Tom Harper: An update on Lawrence’s blue/purple streetlights (Column)

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Driving around Lawrence, one cannot help but notice the increasing number of streetlights casting a wide spectrum of blue and purple down on our streets, sidewalks, businesses and homes. 

In July, The Lawrence Times ran a story about the failing LED light fixture problem. I had not heard any updates, so I inquired with the City of Lawrence and Evergy.

Brandon McGuire, assistant city manager, reminded me that Evergy owns and maintains most of the streetlights in Lawrence except for the streetlights downtown. The new LED fixtures were installed several years ago and are prematurely failing. The old lights were lit by bulbs, and the new ones are LED panels that emit a brighter light and are much more cost-efficient to operate. He directed me to Evergy for a time frame on when the fixtures would be replaced.

Evergy spokesperson Andrew Baker confirmed there was a subcomponent within the light fixtures that was failing. The company that designed and had the fixtures manufactured is AcuityBrands. The type of fixtures that were installed in Lawrence can be viewed at this link.

Baker said AcuityBrands oversees subcontracting the replacement of the fixtures and the timeline for their replacement. It is a simple repair. The challenges include locating the failing streetlights and then accessing them with a lift; once the contractor has reached the top of the streetlight, the damaged fixture is removed and a new one is installed.

Lawrence is not alone — Baker said these same LED fixtures have been installed nationwide and are also failing nationwide. In Kansas, the failures are primarily in Manhattan, Wichita, Emporia, Topeka and Lawrence. The fixtures are under warranty, so cities and customers will bear no cost for their replacement. 

Baker said in Wichita there were around 4,000 lights that have failed, and approximately 3,000 have been replaced.

In Lawrence, he said, there are approximately 480 that have failed so far — that’s up from 240 lights that Evergy was aware of in the summer.

Baker said in July that the company did not have a timeline for when repairs would begin in Lawrence, though Evergy was hopeful to have no more blue streetlights in Kansas within four months. Asked more recently, Baker still was not sure when the replacement process would begin in Lawrence, but he was hopeful that it would be sometime in 2022. 

In the meantime, those who would like to report newly failed streetlights can do so at this link

Granted, there are much bigger problems to be aware of and work toward solving in our world and community. After all, this problem is solely an aesthetic one. 

I think the blue/purple lights are kind of pretty, especially during the holiday season. I just wish they were all failing at the same time.

On a humorous note, props to Andrea Repinsky, who was inspired by the mounting number of blue streetlights. She had the “bright idea” to construct one of the most creative and topical Halloween costumes of the year. 

Repinsky made herself into a Lawrence streetlight, shown in this photograph standing downtown on Eighth Street. She was careful to note, “I’m not creating all the light shown.” 

Jason Keezer/Contributed Photo Andrea Repinsky, shown standing downtown on Eighth Street, was inspired by the mounting number of blue streetlights. She constructed one of the most creative and topical Halloween costumes of the year.

About the writer

Tom Harper is a Realtor at Stephens Real Estate helping people in Lawrence and Douglas County buy and sell real estate. He is the founder of Lawrence Modern, a group whose mission is to raise awareness of midcentury and modern architecture. You will find him posting frequently on Instagram under @lawrencemodern, sharing his daily observations of his favorite place on earth: Lawrence, Kansas. Read more of Tom’s writing for The Lawrence Times here.

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