Neighbors complain: New street lights too bright & too blue

Posted on April 7th, 2018 by Sara

By reporter Steven Smalley

Here they come, down your street. New brilliant white (actually, blue) LED (Light Emitting Diode) street lights guaranteed to brighten your night, brought to you by the City of Seattle. LEDs are not only more luminescent, they are cheaper, and longer lasting. Classic win-win-win, right? Not to some irate Magnolia neighbors who are up in arms imagining our warm, golden neighborhood street lights shifting to the glare of blue arcs streaming into our windows.
Long-time Magnolia resident, Kurt Owen, not only has a problem with the brightness of the new lighting, but he takes exception to the deleterious health effects the blue-tinged lamps have on him and his family. 

“The neighborhood we live in is Carleton Park. The ambience of the area is beautiful. It’s Magnolia,” Owen begins. “There are territorial views, mountain views, water views. The street lighting in that area of Magnolia isn’t your usual street lights with the arms sticking out. The lights we have are on a single pole. They have a shield. They are beautiful amber-toned lights. They have a wonderful aesthetic when you have to look at them through your windows. The street lights are on eye-level in many cases. They’re not so bad because they’re amber. They actually cast plenty of light. I can see it in my front yard and see everything.”

Then the other shoe drops when the conversation turns to new lights the city wants to install.

“The city has put new bright blue LED lights on some streets. They’re insanely bright. You can see-them-from-outer-space bright. But the other issue – and I can speak to this personally – they are unhealthy. They create insomnia. They upset circadian rhythms. They’re not good for kids, for animals, they’re not good for anybody,” Owen continues. “Years ago I developed insomnia. I went to the doctor and got it checked out, and she said, ‘You’re like a lot of people, blue light messes you up.’ She told me to quit using my computer at night and quit using my phone at night. So I stopped doing those things. I put blue blockers on my phone and computer to eliminate that blue light. And guess what, the insomnia went away. And if you’ve ever had insomnia you know it’s absolute torture – laying in bed all night and not being able to sleep.”

Even the Washington Post chimes in. From a 2016 story, reporter Michael Ollove writes, “If people are sleepless in Seattle, it may not be only because they have broken hearts. The American Medical Association issued a warning in June that the high-intensity LED streetlights – such as those in Seattle…emit unseen blue light that can disturb sleep rhythms and possibly increase the risk of serious health conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

The City of Seattle scoffs at such claims. 

“The report you referenced is two years old. From the utility’s perspective, it does not address the advantages that LED streetlights provide, including better control over where streetlights direct their light, which limits exposure to people in their homes. Additionally, it is important to recognize that blue light is blue light, regardless of its source. Most Americans are exposed to far more blue light from televisions, tablets and cell phones than they are from streetlights,” says a spokesperson for the city.

Not only does the blue-tinged color of the LED lights cause harmful health effects, according to the AMA and others, Owen points out the aesthetic concerns.

“I can see how it’s going to be because some of these lights have already been installed close by my house,” Owen says. “I’m all for LED lights. They save energy, they’re very efficient, and long-lasting. But they have to be the appropriate color and the appropriate brightness. You just don’t put junkyard lights in a nice neighborhood like Magnolia. I don’t think they belong in any residential neighborhood. It looks like a giant parking lot or Walmart. We don’t have a junkyard here. This is a neighborhood.”

The street lighting trade takes exception to attitudes such as those exhibited by Owen. 

“The lighting industry was…attempting to calm fears by touting the advantages of LED street lighting and calling into question both the conclusions and recommendations of the [AMA] report. The complete AMA report does cover the panoply of LED’s advantages in outdoor lighting: cutoff, efficacy, controllability, longevity. But the report emphasizes the health effects of the ‘excessive blue spectrum,’ and offers a one‑size-fits‑all recommendation for warm color temperatures,” according to The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). “LED exceeds the ability of any other light source to put light where you want it, when you want it, in the amount you want. The tiny size and digital nature of LED offer unparalleled advantages in light distribution and cutoff, plus dimmability combined with timers. Spectrum can be adjusted, somewhat, by carefully selecting phosphors. Real‑time spectral tuning, using lighting controls, is not yet cost‑effective.”

