Thursday, October 13, 2016

SR520 Excessive Lighting Issue On King 5 News Last Night

King 5 news last night ran a story called "New SR 520 bridge lights: too bright?" about how the new lighting on the north side of the new Floating Bridge is spilling artificial light onto Lake Washington which can be harmful to the fragile salmon stock.

The news report said:
How bright is too bright when it comes to lighting on the new SR 520 bridge?  The answer depends on who you ask.
"It looks like a row of parked cars with their lights on bright, stretched all the way across the lake," said Laurelhurst homeowner Jim Bradburne. 
He's one of several neighbors living on the north side of the bride who feel the lights are far too bright.  Bradburne says it's more than a nuisance in the lakeside community.  He also worries about the environmental impacts. 
"My first reaction was wow this can't be good for the fish," he said.  "I'm a fly fisherman, and I saw the lights and I knew it would have an impact.  Increased artificial lighting has a tendency to attract the fish around the lights.  That has the potential, studies have shown, to increase the predators that can easily come in and wipe out juvenile salmon that are trying to survive in the lake and ultimately make it to saltwater." 
WSDOT is well aware of the concerns.  In fact, the complaints started coming in almost immediately after the lights were turned on. 
"So fairly shortly thereafter, there were tests conducted," said Larry Kyle, who is the SR 520 Program Engineering Manager.   
As a result of those tests, he says WSDOT changed out the lightbulbs in June, going from 100 watt bulbs down to 50. 
Kyle says the roughly 200 lights installed on the new bridge and are intended to illuminate the pedestrian and bike path and maintain safety requirements on that path.   
He says WSDOT did extensive research on potential environmental impacts of the lights. 
"We feel very comfortable in saying that we have minimized the potential negative impact on the salmon in Lake Washington," said Kyle.  "Because we are well under the light levels that are indicated that might cause salmon to change their behavior.  That would be a concern." 
Also frustrating to Laurelhurst neighbors is that the bicycle and pedestrian path does not yet fully link Medina and Seattle.  The part that is open right now is an "out and back" trail from Medina to the west end of the floating bridge. 
"Our idea is to just close it, until the path becomes fully operational," said homeowner Colleen McAleer.  "Turn off the lights, give time for a solution to be found, and then move on.  In the meantime, we're not sure why the path would be lit at all." 
Kyle says it's not quite that simple, since bicyclists and pedestrians are already using the portion of  the Regional Shared Use Path that is open. 
"I think we'd like to tell these neighbors that we understand their concerns, we appreciate their input, and we're trying to balance the aesthetics of the appearance of lights north of the bridge with the needs of other users and the safety of other users," said Kyle.   
According to WSDOT, between 200 and 400 bicyclists per hour will be using that lighted trail during commute times, once it opens up all the way to Seattle." 
He says WSDOT will continue to analyze the lighting and consider alternatives.  One possibility is making adjustments to the lighting fixtures.   
"The light fixtures are designed so they have a shield across the top portion of the fixture, and part of the bulb is shielded," said Kyle.  "The intent is to have the light shining down on the path and unfortunately, the shield on this particular fixture doesn't cover the whole lightbulb, and I think that's part of the reason it's fairly visible from the north side of the lake. 
"WSDOT hopes to have another update for neighbors by the end of October. 
"This lighting is just nothing like what we had seen in the environmental studies early on in the design process," said McAleer.  "And with this kind of lighting, reducing the wattage just isn't enough to correct the problem."

The Laurelhurst Community Club  (LCC) has said about the lighting:
LCC has been in contact with WSDOT which is  working on some possible lighting solutions. However, after they changed out the first set of bulbs from 100 watts to 50 watts, the lighting is still too bright, and shines directly out towards the lake,  instead of down onto the shared use lane.  This design installed is not what was in the EIS, and produces unacceptable nighttime conditions for both wildlife and humans.
LCC , and a group of concerned neighbors, have contacted WSDOT numerous times and have met with state and city officials to work on  correction.  Solutions proposed include replacing the fixtures for a lower wattage capacity bulb  (the existing ones can only house a minimum 50 watt bulb), placing hoods on the fixtures  to direct  a downlight of the existing lights, installing a dimmer system, and/or  adding a tall shield to the shared use path on the north side of the railing to capture the spilled light. 


