Friday, 11 February 2011

New Street Lamps for Pitmuxton.

Boring alert. Trainspotting alert.

Mmmm. Indeed. At first glance, a predisposition to be interested in such things; the routine replacement of vital street furniture/infastructure does seem a little, well, obsessive. But bear with us, we've got a point to make.

There can be no doubt that the streetlamps on some of the side streets of Pitmuxton had, um, reached the end of their life.
Not looking good.

And so to rest.

Brushed burnished.

Aluminium oxidised.

At eye-level, during the daytime, we like the new aluminium standards, we like the way the bare metal oxidises into crystal forms resembling camouflage shapes, and we like the fact that the standards are zero maintenance.

However, what we don't like is the extreme white brightness of the new lamps which have been installed on the main roads. We think that not enough research has been done into the effect that this extreme bright whiteness has on the livability of our streets. One might intuitively think that brighter is better, that this will improve visibility, that this will be a disincentive to crime, that it will improve road safety etc.

But, we believe that these lights have been specified by someone who does not ever walk the streets after the sun has gone down. Counterintuitively, we've found that the effect of these lights is to increase contrast, to deepen shadows, to dazzle the eyes and so to make visibility worse.

When we walk out at night, we find that our sightlines are overwhelmed with the glare of these new lights. Oncoming pedestrians who walk towards us are wreathed in silhouette shadow, we can discern faces and clothing detail less well than was possible before because the glare of the overly bright lights has stopped down our pupils to pinpricks and has effectively blinded us to human scale detail.

Human eyes are perfectly capable of operating in low-light, having evolved over millions of years operating in naturally low-light conditions. By attempting to turn night into day and shining lights as bright as can be wrangled directly into the eyes of pedestrians, the designers of our urban environment have dismissed this human heritage. It is clear that they have chosen these ultra-bright white lights to improve contrast, rather than allow human vision to discern fine detail. The night-time town is now a place with lighting highly suited to reading traffic signs and road-markings - high contrast items. But the light which falls on the pavement is not now suitable for identifying the faces of oncoming people on foot.

This choice has been driven by the needs of car drivers traveling at speed, and so normalises high speed motoring during the hours of darkness. By choosing to design the night-time townscape exclusively for the needs of motorists, our planners have turned the town into a high-contrast environment suitable for viewing at speed from behind a windscreen. They have struck another alienating blow against the needs of pedestrians. Thanks for that.

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