Chicago Getting Smart About Street Lighting

In the movement toward a more efficient and sustainable energy economy, several factors have played an important role. LEDs have dramatically increased efficiency in the lighting sector. Smart technology has increased access to information and control. Finally, government has been a big catalyst for change.

In the "Chicago Smart Lighting Program," all three have converged.

Announced in the spring of 2016, the city launched last fall what it describes as "one of the largest street lighting modernization projects in the country." The city-wide lighting initiative will replace more than 270,000 existing outdated high-pressure sodium (HPS) light fixtures with LEDs and create a modern lighting management system.

The first phase of the program saw installation of more than 18,000 LEDs on main arterials in priority areas of the city's South and West Sides. This year, the program expanded to include residential streets in those same areas and 17 main arterial streets throughout the City.

On May 8th, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the program had reached a milestone with the installation of more than 42,000 new fixtures. Ultimately, the program will install over 270,000 LEDs across the city in multiple phases through the year 2021. Its savings potential is estimated to reach $100 million over 10 years.

Besides reduced costs, the program will benefit the city in multiple ways. It will create one of the largest lighting control and management systems in the country, which will enable the city to monitor and address maintenance issues. That improved control and maintenance will also reduce the volume of calls to the city's 311 system.

Rebekah Scheinfeld, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Transportation, reported that the city was getting 1,000 calls per week on the city’s 311 non-emergency phone alert system regarding street lights before the new lights were installed.

The new LEDs will also provide clear, crisp light that will improve visibility and public safety. They will consume 50 percent less electricity than the existing HPS lights. A shielded design to ensure the light is focused downward toward the street and sidewalk will reduce light pollution.

Finally, city residents and facilities will perform at least 50 percent of the installation and manufacturing. At least 10 percent of the workers will be from economically disadvantaged areas throughout the city.

About the Author

Rick Laezman

Freelance Writer

Rick Laezman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has been covering renewable power for more than 10 years. He may be reached at

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