Thursday, March 16, 2017

520 Lighting Update Provided By Group Of Concerned Neighbors And How To Provide Input

unaltered photo from Webster Point looking at 520 bridge

A small working group of concerned neighbors has been working with the 520 Bridge Project Team on the issue of the overly bright SR520 bridge lights and solutions on dimming them.

The group put together this presentation
of the lighting impacts, key issues and concerns, as well as WSDOT activity regarding the issue.

Here is updated information from the group:
Though it doesn't yet show it when looking out at the bridge, encouraging behind-the-scenes progress appears to be happening and we greatly appreciate WSDOT's continued efforts here. Rep. Jessyn Farrell, Rep. Gerry Pollett and Sen. David Frockt have also been quite supportive and helpful in this effort. Continued thanks to the representatives of the 46th District. 
We neighbors very much support the bike path, and believe it can be much more appropriately lit.

At this writing, we're cautiously optimistic, but it may take several more months for the light reduction to be realized. We look forward to the improvements the next few months may bring.

Like all major construction projects, the impressive 520 bridge project had a couple significant mistakes in its transition from design to reality. One such mistake was the lighting design of the Regional Shared Use Path (RSUP) -- i.e., the bike path. The lights were not really shielded in any way, and faced straight out, rather than down and onto the path, and in our view they were made much more powerful than needed. (And yes, it definitely would have been better if those lights had pointed from the north to the south, too.) The resulting lights cast far too much light on the lake surface and create a pretty substantial eyesore that detracts from the bridge's architectural features (e.g., the blue sentinels) when viewed from the north. In addition, on the path itself, the brightness of the lights when compared with near total darkness (approaching from the east) can cause a safety risk to bike riders as well. (The average bike light, required by law, is just 2 watts.) If you've been out on the RSUP at night (from the eastside), I think you'll agree that it's pretty bright, and that the transition from no lights to the RSUP lights is quite stark. Numerous studies have shown that excessive light on the surface of the water at night can have deleterious effects on marine life, particularly salmon, as it acts as a "stop light" and it puts young salmonoids at much greater risk of predation.

In the working group, our attitude is that mistakes happen, and we're not interested in spending much time pointing fingers. What we're interested in are practical solutions to improve the ecosystem, bike and water safety, environment and yes, also the views.

After several neighbors raised considerable concerns about it when the lights were first turned on, WSDOT initially responded with switching out all 100W metal halide bulbs with 50W bulbs. But, with the same shielding, it did little to reduce the glare hitting the lake. After continued input, a couple months back, WSDOT representatives hosted a meeting at the UW Horticultural Center, shared an overview, directly heard neighbor concerns about the environmental impact of the bridge lights, and the group collectively weighed input on 4 potential solutions. A special note -- Washington's relatively new Secretary of Transportation (Roger Millar) took the time to personally attend the neighbor meeting, in addition to Julie Meredith (WSDOT 520 overall project lead) and a couple engineers. In my view they deserve real credit for listening and responding.

Neighbor input was essentially that full replacement of the lights would be preferable but likely quite expensive -- potentially in the millions of dollars to fully switch-out, and that perhaps best use of taxpayer dollars was to instead shield the existing light fixtures themselves. We suggested some kind of louvered design which directs the light down instead of out as the most cost-effective option. WSDOT thanked the group for the input and indicated they'd keep us updated.

True to their word, they ordered and received a first round of prototype shields from the lighting manufacturer, which they installed on five lights on the bridge a month or so ago (just east of the western belvedere), and asked the smaller working group of neighbors for input. We provided the input that it was a welcome step in the right direction -- light is in fact reduced, but still bled through from certain viewing angles. We felt a second design with more complete louvered shielding could do even better while not compromising light on the bike path surface.

WSDOT will soon be installing this second round of prototype shields ("Prototype 2") on five more lights for comparison, which we hope will further reduce light output while not compromising lighting on the bike path itself. That's where we stand right now.

We in the neighborhood group totally support the idea of a lit bike path; this will be a great feature for the Greater Seattle community and certainly Northeastern Seattle neighbors. We simply would like to ensure that the light actually lights the bike path and not the surface of the lake, nor outward. More important than being an eyesore, this light pollution on the surface of the lake has been shown in numerous studies to be detrimental to wildlife (both fish and navigating birds) and it also causes a night-blindness safety risk for boaters/swimmers/paddleboarders/kayakers.

Fortunately, at present at least, WSDOT (given their size and myriad of issues to juggle) has been quite responsive and, while things are moving slowly, they do appear to be moving in the right direction.

There is ALSO the WABN -- the west approach bridge north -- i.e., the connector that gets you from the current bridge over the Foster Island area and connecting ultimately to I-5. There is a different lighting system planned for that area, a distinct advantage of being "second to market" and learning from the mistakes made. There is still a (remote) chance that WSDOT will want to implement that style of lighting (which faces south, from the kickplate on the north) on the full SR520 bridge. That is part of the reason that the progress is a bit slow-moving -- no decision is appears to be finalized just yet until WSDOT and neighbors see what lighting looks like there. But again, doing that switchout may be quite expensive, so we want to be prepared with a more cost-effective solution for the main bridge segment.

If you're in general agreement with the idea that lighting should be improved, please jot your name, email and comments into this 3-field survey.

Steve Murch (
Colleen McAleer
Jean Amick
James Bradburne
Katherine Burk

Questions & Answers
"When I look out onto the bridge, I see two different brightnesses of lights.

Yes, some lights are 100W metal halide bulbs and some lights are 50W metal halide bulbs. As mentioned earlier, in the summertime, WSDOT switched out -all- 100W bulbs for 50W bulbs, but recently, several of the 50W bulbs burned out. WSDOT is trying a controlled experiment to try to get more data on the issue. At present, WSDOT is evaluating whether 50W will work with the installed fixtures. 50W appears to be the lowest possible wattage the fixtures are designed for (remember, these are metal halide bulbs, not standard incandescent, not sodium, and not LED). The shields will be tested at both wattages. (We in the neighborhood group note that 100W metal halide bulbs actually have the same lumen output as a car headlight -- 100W metal halide is the equivalent of more than 200W incandescent, way more light than a bike path needs at night.)

"I've got some input on the bridge lights. Whom should I contact?"
Feel free to contact the project leads, and complete the form above.  But we've got a small working group in the neighborhood to consolidate neighbor input to help the WSDOT team filter through the input and tradeoffs. Feel free to contact me at
steve[at] to provide any input or if you'd like to bounce ideas around.

Go here for information on the SR520 lighting ongoing lighting issue.  

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