August 5, 2014 at 9:53 am

Detroit expands lighting effort after pilot areas left too dark

Detroit Public Lighting crews are going back to pilot neighborhoods to add and tilt lights differently in order to maximize their effectiveness. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit— The lights are on, but it’s still dark in some areas of the city.

Residents’ complaints that new streetlights installed by the city’s Public Lighting Authority weren’t properly illuminating their neighborhoods are prompting the city to tweak its plan to upgrade lighting throughout the city.

Crews are adding more lights on some streets and going back to pilot neighborhoods to tilt lights differently in order to maximize their effectiveness, Public Lighting Authority Director Odis Jones told The Detroit News on Monday.

In one of the first major initiatives of Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration, the Lighting Authority used $160 million in bonds to pay for the new lighting system. But after discovering the plan needed to be adjusted, an additional $25 million was allocated.

The city is in the process of installing 65,000 lights — 15,000 more than originally planned.

“You learn, you refine, you adjust along the way,” Jones said.

“That’s why we started in pilot areas: So we could refine our plan and fix what needed to be fixed, rather than having to do it citywide.”

Since March, 14,806 new lights have been installed in the city. The first lights were put in pilot areas in three ZIP codes: 48219 and 48223 on the west side; and 48205 on the northeast side.

Crews are currently installing new lights in eight additional ZIP codes, and plan to have new lights in all the city’s neighborhoods by the end of 2015; and on all streets by the end of 2016.

Jones said his department is 3,500 lights ahead of schedule, but he said he’s run into a few snags trying to fix a lighting system that has deteriorated for decades.

Detroit resident Dolores Nemeckay, who lives in one of the east side pilot areas, said crews removed a street light in front of her house on Peerless Street, and installed one at the end of her block.

“I talked to the guy in the truck and asked why they took the light from in front of my house, and he said the city is spacing them out more now,” Nemeckay said.

“But the problem is, you can’t see. It’s very dark at night now, and people are worried. This is already a bad area for crime, and now that it’s so much darker, we’re afraid it will get even worse.”

Complaints from residents like Nemeckay have allowed lighting officials to refine their plan, Jones said.

“We’re asking people to call us; that’s how we learn,” Jones said. “In the initial plan, we were putting one light in the middle, and one on each corner only every 800 feet. We learned we had to adjust that.

“Now, we’re adding lights to the middle of some blocks. If there’s a block less than 300 feet long, you don’t need a light in the middle; you just need one at each corner. But if there are blocks greater than 700 feet, then you need two mid-block lights, and an additional light placed every 300 feet. That’s an adjustment we made.”

Wayne Nauka, who lives on Warwick street on the city’s northwest side, complained the light on his block isn’t as bright as the old one.

“We were accustomed to more light on this block,” Nauka said.

“My neighbor said he looked out one evening and was surprised because he couldn’t see the end of the block the way he used to. They say new and improved, but it’s not improved.”

Jones said the new 150-watt lights being installed in neighborhoods are twice as bright as the old ones that were 75 watts.

The lights that will go into “collector streets,” like Seven Mile and Fenkell, will be 250 watts; while major thoroughfares like Woodward, Eight Mile and Jefferson, will be 400 watts.

Poor illumination on streets like Nauka’s is likely the result of the angle of the streetlight, Jones said.

“Each street is different because of topography. You have hills and other things, and in some areas we have to tilt the heads of the light. If I’m on a street with a hill, the tilt has to be adjusted.”

Jones said crews will continue installing lights in other neighborhoods before circling back back to the pilot areas to fix problems.

Being one of the pilot areas is a double-edged sword, Jones said.

“It’s a blessing that’s you’re the first to get new lights, but then you’ll see things in other areas that you don’t have until later,” he said. “But we’ll come back to fix it.”
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