Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Late last week, ARLnow reported on an issue that it described as second in controversy only to the streetcar: the installation of new LED streetlights in Arlington residential neighborhoods.
The controversy raises some complex technical issues relating to the brightness and color of the light emitted by alternative kinds of LED bulbs, and the standards governing how bright the light ought to be along entire streets in individual residential neighborhoods.
But, the overwhelming outcry against these lights from citizens in the neighborhoods in which they have been installed sends an unequivocal message similar to the message about the streetcar: it’s time for the County Board to suspend the installation of 5500K LED light bulbs and consider other options.
One of the options that must be open: replace the 5500K LED light bulbs already installed in residential neighborhoods with lower intensity, warmer LED light bulbs like the 3500K LED bulb.
A decision to replace the 5500K LED bulbs with a lower intensity, warmer LED bulb might be resisted for a variety of reasons, including the cost of doing so and the reluctance to admit that the decision to use the 5500K LED bulbs in residential neighborhoods was incorrect. Neither of these reasons is a valid justification for rejecting this option.
A private sector analogy is appropriate. Suppose you were a member of the Board of Directors of a condo or a town house complex, and you had joined with other Board members in selecting a particular type of light bulb and light pole placement for the external lighting on the private land owned by the condo or complex. After the lighting system actually was installed, you found there was an outcry that the lighting was way too bright and intrusive. What would you do?
You could simply take refuge in the content-free argument that “after many community meetings, this issue has already been decided”. You could try to placate the condo or home owners with a cheap “fix” that doesn’t really address the core problem. Or, you could acknowledge that based on what we know now, a new light bulb or lighting system is the best choice, and that’s what we are going to install.
Let’s keep an open mind to all options.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
Aside from the Columbia Pike streetcar, one of the most controversial issues among Arlington residents may be that of LED streetlights. The light shone from the new streetlights is ugly and overly bright, say many in neighborhoods that have had them installed.
It’s enough of a hot-button issue to get dozens of residents from around Arlington to gather outside at 9:30 on a drizzly Tuesday night to discuss the finer points of Light Emitting Diode technology with County Board members and staff.
Arlington County began installing LED streetlights in the mid-2000s, with the intention of reducing energy and maintenance costs. The county says the new bulbs use about 75 percent less power than traditional sodium-vapor streetlights (currently saving $400,000 per year) and last about 8 times longer (3 years vs. up to 25 years).
Installation of the lights ramped up in 2010, with the goal of replacing nearly all county-owned streetlights by 2016. Though more efficient and, some may argue, more attractive than the reddish hue of traditional streetlights, the county has received a raft of complaints from those who live near the new streetlights in residential neighborhoods.
“It’s just offensively bright,” said Madison Manor resident Diane Beattie. “It really is like living in a parking lot.”
“In general we think energy savings is good, we’re not against that, but it’s the intensity and the color, which you can see in your living room,” said Arlington Village resident Mary Pat McNulty, who came out Tuesday night to learn more and to voice her concerns.
The bluish tint from the new streetlights is ”just plain ugly,” said fellow Arlington Village resident Jan Kennemer, who added that exposure to blue wavelengths at night has been linked to health problems, including cancer and diabetes.
“It’s just ridiculous to have that light so close to your house,” Kennemer said. “There’s nothing you can do short of boarding up your windows to keep the light out.”
Arlington County officials say they’ve heard the complaints, and they’ve been working on solutions. Among them: dimmers which gradually dim the LED bulbs after sunset, “eyebrows” that shield some of the light output on the side adjacent to homes, and filters that help to diffuse the light and reduce glare.
“There are issues that we recognize and we have to make adjustments,” said County Board Chair Walter Tejada, who led the walking tour of streetlights in the Virginia Square area on Tuesday, along with fellow Board members Mary Hynes and Libby Garvey.
“It’s a change,” acknowledged Hynes. “The quality of the light is different, and we’ve been concerned about how much light it’s throwing onto houses. Staff has made a number of modifications… but we’re still hearing from people in certain places.”
Now that the county has completed most of the LED installations along the Metro corridors, crews are increasingly performing conversions in neighborhoods. The neighborhood lights are, by default, half as bright as those along the commercial corridors, where there have been fewer complaints. Still, Hynes says, it’s clear which neighborhood is getting the new streetlights by the complaints that start coming in.
“We know when a new neighborhood is going up,” she said. “I think this an issue of how we manage the transition from the commercial corridors into the neighborhoods.”
