COLUMBIA — Due in part to a debate that left 22 streetlights lying in several medians on Forum Boulevard for nearly two months, the city is exploring ways for citizens to offer input on streetlight policy and has asked the Environment and Energy Commission to help coordinate the discussion.
A compromise on the suspended Forum Boulevard streetlight project was worked out last week and will go to the City Council for a vote, said Dan Dasho, director of the Water and Light Department, which manages streetlights in Columbia.
“Street lighting is a touchy subject in Columbia, I’ve come to find out,” Dasho said, referring to Forum Boulevard, which has a history of lighting debates. The Environment and Energy Commission made recommendations to the council about Forum Boulevard back in 1999 regarding street lights when the road was being extended. Dasho said two different styles of streetlights line parts of Forum Boulevard as a result of previous streetlight concerns.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, a past Environment and Energy commissioner, provided the impetus for the city to check in with the commission for its input on streetlights.
“I am concerned primarily with the EEC focusing on making recommendations regarding the quality and efficiency of streetlights,” he said.
The issue of streetlights is not a new concern for the city. In 1999, Columbia instituted a policy that required new city lights to be full cutoff lights. These light fixtures reduce light spreading into neighborhood yards and homes and the night sky by focusing and directing light downwards. It is possible to recognize these fixtures around town by their lack of an exposed bulb.
The current streetlight policy does not include a protocol for the inclusion of neighborhood input concerning the erection of streetlights in its area. Some projects included citizen input in the past, Dasho said, but since it’s not stipulated in city policy, inclusion was not consistent. Currently, the Water and Light Department follows a standard that matches lights to meet road conditions — location, traffic volume and traffic speed.
Ted Dyer, the newest member of the commission, volunteered to head a subcommittee to guide streetlight action for the commission. At last week’s Environment and Energy Commission meeting, Dyer mentioned his interest in analyzing new technologies, such as light-emitting diodes, or LEDs and others, that may reduce the energy use and carbon footprint of streetlights.
The city is meeting with a sales representative sometime in November to discuss the options and costs involved with pursuing LEDs. Right now, at more than $500 to install, LEDs still seem to be prohibitively expensive, Dasho said. But part of the commission’s mandate from the city is to explore the long-range options and interests of the Columbia community regarding such alternative lights. The city is also monitoring the results of an Ann Arbor, Mich., pilot project with LEDs.
As for the light poles lying in the medians, the process of removing them is now under way, Dasho said. Some of the lights will be put up in a more commercial section of Forum Boulevard, and the rest will be returned to storage.
The project along Forum Boulevard was originally suspended at the request of the City Council earlier this month to evaluate the possibility of erecting more decorative lights. Part of the compromise that goes to the City Council soon includes the option for certain neighborhoods to apply for a more attractive streetlight.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said those at last week’s compromise meeting agreed on alternative decorative poles. They will be more expensive than the $1,036 standard streetlights, but Nauser argued that certain neighborhood roads should have an option besides the standard gray and black poles that the city now offers.
“I want to establish a policy for having the option to install different light fixtures in landscaped areas in residential neighborhoods,” Nauser said. The result of this concern halted the Forum Boulevard project.
Nauser emphasized that only certain roads should be considered for the more expensive, decorative lights. Specifically, she mentioned those with landscaped medians that pass through neighborhoods should have the option of a more decorative streetlight. The Department of Water and Light is preparing the report for the City Council next Monday about possible new lights.