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City lighting: a continuous work in progress

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Posted on: December 12, 2014

BY REBECCA BENNETT — The Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T) said they are working to resolve issues with street lamps on Belcrest Road between Adelphi Road and the Mall at Prince Georges.

“A major challenge with the high voltage lighting system is that it is old and requires breakers to be fixed and the underground wiring to be rewired each time a light is hit or goes out,” a DPW&T spokesperson said. “Another issue is that the lights are wired in series so if one light in the series is broken or out, the others are affected.”

This issue was also highlighted at the Nov. 18 Hyattsville City Planning Committee meeting, where the Belcrest road lighting problem was compared Christmas lights: when one light goes out, they all go out.

Councilmember Tim Hunt (Ward 3) said quite a few of the lights were out on Belcrest Road in September, but the county allegedly had most of them working in October.

“Then all the lights went dark,” Hunt said. “The main issue is I don’t think the county is taking the issue seriously enough.”

Several Hyattsville residents say there are several broken street lights on Belcrest Road. Photo courtesy Caroline Selle.
Several Hyattsville residents say several street lights on Belcrest Road are broken. Photo courtesy Caroline Selle.

DPW&T said they have been making repairs as lights have gone out, but a long term fix is more complicated. New poles and light fixtures need to be installed, DPW&T said, which will need to be further away from the curb.

A department spokesperson said, “We will continue to monitor and repair the lighting system until a permanent solution is implemented.”

I use Belcrest Road regularly, mostly to bike to the library or to the Metro station. I’m glad the lights are back on one side of the road, and look forward to seeing them on the other side,” Hyattsville resident David Inouye said.

Several bodies are responsible for maintaining street lights in the City of Hyattsville. City staff said Hyattsville only maintains approximately 10 percent of the street lights in the city.

“Pepco maintains the majority of lights in the City, and usually fixes them within a few days of a report. The County fixes broken lights as they can,” a city spokesperson said.

There are several future lighting projects being discussed. The city is currently conducting a lighting study in West Hyattsville, and the city said it is accepting proposals for lighting in Hyatt Park. The county is exploring lighting upgrades where Ager Road, Hamilton Road and Queens Chapel Road come together, according to city staff.

Although new development may indicate progress, University Hills resident Emily Palus remains cautious and skeptical, “because it doesn’t appear that it will be maintained.”

But, not everyone thinks more light is necessarily the best solution.

“The idea that more light always results in better safety and security is a myth,” the International Dark Sky Association said in its guidelines for small communities, urban neighborhoods, and subdivisions. “One needs only the right amount of light, in the right place, at the right time. More light often means wasted light and energy.”

When preserving the night sky was brought up at the Nov. 18 city planning meeting, William Washburn of the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission spoke about new considerations.

“There are modern specs for street lighting that require … the design to where the [light is] cut off and directed to the ground,” he said.

Along with ambient dark-sky lighting focused downward, “[lighting] can also be layered, to focus on lower levels,” a city spokesperson said. “This type of lighting illuminates less of the surrounding area, and protects the privacy of and does not bother residents who may not want light coming in their windows all night.”

One Mayland county handles light pollution in a different way. Residents in Baltimore County can apply for shades on street lights near their homes and pay $150 each to have them installed, according to the county’s website.

As for the upcoming MD 500 lighting improvements, the City of Hyattsville said SHA’s plan includes an increased wattage where lighting engineers determined it was needed.

“They will also add pedestrian lighting throughout the project area, but especially by Belcrest Road, East-West Highway and MD 500,” the city said.

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