07 January 2010

Glare vs Glow - Vine Street Too Bright

This time of year, we spend a lot of time outside in the dark. It is unavoidable when dusk is 5pm. And one of the things that makes this season bearable, even enjoyable is the lighting, things like candles, glowing windows and Christmas lights.

One of my favorite lights is the round window at Music Hall. Sometimes at night it looks like a giant full-moon rising over Washington Park:
I think that it is true that buildings lit from the inside glow and are therefore more beautiful that those lit with spotlights. However there is a place for spotlights too. Carew Tower is a beautiful example. Christ Hospital is extreme overkill, IMO.

In the suburbs, super-bright lights are common. There a strong belief that brightness = safety, and certainly dark streets are more dangerous. However, many commercial spaces go way overboard, especially gas stations:


But the real problem with the picture above isn't the level of brightness, it is the bare, exposed bulb/refractor that is so unpleasant to the eye. This is called glare. Here is another example of glare, from Dalton Street:


Compare the gas station above with this one from the LSI (a light fixture manufacturer) website. The bulbs are not directly hitting your eyes, but the area is still well lit:


Cities have bright lights. That is fine and even good. But people who install the street lighting, such as the City of Cincinnati Department of Public Works cannot seem to distinguish between the different purposes for light. There are two basic types of lighting: decorative and safety. The new lights in OTR try to be both, with disastrous results. Because they have a total glass globe enclosure, 90% of the light shines up into bedroom windows and into the sky. Yes, when you throw this much light out there, some of it will reach the sidewalk where it is needed, but so much is also wasted:
Vine Street Glare


Daytime picture of the new fixtures. Do these fixtures fit in OTR? Frankly, I think a modern fixture would be just as appropriate:


But there are fully shielded reproduction fixtures that would work too. See the Darksky website for a sample of shielded light fixtures. There are lots of options here.

I tried to find some examples of good night lighting, but it was hard. Here is what I came up with:

Washington Park light poles. These are older poles with visible refractors, but since the wattage is not too bright, the effect is OK.


The above lights mixed with holiday lights a few years ago:


The new 8th St Viaduct lighting is very high and mostly sheilded. While not appropriate for a pedestrian zone, it is a decent result for a high-car-traffic street:


The new suburban PNC branch banks are designed to a LEED standard, and get credit for using 100% shielded light fixtures:


Piatt Park, mixed decorative lights above, with area pole lights on side. This works pretty well:


Greenwich apartment entry, shielded area lighting with decorative holiday lights, good combo:


Paris night cafe, direct lighting, but not harsh. (Found this image on the web, but cannot remember where):

14 comments:

VisuaLingual said...

When I first arrived at college in a small town, I was really freaked out by the nighttime darkness. I couldn't sleep! Even now, I'm used to fairly bright nights, and they don't bother me, although all your observations make a great deal of sense.

Barb Cooper said...

Enlightening! I'll be paying more attention now.

Matt Hunter Ross said...

Great post!

I've come to realize that lighting is probably the single most important factor in determining perception of an environment - not just in terms of safety, but mood. The crappiest hole-in-the-ground establishment can look really beautiful and enticing with the right light (e.g. gaslight), just as the most brilliant architecture (or most anything else) can be spoiled by fluorescents.

Dusk is the highlight of the day to me, and you captured it well with some of these shots.

Quim said...

Is lighting design any kind of specialty in the architect profession ?

Paul Wilham said...

I think what they were trying to do on Vine is what some Urban Planners jokingly call "cockroach lighting", the goal being to make an 'in transition' area so bright that the 'riff-raff' will retreat to the shadows and not upset the "New Urbanites" who populate the area.

There is similar lighting in parts of Downtown Indy (Mass Ave) and some other midwestern cities with similar neighborhoods. The only saving grace of these lights is,after a few years, thanks to Urban Grime and road dust, the globes get hazy over time and glare is reduced.

Highly unlikly the city will have the budget to get up there with bucket trucks and wash those gloes yearly.

In a couple of years it will look better.

CityKin said...

Yes, there are lighting engineers and lighting consultants. But the knowledge is fractured/specialized and doesn't consider the whole package IMO. And they may design one building good, but who coordinates how one street works together, much less a whole neighborhood?

Most of the stuff that I took a picture of is either not designed, or perhaps designed by an engineer who knows how much streetlight is needed to make car travel safe. I think the LEED system will help for specific building design, because they give credit for dark-sky compliant exterior fixtures. But no one is really looking at the beauty of public streetlights.

John Schneider said...

I live on East Eighth Street and one of the really great things about where I live is the lighting.

Walking up from the bright lights of the CBD, as soon as you get to our street, the lighting, while new, is "quiet."

It's as if someone posted a sign that says, "This is a residential neighborhood. Act the part."

Sometimes with lighting, less is more.

Jason said...

Interesting post, but I must admit that I have never once thought about the new lights on Vine street as "too bright or harsh." In fact, I remember thinking that they were a nice addition to the neighborhood for 2 reasons. First, they light up the buildings and highlight how beautiful the architecture is, which makes the street look 100% better when driving through. Second, they do make people feel more safe in a part of OTR that has a very bad reputation (though its reputation may be unjustified, most Cincinnatians are still generally afraid of OTR).
So, I personally think they made a good choice installing such bright lights along Vine. It seems silly to me that people would be afraid of OTR after having lived down here for 2 years now, but if it takes some bright lights to help alleviate fears, so be it.

CityKin said...

We can agree to disagree on the aesthetics, but my point is that the safety measures could still be met if they just shine down, not upward.

CityKin said...

^..and outwards, ie: directly at your eyes!

Martin said...

You may like this post about Chicago lighting.

http://www.urbanophile.com/2008/08/19/the-streetlights-of-chicago/

Anonymous said...

I have seen some lights that are really effective. The designs so far have been contemporary. The light source shines up from the pole onto an umbrella like surface that reflects the light indirectly to the surrounding ground . These are nice to look at from ALL angles, there is no glare and no light shines upward. I believe there are some at the T.B. Friendship park. Also, I just saw some new ones installed at UC on the sidewalk perpendicular to MLK going to DAAP by the Brodie(?) garage.
This lighting concept could take many design forms.

CityKin said...

^yes, they have those at Theodore Berry Friendship Park and similar ones on Walnut, Vine, Race and Elm where they cross Fort Washington Way, down by the Riverfront. I should try photographing those.

catherine said...

Excellent post on an often overlooked but inescapable aspect of our built environment. I really hope the redesign of Washington Park is sensitive to this element. They could totally destroy the potential of the park if they install unpleasant lighting. I am more afraid of that than anyone in the park.