Additionally, the city says it’s a safety issue. You can see children walking and dogs crossing the street better, they say. Police can identify license plates more clearly, and distinguish criminal suspects easier.

“If this were Belltown or some parking lot known for crime, those lights could be appropriate,” Owen says. “But I don’t think that every neighborhood should be treated like a prison yard. Let’s face it we were so concerned about safety we would outlaw motorcycles. We would outlaw snow skiing, and skateboarding. We would just get rid of all that stuff in the name of safety. It shouldn’t be Seattle City Light coming down and telling us where the safety is. It’s our neighborhood, not theirs.”

It’s interesting to note some cities and neighborhoods around the country have different tactics concerning street lights. 

“Look at Lake Worth, Florida. They decided to install LED lights with more of an amber hue. It preserves the stars at night. My kids love looking at the stars. We have a telescope. You kiss the stars goodbye when you put in [blue] LED lights,” Owen says. “Some cities have looked at this and have taken the more circumspect view. Sometimes it’s the early adopters that make the big mistakes. In my [work] world, you don’t want to be the early adopter. You want to let someone else try it and let it blow up in their face. You start using it once it’s perfected. Seattle came in too early in my opinion.”

The city has purchased 85,000 LED units, according to published reports. You have to ask if this is a fait accompli. 

“Look, [LEDs] are unhealthy,” Owen says. “Go to a sleep therapist and ask about blue light. I know the City of Seattle says you get the same light out of your computer and out of your cell phone. That doesn’t mean adding more poison to my diet is a good idea. I can turn off my TV, I can stop using my computer, but I can’t do anything about the blue lights they put outside my window. The bottom line is: it’s an ugly, ugly light. You’re never going to go into a nice restaurant and enjoy a nice relaxing meal and have one of those interrogation lights over your table. They will drive you right out of the restaurant.”

Existing Magnolia street lights on Viewmont Way

LED lighting turns night to day

8 responses to “Neighbors complain: New street lights too bright & too blue”

  1. Gretchen taylor says:

    Just say NO to LED lights! Lighting up our streets like a Wal-Mart parking lot is absolute insanity! Who was behind this decision?

  2. I have 2700k led lights through out my home. The lower the kelvin the better. I’ve done research on led lighting. The higher the kelvin the more blue light it gives off. With the brighter cool white led lights, they give off pollution glare and they are dangerous to night time animals. The 2700k is what should be used. Period. But if Seattle City Fathers won’t listen then this is there fault.

  3. Mardig S says:

    Why would we be surprised that the mediocre talent that works for the city would have no aesthetic sensibility whatsoever? As a community we should reject ugly. Nothing is as uninviting as blue LED light.

  4. Amy says:

    We actually close our blinds at night due to the updated lights. Never in the 25 years we’ve lived in Magnolia have we had to do that. The city is making a huge mistake and it seems they want people to leave.

  5. Helen says:

    I had the street lights adjusted (bit dimmer and angles away from) as my bedroom is the same level as the LED bulb and I had problems sleeping even with shade and curtain. You can contact the city to complain/have the lights adjusted.

  6. GKT says:

    Once again the City of Seattle is taking the liberty of excluding the citizens of neighborhoods in the decision to install these LED lights throughout Magnolia and other neighborhoods in Seattle. The push to quietly change out lights is the “new normal” business model in this city. This lighting change out is just another example of the city’s efforts to expedite a program and willfully disregard the wishes and welfare of residents. Why should I be surprised? Happening everywhere.

  7. julie gallichotte says:

    how can we get more involved in opposing this insanity?

  8. Darksky seattle says:

    We want to protect seattle health by requiring less blue-emitting Street and security lights.

    We want Seattle City Light to put amber shields on existing Blue-LEDs

    We are on Twitter @darkskyseattle fighting for the right to night.

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