Street lights are on 24/7 while they're undergoing conversion to LEDs. Credit: Block Club Chicago/Patty Wetli

LINCOLN SQUARE — Noticed anything unusual about Chicago’s street lights lately, like maybe the fact that they’re on during the day?

You’re not imagining things. Large swaths of neighborhoods including Lincoln Square have recently been illuminated 24/7 and no, it’s not a prank, or a malfunction caused by this spring’s lack of sunshine, or a sign we’re living in the Upside Down.

This constant beam of the street lamps is actually a harbinger that an area is about to be switched over from High Pressure Sodium lighting (the traditional orange glow) to new LED technology as part of Chicago’s Smart Lighting project.

Arterial streets and portions of the South and West sides were prioritized early in the conversion process. Work now has reached the North Side and shifted to residential streets.

According to Michael Claffey, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation, continuously powered street lights are an indicator that conversion is under way, specifically that the fixtures’ controllers are being modernized.

“Once the fixtures are converted to LED, they will become part of the Lighting Management System and controlled by the smart nodes that are being installed on every street light,” Claffey explained. “When the LED conversion is complete, the lights will be off in the daytime.”

Mid-mount or “piggyback” lighting fixtures take longer to convert, and residents may notice these bulbs remain illuminated even once the top-mounted “cobra head” lights have been switched to LED, Claffey said.

Chicago’s orange glowing sodium lights enjoy one last hurrah. Credit: Block Club Chicago/Patty Wetli

In total, Chicago is upgrading more than 270,000 street lights. (Massachusetts-based Ameresco is the lead vendor on the four-year $160 million project.) The LEDs have been promoted as more energy efficient, and the Lighting Management System is intended to improve reliability, including the ability to target repairs more quickly.

The program has not been without its detractors, the chief complaint being that the LED bulbs’ white light is excessively bright.  

The city’s response has been to focus lighting downward onto streets and sidewalks, in order to minimize glare into homes. The chosen LEDs are also considerably “softer” than those installed in other cities, including Seattle and New York.

Residents can check the Chicago Smart Lighting website for an update on which areas are slated next for conversion.  

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