Environment and Energy Commission discusses lighting strategies for parking garages

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 | 5:46 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — A conversation about lighting solutions for city parking garages should consider efficiency, cost and psychology, said Karl Skala, Boone County Environment and Energy Commission chairman.

The commission met with Walker Parking Consultants on Wednesday to discuss alternate lighting options for the parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets and the garage the city plans to build on Short Street.

Parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets

The problem with the garage at Fifth and Walnut streets is the brightness and glare of the lights. What complicates the issue, though, is the fact that bright lights make people feel safe.

"There's a discomfort level psychologically on the low end because it doesn't seem to be safe," Skala said of dimmer lights. "On the other hand, there's a psychological discomfort on the high end because glare cannot only be a problem in terms of your eyesight accommodating but also for witness identification. If the light is too bright, it's a problem."

Earlier this fall, Eric Sax, a lighting consultant, implemented a pilot project that used filters to block the glare. The filters, however, caused the lightbulbs to get too hot, and some of them fell off

The most popular remedy proposed at Wednesday's meeting was to hang an external shield to block the lights. The shield could be tinted Plexiglas, Ken Terry, electrical department head for Walker Parking Consultants, said. 

"I really like the idea of the shield," Lawrence Lile, commission vice chairman, said. "It's simple. It's straightforward."

The commission and consultants also talked about using a dual-level power supply and motion sensors, but Terry said that would be expensive. 

Initially, discussions about lighting in the Fifth and Walnut garage were primarily "driven by efficiency and cost," said Dave Ryan, Walker's director of operations.

Skala, a former Third Ward city councilman, said the City Council originally didn't give much consideration to the parking garage's lighting, either.  

Short Street parking garage

The group also talked about lighting options for the Short Street parking garage because members of the commission agreed they didn't want to have to go back and fix the lights later.

"Lessons learned is what we want to do," Lile said. 

The garage will be located at the intersection of Short and Walnut streets in the North Village Arts District. After an Oct. 3 public hearing, the approved plans for a garage with 410 parking spots. 

Lile said lighting is important with this garage project because there will be a hotel and residential areas nearby. 

"You've got lots of reasons, probably more reasons, to have well-controlled light spill," he said. 

Skala said he'd noticed that structural components of parking garages, such as overhangs, can help block light. Ryan said designers of the Short Street garage will have to make sure there are enough openings so the garage doesn't have to be ventilated mechanically.   

There was also discussion about using LED lights, but making the lights less bright would reduce their efficiency, Terry said. 

Lile said he'd recommend looking at fixtures that have low-surface brightness or a shield.

"The bare LED's going to be the most efficient thing, but ... you can hardly stand looking at it," Lile said. 

By the end of the meeting, Lile and Skala both said they'd like to see a lower light level in the Short Street garage but still have people feel safe. 

Representatives from Walker Parking Consultants plan to meet with the commission again in mid-January to present what they're working on.  

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