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City Lights

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The lead article in the January 2014 article of the CFU newsletter is a plan adopted by the Cedar Falls City Council to install LED street light fixtures in residential neighborhoods across town by the end of this year. The new fixtures will save the city over $4 million in street lighting costs over the next 20 years, and the new fixtures will pay for themselves through cost savings in less than two years. Next year the city will begin replacing fixtures in commercial and industrial areas, and afterwards will decide whether to update fixtures along the Parkade and for rental yard lights in residential areas.  [source]

With that blatant plagiarism out of the way, I have to say this is welcome news. LED lights tackle a common problem among traditional sodium fixtures; that is, light pollution. Most street light fixtures are not designed to direct their light entirely downward towards roadways and sidewalks. A fair amount of light ends up spreading outward, or even upward, creating an annoying haze upon approach. This citywide haze is why, when you’re driving along the interstate at night and are approaching a big city, it appears to glow as if hit by an atomic bomb. That “glow” is light pollution and is caused in part by street lights.

Let’s also not forget how unsightly and unnatural sodium lights are. They cast a sickly, jaundiced, puss-like pale over neighborhoods, one I am all too familiar with from nighttime bicycling. LED lights cast a more pleasant, moonlike light upon the ground.

While city councils can’t control or change every source of light pollution, which also includes car headlights, home and business lighting, and street light reflection, they can at the very least take steps that will have some measurable impact that will also save the taxpayers money over the long run.


Sadly, most people living in urban areas will only see the brightest starts in the night sky. Rural residence can see a fair deal more, but within the US you have to travel the western part of the country, many miles from any street lights, to catch a glimpse of the galaxies. I witnessed this view one time in my life, when I was sixteen, hiking through the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. It’s one thing to see a few recognizable constellations, it’s quite another to see the entire night sky awash in tiny cosmic pinpricks. This was a common occurrence across most of this country a little more than a century ago. Industrial “progress” has since divorced us from our celestial umbrella.

Perhaps I wax poetically a bit too much. But do me a favor — stop reading for a moment, walk outside (if you’re reading this at night) and look up. What do you see?


Los Angeles, New York and other major US cities are already converting their trillions* of street lights to LED, and it’s nice to see Cedar Falls making the switch sooner rather than later. The images from L.A.’s changed landscape are striking…

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 9.12.24 PM


LED fixtures won’t allow me to walk outside the Mandalay and see the galaxy spanning overhead, but they’ll help reduce the nauseating yellow glare that’s been cast over this community for far too long. I’ve already seen a few fixtures installed around town; one down on Grand Blvd near Pfeiffer Park (near the turn towards Waterloo Rd) and a row of fixtures in the parking lot where Ray Edwards used to be. That row runs parallel to a row of traditional lights along Seerley Blvd. So anyone who wants a side-by-side comparison of sodium and LED fixtures can just drive on down Seerley and check out the future of better, more beautiful street lighting for themselves.


Written by camcarlson

February 10, 2014 at 9:39 PM

Posted in Cedar Valley

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