Laurelhurst residents have commented:

Geographically, Laurelhurst is certainly a neighborhood that is heavily and negatively impacted due to our proximity, but anyone who uses the lake from dusk to dawn, as well as taxpayers, as well as anyone who cares about the lake ecosystem (very much including the tribes, Department of Ecology, NOAA and more) have a stake here.
From a safety standpoint, these lights are bright enough to cause temporary night-blindness for navigating boats, making it more difficult to powerboaters to see kayakers, standup-paddleboarders, swimmers who might be in their navigation path.
The maddening thing here is that it's eminently and easily fixable,and it can even be done with minimal or even zero impact on the budget. Many neighbors are willing to help solve it.  
Numerous studies have shown that excessive light has measurable and negative effects on the environment. And the lighting is vastly different than was promised and represented to all stakeholders, including the Department of Ecology and the northwest tribes.  

The back of the envelope math is that it will cost about $15,000 per year to light the bike path at that wattage per year.  I think a far lower-power solution could feasibly operationally cost one third that sum.
The bike path can be very safely and adequately lit with much lower and/or more efficiently-directed lighting. It's currently lit at 3400 lumens per bulb. Each metal halide bulb emits the equivalent of a 200 watt incandescent bulb, and more than one hundred times brighter than the required level we all use with bike lights at night. And there are two hundred of them. 
There are hundreds of 50W metal halide bulbs on 520, which emit way too much light onto the lake and all points north, from dusk till dawn, 365 days per year. 
It was a huge design mistake to face these lights outward, right through the railing and onto the lake and then to all points north. They need to be shielded down, onto the path, and NOT onto the surface of the lake. Numerous studies have shown that artificial surface light draws fish, particularly young salmon, and as a result, they are at much greater risk of predation.  
At a minimum, a fabricated simple stainless steel shield, directing light down onto the path where it belongs can't possibly cost more than $50 apiece. There are other pragmatic options too. Go here for more information.   
Rep. Jessyn Farrell (, Rep. Gerry Pollet ( and Sen. David Frockt ( have all expressed their support for the reduction of light pollution, and we hope they can address when the legislature reconvenes.  They would love to hear from you.
If you too are concerned about the excessive lighting and its impact on the ecology and nightscape, PLEASE take a moment to let WSDOT know. It is fixable, but only with our voices. 

Another neighbor commented:
The level of lighting is out of proportion to what is needed -- look at any pretty much other bike path in the state for comparison. And cyclists should always have a light on their bike when riding at night (it's not only wise, it's the law.)

It is easily possible to achieve safety AND no-glare.

After an initial turn-on of 100W (!) bulbs several months ago, after hearing from several neighbors here, they shut it down for testing in April, which was commendable.

They now have a revised "solution" of what looks like zillions of 50W (!) bulbs. If you're like me though, you find the glare from this 50W lighting extremely industrial, urban-feeling, distracting, unnecessarily bright, and likely a new light-pollution risk for birds and the lake ecosystem.

Above is an unaltered photo from Webster Point for your consideration. As of this writing, unless we act now with our voices to change things -- this is NOT temporary construction lighting. It is currently the permanent plan. I would very much like the 520 project leaders to consider further change here -- all of a sudden, I feel like we're living next to a factory/runway.

I must emphasize that this shouldn't be adversarial -- on several occasions, I've found the WSDOT team actively soliciting input and trying to balance many concerns sensibly. (Though I've not been the most involved, so take that statement with a grain of salt.)

PLEASE take a moment to add your voice if you agree that this lighting is too much and needs to be further mitigated and send an email to those listed below. It's totally possible to light this path in a much more environmentally-friendly and less-visually-impactful-to-non-users kind of way.
This is an obvious design fail. It should have been quite simple to light the path in a non-glare design. Mistakes happen, and this one is high impact for many. But fixable. Obviously the design would have been better if the bulbs weren't pointing straight out and north, but rather downlighting from the rails (like the I-5 overpass near Northgate, or other areas).

I think there are far, far less environmentally-impactful solutions that don't look like a runway.

From my perspective, the 520 bridge project managers have solicited and often acted upon feedback. I am greatly concerned that if we don't speak up now, the bridge lighting (dawn to dusk) will be permanent. 
From a practical standpoint, the issue now is to figure out how to improve/mitigate it.  

