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Globe: Against the environmentalist, aesthetes have no hope

junctionist

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The end might be coming for the lovely traditional "acorn" street light in Toronto. I'm hoping they could be retrofitted with LEDs rather than a switch to fluorescent. On the plus side though, the orange sodium vapour lights will inevitablely become a thing of the past.

Against the environmentalist, aesthetes have no hope

JOHN BARBER
October 1, 2008

Urban aesthetes beware: The environmentalists are back, brandishing more new technology with which to blight our fair city in the name of drear efficiency. What they did to our interiors with their ghastly fluorescent light bulbs they are now doing to our streets. "Low-carbon street lighting" is coming fast, and it ain't pretty.

They will say it is, of course, just as they say that the latest compact fluorescent bulbs emit a more natural light than their dawn-of-the-dead predecessors - something they have been saying for years despite all evidence, while ignoring the fact they contain toxic mercury. (Note to self: Begin hoarding soon-to-be-illegal incandescent bulbs immediately.)

But mere aesthetics - emphasis always on the mere - are sadly beside the point. The environmentalists are unstoppable because, true to their most annoying habit, they are right about this, too.

New technology available from local suppliers could potentially save up to 80 per cent of the current cost of lighting city streets, according to Christopher Tyrrell, president of Toronto Hydro Energy Services. In the new age, failing to embrace it would be downright irresponsible.

Like the Ford Model T, solid-state lighting systems that use diodes instead of filaments and gases are a "disruptive technology" with awesome power to change the world, according to the organizers of a coming Toronto conference on low-carbon lighting. Innovative cities in distant lands have already embraced it, they say. Toronto Hydro will soon begin testing half a dozen alternatives in separate installations throughout the city.

Whatever else happens, according to Mr. Tyrrell, the traditional Toronto street light - the "acorn luminaire" that still sets the absolute quality standard for even, natural street lighting - is toast. Assuming anybody really cares, the best we can hope for in the future is to keep a few retrofitted acorns glowing in the tourist districts.

But you never know: Traditionalists frustrated the first green-inspired assault on the old acorn back in the 1990s, when the case against it was even stronger than it is today.

At the time, the old city of Toronto was the only municipality anywhere still lighting its streets with grossly inefficient incandescent bulbs, which it kept for mere aesthetic reasons: Its streets at night were uniquely gorgeous, and the only efficient alternative at the time - sodium-vapour lights - were then and remain hideous.

With the greens barking for efficiency, the old city pioneered its own disruptive technology: Traditional acorns powered by metal-halide lamps giving off a bright, white light. Tests showed that the new-old rig outperformed all the latest technology available at the time. Installed widely throughout the central city, the metal-halide acorns still manage to recall the soft-lit romance of yore.

But LED lighting is more efficient still, renewing demands for change. And the old Toronto, in which aesthetics sometimes mattered, is a long-forgotten conceit.

Installations elsewhere show that LEDs give off a far more natural light than the highway-style sodium fixtures that still dominate suburban streets. But high cost and the problem of patchy illumination still impede their widespread adoption, according to advocates, as does a bewildering variety of technical standards that obstruct innovation.

The greens want disruption, and they're good at it. For aesthetes, the only hope left is obstruction.
 

Hydrogen

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while ignoring the fact they contain toxic mercury.

As they are fitted to city property, surely we can we count on them to dispose of these bulbs properly.

I for one will be glad when the brown cloudy skies of sodium vapor lamps are a thing of the past.
 

Dichotomy

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One thing about those sodium lamps is that they are a huge relief during winter blizzards. Anyone who has driven in unlit conditions during a winter storm, then come into a municipality with those orange lights will know what I am talking about.
Safety is always the mantra with the Ministry of Transport, so any LED technology is going to have to take Toronto's bleak winter weather into account.
 

Mustapha

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I hope the LEDs aren't like those flashlight ones now. They hurt the eyes to look at and its mostly a blue cast that doesn't 'throw' very far.
 

MisterF

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These new lights are a fairly cold blue, much colder than any household compact fluorescent. They've been installed in a lot of streets in Cobourg and the light is 5000 K. Supposedly LEDs can be any colour you want, so you'd think they'd make them in the 2700 range, which is what incadescent lights are.
 

Hydrogen

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Why?

Daylight is in the 5000K region, so one can perceive objects more realistically in such a colour temperature.

Yellower lighting of around 2700K tends to reduce the ability to see yellows and reds for some people.
 

MisterF

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Why?

Daylight is in the 5000K region, so one can perceive objects more realistically in such a colour temperature.

Yellower lighting of around 2700K tends to reduce the ability to see yellows and reds for some people.
Because most people prefer a warmer light for night illumination. Most people who don't like the new lights don't like the cool colour of them. Think about it - until the last century or two all we had for light and heat was fire. So it makes sense that at night we prefer light that mimics fire over light that mimics the sun.
 

Hydrogen

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General vision, colour differentiation and depth perception are better during the daytime, and the purpose of lighting is artificial daylight.

Think about it - until the last century or two all we had for light and heat was fire. So it makes sense that at night we prefer light that mimics fire over light that mimics the sun.

There is no "collective memory" with respect to fires at night. As to what was going on a century or two ago, neither you nor I were alive, and there were no cars on roads, either However, some people used whale oil or naptha for indoor lighting before electricity. One reason for their popularity was the brighter and whiter light that they provided. The sucess of naptha helped generate the rapid growth of the early petrochemical industry.

Humans see best during daylight, so the best light for seeing at night is that which mimics daylight.

Think about it. ;)
 

MisterF

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Still, most people prefer a warmer light at night. A lot of work has gone into making CFLs mimic the warm light from incandescent lights because that's what people prefer. I haven't heard anyone say they like the new, cool streetlights yet.
 

299 bloor call control.

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A more local example is to simply go to the south end of the St Andrew Station subway platform. They've begun replacing the fluorescents with LED lighting and the blue tinge is striking when you compare it to the un-retrofitted section of the platform.
 

TKTKTK

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I actually like sodium vapour lamps. There's a nostalgia, and it's fun when you go all monochrome.
 

cacruden

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This light (although not uber cool looking) - is one that I want to install (or 2) - even if they do suck 1000W :p

http://www.leevalley.com/garden/page.aspx?c=1&cat=2,44716&p=46958

Of course the real purpose for this light is for my indoor herb garden (thai herbs) I want to plant when I get back from my winter retreat (maybe Feb/Mar). God, I never thought I would plant anything -- I really really hated having to water all the plants in the greenhouse and the back yard.
 

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