County Mulls Streetlight Changes — Arlington County is considering changing the type of LED streetlights it uses after complaints from residents. One possible change is using lights with a color temperature that more closely matches traditional sodium-vapor lighting. [Sun Gazette]
Cyclist Sets Up Stolen Bike Sting — A cyclist whose bikes were stolen from a Fairfax County parking garage managed to set up a sting operation in Arlington to try to catch the thief. The cyclist found one of the bikes for sale on Craigslist, arranged for the seller to come to an Arlington parking lot, and flagged down a police officer to lend assistance. After agreeing to a sale, listened to by police via a cell phone in the cyclist’s pocket, the seller was arrested. [Gripped Racing]
Transgender Fashion Show to Benefit Arlington Org — A transgender fashion show will be held this Saturday in Falls Church to benefit NovaSalud, a Courthouse-based HIV/AIDS nonprofit. The show’s Honorary Mistress of Ceremonies is Kristen Beck, a retired Navy SEAL who was formerly known as Chris Beck. [Falls Church News-Press]
This Day in Arlington History — On this day in Arlington history, 1937, it was reported that the County Board was debating whether movie theaters should be allowed to open on Sundays. Also, it was reported that a majority of the $176 million the IRS collected in Virginia in 1936 came from taxes on tobacco. [Sun Gazette]
Photo courtesy James Mahony
Street Lighting Complaints Continue — At its meeting on Saturday, the County Board addressed the complaints it continues to receive over the new LED streetlights being installed throughout the county. The Board has heard a number of types of complaints, including the lights casting a harsh glow and being too bright. County Manager Barbara Donnellan acknowledged the complaints but didn’t have any immediate solutions. She said the new lights save a lot of money. [Sun Gazette]
Red Truck Bakery Profile — Earlier this month, web magazine Slate — a division of the Washington Post Company — profiled Arlington resident Brian Noyes, the founder of Red Truck Bakery. Noyes restored a Cherrydale farmhouse and began his bakery business there while still working for Smithsonian magazine. He began in 2009 by selling goods out of the back of a 1954 Ford pickup truck and eventually found a brick and mortar location to work in Warrenton. Noyes, who has baked treats for the likes of President Obama, plans to open a new location in The Plains soon. [Slate]
NORAD Exercise Tonight — Arlington residents may hear unusual noises tonight as the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) conducts training exercises. The training flights are designed to hone NORAD operations and to test its systems and personnel. The flights are scheduled to begin at 11:30 p.m. and run through 5:30 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday). [U.S. Department of Defense]
Flickr pool photo by J Sonder
Through the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Program, the money will go toward four new projects and five ongoing projects. The program allows residents, through their neighborhood associations, to suggest improvements and work with the county to get the projects funded.
“Our Neighborhood Conservation program is true civic engagement – neighborhood improvements planned from the ground up,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “Its success lies in the fact that it puts residents in charge of prioritizing which improvements their neighborhoods most need.”
The Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee (NCAC) meets monthly and makes project recommendations to the County Board twice a year. Of the 25 new projects examined, the NCAC chose the following four at its June meeting:
- Penrose, Butler Holmes Park — $522,400 for Phase II of park improvements
- Clarendon Courthouse, Rocky Run Park — $750,000 for Phase II of park improvements
- Madison Manor, N. Quintana Street — $126,018 for streetlights from 11th Road N. to N. Potomac Street
- Arlington Ridge, 21st Street S. — $572,474 for street improvements including sidewalk, curb and gutter from S. Kent Street to S. Joyce Street
Those projects, with a cost of nearly $2 million, will be funded from the proposed $11 million 2012 bond that will be on the ballot in November. Funding for the five existing projects will run nearly $750,000, and primarily comes from the previously approved 2010 Community Conservation Bond. If approved by voters, the bonds are scheduled to be sold before the end of fiscal year 2013.
Additional funding for the existing projects was requested due to increases in costs; the sprayground plan now includes a water recirculation system, and the cost of materials and installation of streetlights increased. Those projects, along with their original costs and additional funding requests, are as follows:
- Waycroft Woodlawn, N. Abingdon Street — Original estimate of $138,366 for streetlights, requires additional $170,506
- North Arlington/East Falls Church, 26th & 27th — Original estimate of $73,289 for streetlights, requires additional $100,565
- Madison Manor, 11th Road N. — Original estimate of $68,804 for streetlights, requires additional $103,309
- Columbia Heights, N. Barton Street — Original estimate of $356,525 for streetlights, requires additional $161,146
- Virginia Highlands Sprayground — Original estimate of $550,000, requires additional $212,000
It was noted in the county staff report that the cost for the lighting projects rose largely because they were held until the countywide conversion to LED lighting, which is currently underway. During the holding period, the price for materials and installation increased.
