction in the carbon footprint have led municipalities here and across the country to switch to LEDs. Montgomery plans to replace 25,000 roadway lights with the technology and anticipates saving $850,000 in energy costs a year. The District is in the midst of replacing its more than 75,000 streetlights with LEDs as well.
But the technology also has raised some concerns.
In 2016, the American Medical Association warned that LED streetlights that emit too much blue light can affect driver visibility, affect circadian sleep rhythms and disorient some animal species.
The association urged municipalities to adopt LED streetlights that are less blue — no greater than 3,000 kelvins, a measure of color temperature — a recommendation that it continues to make.
Takoma Park has requested that Pepco install 3,000-kelvin lights. The utility has installed them on three city streets as a test.
Diane Curran, a 34-year Takoma Park resident, lives around the corner from Hickory Avenue, one of the pilot streets. She’s not a fan of the light, which is noticeably whiter than the orange-yellow glow of the old streetlights on her block.
“I think it’s important to have streetlights for public safety, no doubt about it, but there’s got to be a better way,” Curran said. “The light is very harsh and bright.”
Resident Mark Sherman said he made a special trip to look at the lights after they were installed.
“It’s like an operating room,” he said. “I joke these lights are so bright you could do your taxes by them or read the paper by them in the middle of the night, or perform knee surgery.”
He said he wants the city to consider installing LEDs at a 2,700-kelvin rating instead.
Stewart and some City Council members said they’ve gotten some emails about the lights. But Daryl Braithwaite, the city’s public works director, lives on one of the test streets and said she’s gotten no complaints so far from her neighbors.
“In a city like Takoma Park, people are really quick to tell you what they think,” Braithwaite said. “It’s just radio silence. I’m taking that as a ‘cool, looks good, great, energy efficiency, great, I’m down for that.’”
Stewart said she’s open to getting more feedback from the community. The city also has asked Pepco if it can demonstrate one of the 2,700-kelvin lights, as well as investigate options to further shield the bulbs.
“Moving forward with a project like this, there’s always the balance of making sure we do it well and we do it correctly,” Stewart said. “Because we’re going to be living with this for a long time.”