The Fussy Eye: Lighting the Way

A friend recently complained to me about the city’s new LED streetlights that had been installed on his block. They’re too bright, he said, as we stood in his driveway looking upward. “Are you crazy?” I asked. “I love those things.” Not only are LEDs more energy-efficient than the old high-pressure sodium lamps, they’re more precise—casting their beams downward, not obscuring the stars. And the color is much better—cooler and crisper, not the old piss-yellowy blast. The visual difference is like having cataracts taken out. Also, LEDs are considerably more flexible in their applications, and they come in different colors. So passing under the gloomy Alaskan Way Viaduct one night, I thought the city had commissioned a public art installation with purple and blue LEDs. Trees have been wrapped with a kind of glowing tape after you walk down the Harbor Steps. Then there’s an unexpected azure canopy above, giving the crumbling viaduct an unlikely if temporary grandeur (it comes down in three years, after the tunnel’s dug). It’s part of a state/city program to mitigate the loss of parking during waterfront construction, to make it easier and more inviting for pedestrians to traverse up or down from First or Western. This array was designed by SDOT lighting engineer Ahmed Darrat, and more may be installed. Beyond the waterfront, beyond 2016, I’d like to see more such colorful illumination on our dark hillside stairways, in some of our urban pocket parks, and in the city’s other inky, uninviting nooks. As anyone knows from shaving or putting on makeup in the morning, good lighting makes you look and feel better. The city benefits from the same effect. Alaskan Way & University Street,

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