Over the next few years, Tallmadge lights will be fitted with light-emitting diodes, or LED lighting. RoundTable photo

Few recent City undertakings have been as complex as the City’s Emerson-Ridge-Green Bay Avenue project completed a few years back.

Officials had mapped out roadway resurfacing and reconstruction, the installation of new water mains, storm sewer and drainage structures, replacement of curbs and many improvements for the three-way intersection.

Yet,  “as we rolled off  the project and did a look back, we spent more time talking about the street lights on the Emerson-Ridge-Green Bay project than almost  any  other aspect  of the project,” Lara Biggs, the City’s Bureau Chief for  Capital Planning/City Engineer told aldermen at a special City Council meeting on Feb. 18. “And that was really eating up a lot of energy for something that should be standardized relatively across the City.”

Officials, working with Christopher Burke Engineering, the consultant, unveiled their comprehensive “City of Evanston Street Lighting Master Plan” at the meeting, which sets out to do that.

The 215-page plus study, the first in-depth analysis of the issue in 40 years, lays out standards for street light design and lighting levels.

It also tackles other issues, such as the spacing of lights and trees, the need to reduce light pollution, and the use of smart technology.

Officials are adopting a different starting point than in 1979, for example, when City leaders briefly considered moving away from the historic Tallmadge lights, sparking protests including some residents showing up at a meeting dressed as their beloved street lights.

This time around, “when we looked at the Tallmadge light, [it was decided] “that it is an iconic light that really fits the character of Evanston,” Ms. Biggs said, “and there isn’t a reason to debate the lighting in every instance.”

For now, Ms. Biggs said, “We wanted to make sure what we are doing is providing the right esthetic for Evanston. We also wanted to make sure that we were providing, not 17 different types of light for our maintenance staff to try and stock parts for, but to really come up with something that is more standardized and easy to maintain.”

The study recommends different light styles and illumination for different type of streets, distinguishing  between local roadways, where the replica Tallmadge poles refitted with LED  bulbs would go; and collector and major roadway, parks, parking lots and viaducts, where larger davit-style lights and other styles would be used.

Some recent projects mix styles. Fountain Square, for instance, included both the new davit arm lights and refurbished Tallmadge poles for a pedestrian-friendly feel.

As part of the study, officials surveyed residents, asking them what they thought about the lighting levels on different streets – “major streets, collector streets, local streets, the bike path, intersections,” said Mike Kerr, the project manager on the study and executive vice president with Christopher B. Burke Engineering.

Officials received 700 responses to the survey sent out in April 2018. “The majority of them thought their streets were too dark,” Me. Kerr told Council members. “When we asked people what they thought of their block, ‘too dark’ and ‘just right’ were closer together, but ‘too dark,’ led the pack.”

Officials also did an existing conditions analysis of lighting on representative streets, determining that most did not meet IESNA (Illuminating  Engineering Society of North America) or  the 1979 City of Evanston standard, he said.

In 2007, the City replaced the mercury vapor lamps in the Tallmadge poles, using brighter more efficient induction lamps. The Tallmadge poles account for 4,200 of the approximately 6,000 lighting units in the city.

“The existing Tallmadge lights are beautiful,” explained Mr. Kerr, “but if you look at them the bulb points straight out the top of the fixture, which we now recognize as being light pollution.”

At the meeting, Mr. Kerr told aldermen that the City did a Northwest Municipal Conference survey to see what all other municipalities were doing and found everybody is moving to the newer LED (light-emitting diode) technology.

Other recommendations coming out of the study were that the new fixtures look exactly like the existing fixtures, he said, while using the  LED light source, and it will be more much more efficient, Mr. Kerr said at the meeting.

Some of  the other recommendations in the report include:

• A minimum of 25  feet between trees and poles. 

• Lights should not be allowed to cross the property line.

• The City should support smart meters. Com Ed’s smart meter technology now in place would allow the City to access real time data on actual power consumption and basic diagnostics.

• Davit-arm roadway lighting units should be a 25- to-30 foot tapered aluminum pole with an 8-foot  arm and “dark-sky” compliant, so light does not shoot up in to the night sky.

• Tallmadge lighting units should be mounted on 14-foot tapered steel, cast iron or aluminum poles, with LED lighting.

• All lighting units should be powder coated black, unless otherwise approved.

  In discussion at the February meeting, Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward noted that in the past he had fielded complaints that the old Tallmadge lights, while “great for lighting up the cars on the street” do not do the same for pedestrians standing under a pole.

Mr. Kerr said the effect should be different under the new illumination, which “will bring the light down to the pavement where you want the light.”

Some of the new lights are expected to be installed in pilot programs planned for Main Street, downtown and other areas, starting this spring.

Officials are not pushing, though, for a total replacement, pegging the cost at more than $81 million for all infrastructure replacement to meet proposed lighting levels.

Ms. Biggs told aldermen that, looking at the City’s current light poles, “We have some that have serious maintenance needs, along our arterials which were exposed to salt,” and other road conditions.

“But if we go back to some of our residential areas, those poles, which are 30 years old could probably last another 20 or 30 years. So it’s not necessary, perhaps, to replace everything right away. There are definitely advantages to retaining everything we have and doing the upgrade as needed.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.