Here is information from August in the Laurelhurst Blog:
Here is an update from several neighbors on the glaring light problem from the bridge since it opened on April 2nd.  The neighbors contacted WSDOT to request how to reduce the various types of bright lights glaring onto the waters of Lake Washington. The new bridge , when fully lit, looked like a cruise ship on Lake Washington to the dismay of nearby residents.
The key issues on lighting are:

1. Large bright lights shining straight out to the north from poles mounted on top of the bridge deck. 
2. Numerous lights on the bridge deck shining from inside of the vehicle barricade of the bike/pedestrian lane outward through the open railing, and onto the lake to the north. 
3. Various colored lights have been added in a higher wattage-red, blue and green on and under the lower part of the bridge. 
4. Sentinel lights in a variety of colors -usually decorative in nature,  are whimsically lit. 
The old bridge, and I-90 had dim lights, and only using wattage needed for safety. No crashes had been attributed to low lighting in 53 years previously. 
A Laurelhurst Community Club Trustee met with the SR520 head engineers, Larry Kyle and Kerry Philstrom, who are working on an acceptable solution. However, they indicated that here are two major embedded design obstacles already in the new bridge that may hamper the "fix": 
1. The basic lighting design is flawed on the Floating Bridge. The lights are installed facing from inside to glow outside to light the bike/pedestrian lane. Since the railing is open to the north, the excess light sills over, and onto Lake Washington, and worse, reflects more off the water to surrounding shoreline parks and residences, obscuring the treasured views of Mt. Rainier. 
2. WSDOT, or its contractor, KGM, has  installed  400  lighting fixtures  along the bike/ped pathway. When the bridge opened up for traffic, they all were lit with 100 watt bulbs. (very ecological-not). Unfortunately, those expensive fixtures can only go as low as 50 watts, which is still extremely bright on a dark lake.
LCC has suggested to WSDOT a variety of solutions including:
1. removing every other bulb on the bike/ped lane if proven to be safe.
2. replace light fixtures themselves, with lower wattage capacity-eg. 20 watts 
3. place "hoods" partially over the existing light fixtures to reduce glare, and direct light onto the lane itself, not spill over.  
4. install a continuous light shield along the north railing of the bike/ped lane to capture the light, and block it from shining onto the lake.  
The newer ,WABN (West Approach Bridge North) that faces Laurelhurst in Union Bay should be better as the design is different, and had the bike/ped lane lighting facing inward from the railing back to the bridge deck.  
Numerous neighbors and members from Laurelhurst Community Club met in May with City Council member Rob Johnson, and City Liaison, Bernard Van deKamp and briefed them about the unacceptable "light pollution".  Bernard said he would bring it to the attention of WSDOT, and work towards a solution.  In addition, WSDOT has been informed directly by Laurelhurst , Medina and Hunt's Point residents.
LCC will continue to work for a better solution to provide safe, but more dim lighting for the new Floating Bridge.

Here is the response about the lighting from WSDOT following LCC's communication:
In early April, WSDOT heard from several project neighbors regarding lights that can be seen on the north side of the new SR 520 floating bridge. Based on initial comments, we turned off all non-essential lighting on April 12 and delayed the opening of the new regional shared-use path (RSUP), or bike/pedestrian path, until testing could be completed and the correct, safe lighting levels can be established for pedestrians and/or cyclists using the path at night.

Testing of the new lights on the bridge was conducted May 3-4 and the WSDOT team is currently analyzing the gathered data. During these tests lighting experts measured the light levels along the new bike/pedestrian path and from Lake Washington north of the bridge.
Below is a quick overview of the lights that were visible on the new floating bridge before some of them were turned off (April 12). As you can see, there are a variety of lighting types and requirements on the new bridge.
1.     Luminaires: appear as tall, amber lights that are essential safety lighting at the merge points on both the east and west ends of the bridge.
  1. Minor elements: architectural, pedestrian-scale lights located along the barrier between the RSUP and the roadway.
  2. Bike/pedestrian path and belvedere lighting: low-level lights required lighting for pedestrian and bicyclist safety. These lights have been turned off since April 12.
  3. Underdeck maintenance lighting: lights under the roadway deck, required during nighttime maintenance activities, otherwise these lights are turned off.
  4. Temporary construction lighting: mostly under the roadway deck; only turned on during nighttime construction activities. Most of this lighting has been moved to the old bridge.
  5. Blue lights: indicating emergency call boxes for distressed boaters.
  6. Red and green navigational lights: red lights run along the edge of the pontoons green lights indicate the navigational channels at the east and west ends of the bridge.
  7. Sentinels: up lighting on the sentinels and lights in the mesh boxes at the top of the sentinels. Sentinels mark the ends of the floating portion of the bridge. 

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