LED Street Lights Draw Complaints — New energy-efficient LED street lighting has been drawing complaints from Arlington residents. Residents have complained that the new lights are too bright and too white. That has prompted county officials to install dimmers on the lights, which has driven up the cost of the new lighting. The county is also exploring the use of lighting that is less harsh but also less energy efficient. [Sun Gazette]
‘Chiefs vs. Chefs’ Cooking Challenge Tonight — Some of Arlington most notable chefs will be battling some of Arlington’s top firehouse cooks in a cooking challenge for charity tonight. The chefs — David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Todd Pozinsky of Carlyle in Shirlington and Adam Barnett of Eventide — will go up against the tastiest creations from Arlington’s bravest. ‘Chiefs vs. Chefs’ is taking place from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. tonight at the Key Bridge Marriott (1401 Lee Highway). Tickets to the event, which benefits the Arlington Food Assistance Center, start at $100. [AFAC]
Transportation Advice for APS – Writing in response to the recent controversy over changes to busing at Arlington Public Schools, Greater Greater Washington writer and Arlington resident Steve Offutt says APS should look to Arlington County government for guidance on how to create a “real, 21st-century transportation plan” that isn’t so focused on buses. [Greater Greater Washington]
New Jeweler Coming to Clarendon — Alexandria-based B&C Jewelers will be opening a second location in Clarendon. The store will be opening at 2729 Wilson Boulevard, in the storefront once occupied by the Sisters3 boutique. [Patch]
Polls Open for County Board Race — Polls are open until 7:00 p.m. for today’s Arlington County Board special election. The three candidates on the ballot are Libby Garvey (D), Mark Kelly (R) and Audrey Clement (G). See the list of polling places here.
Merrifield to Rival Arlington? — Merrifield, once best known for its drive-in movie theater, is transforming itself into a walkable urban community. Multiple apartment and townhouse developments are being built, and more are in the pipeline. Businesses like Harris Teeter, MOM’s Organic Market, Matchbox Pizza, Dolcezza gelato, Red Apron Butchery, Tayor Gourmet, and Cava Mezza are also on the way. Rep. Gerry Connolly says of the rapidly-developing Merrifield: “I think that it’s going to rival Arlington for a lot of the younger generation of workers and commuters.” [Washington Post]
Arlington’s Streetlight System, Explained — Of Arlington’s 17,000 streetlights, about 5,000 are owned by Arlington County while 12,000 are owned by Dominion Power. That dual ownership structure can sometimes cause long repair times, even after a resident reports that a traffic light has gone dark. [Greater Greater Washington]
Poverty on the Rise in Arlington — Arlington County is struggling to keep up with the needs of the growing segment of residents living under the poverty line. Currently, 1,200 people receive a county rent subsidy of just over $500, on average. But the current proposed budget for FY 2013 will leave 1,300 needy families without county assistance. Bridging that gap will likely require higher taxes, something County Board members are reportedly considering. [WAMU]
Ballston Parking Garage Rate Hike Approved — On Saturday the Arlington County Board approved a proposed increase in parking rates at the Ballston Public Parking Garage. The parking rate hike, the first at the garage since 1996, will have the biggest impact on those who park on weekends, who were previously paying a $1 flat rate. The county said the increase was necessary to pay for repairs and upgrades to the garage. Also discussed: the effect of Arlington’s living wage requirement on personnel costs at the garage. [Arlington County]
New Streetlights Green-Lit for the Pike — Also on Saturday, the Board approved a $1.2 million contract to install new LED streetlights along part of Columbia Pike. County officials said the new streetlights will improve safety, energy efficiency and aesthetics along one of the busiest pedestrian sections of the Pike. [Arlington County]
‘Pipestem’ Compromise Reached — A developer and neighbors in the Leeway Overlee neighborhood reached a compromise on the developer’s controversial plan to build a new home on a “pipestem” lot on N. Nottingham Street. As part of the compromise, the house — located behind another home and connected to the street by only a thin strip of driveway – will be smaller than originally proposed and will include a detached garage. [Washington Post]
Home Prices Up in Arlington — Fewer homes were sold in January compared to a year ago, but the fact that there were fewer homes on the market helped to raise average and median sale prices by nearly 10 percent. The increase in home prices was led by double-digit increases in townhouse and condo prices. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Damiec
The Arlington County Board on Saturday is expected to grant approval to a $1.1 million contract for new streetlights and streetlight upgrades on the Pike between S. Frederick and S. Scott Streets. Most of the contract will be paid for with federal highway safety funds; about $140,000 will be paid by the county.
The contract will fund the construction of new LED streetlights and the upgrade of existing streetlights on three stretches of Columbia Pike: from S. Frederick Street to S. Buchanan Street, S. Wakefield Street to S. Glebe Road, and S. Glebe Road to S. Scott Street (including the “town center” area of Columbia Pike).
The LED-powered streetlights are necessary to improve pedestrian visibility and safety, county staff said. More information on the lights is available here.
Photo via Arlington County
Officials hope to replace 1,800 streetlights, or 40 percent of all county-owned lights, by the spring of 2011. The funds for the project will come from a federal energy efficiency and conservation grant.
After the initial push, the county will install 500 new streetlights per year. The conversion will take about six years to complete, and will produce a significant cost savings for the county.
The new lights are expected to cut energy consumption by about 60 percent and save more than $1 million per year, according to one estimate.
Even after the conversion, however, most streetlights in the county will be of the older, less energy-efficient variety. That’s because the vast majority of streetlights in Arlington are owned by Dominion Power. Dominion operates 11,700 lights under contract with the county, and those have not yet been scheduled for an upgrade.
“Arlington and Dominion are exploring options to improve the energy efficiency of those [streetlights] in the future,” the county said in a statement.