Lighting The Path

Without proper outdoor lighting, the batter can’t see the ball. The lover trips on a rock and misses the kiss. Families don’t feel safe and visit less often. And the neighbors complain.

Good lighting adds character and charm to your site. It increases the good will of your neighbors, invites more traffic and, ultimately, adds to the bottom line.

But before calling the bank or organizing fund-raisers, before advertising, before writing to suppliers or signing any checks, make a list of lighting problems that need solved. Here are four illuminating points to consider:

· Safety

· Cost for durability and maintenance

· Lighting types and purposes

· Environmental issues


Sometimes a well-lit area gives people a false sense of security. In the report “Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising--NJRS report to Congress 1997,” the correlation between crime and lighting was studied. “Lighting has received considerable attention. Yet, evaluation designs are weak and the results are mixed. We can have very little confidence that improved lighting prevents crime, particularly since we do not know if offenders use lighting to their advantage. In the absence of better theories about when and where lighting can be effective and rigorous evaluations of plausible lighting interventions, we cannot make any scientific assertions regarding the effectiveness of lighting. In short, the effectiveness of lighting is unknown.”

Although this report won’t help you sleep better, there is more to light than prevention of crime. For instance, safety should be considered. Visitors will avoid a place that doesn’t “feel safe.” A well-lit area is used more, whether it is actually safer or not.

However, safety is more than crime. Poor illumination on dangerous terrain that is open to the public at night is an accident waiting to happen. Good lighting keeps visitors alerted to cliff edges. It also unveils more common “dangerous terrain.” For example, a tree root in the parking lot and the corners of metal bleachers need good lighting. The correct “candle” lighting is a safety factor for sporting activities.

Cost For Durability And Maintenance

Cost is not limited to design, installation and hardware. Perpetual lighting costs vary as much as your guests. Will the chosen lighting be available five years from now when you expand the parking lot? Low ground lighting is a beautiful design element, but will it hold up against the insult of 20 dogs a day?

If the lights are cheap and dirty, they will probably need replacing soon. That will cost you. If the system is wonderful and addresses the problems, but maintenance people can’t figure it out, that costs money, too.

Chad Hyde is the Athletics Manager for Carollton, Texas. This city of 118,000 recently replaced and added lighting on 30 athletic fields. “Our lights were outdated and inefficient,” says Hyde, “and we went through and did a study on all the costs. We replaced every light in our city fields with their (Musco Lighting) light structure green sports lighting. Our foot candles on the fields weren’t meeting the standards of our association. For example, for Little League Baseball, the foot candles have to have a certain amount of light in the infields--which we knew we weren’t meeting--so we had to do something to bring standards up.” Some of the fields in Carollton had light poles with 18 lights that were re-engineered to hold six. Hyde says, “We’re seeing a big cost savings just in electricity.”

Further savings were found in recycling. Musco reused the old light poles and electrical wires, manufactured new brackets and racks, and installed their new lights on top of the old poles.

Carollton purchased a 25-year warranty from Musco. “They come out and take care of everything,” says Hyde.

In addition, the park lighting system upgrade allowed the city to transition from timers--which can be unreliable--to computers. Hyde is satisfied with Musco’s computerized light control. “We control all the schedules online or by the phone. They have a 24 hour 7 days a week call center. So if I’m at home and lights are left on in the middle of the night for any reason, we can call and Musco will shut them off for us. We can track all the usage. We can see who turns them on, who turns them off. If we forget to schedule, we can call on the cell phone, and they’re on immediately.”

Lighting Types And Purposes

The triple-header at the ballpark needs plenty of light, but if you leave those lights on long after the games, the neighbors will complain. Lighting for a soccer game differs from what is needed for a park path. Some people love the “mellow yellow” lights, while others prefer traditional, bright white bulbs.

Chris Behringer, Senior Urban Designer at the Minneapolis office of Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., just finished a master plan for Branyard on a 112-acre “active” park. She says, “Within parks themselves, you have to address what kind of lighting they want. And what kind of a park is it--is it an active or passive park? And where are you in the scheme of things? If you are working in the Minnesota River valley, you want to look at the dark sky issues because you don’t want to have the lighting pollution along the river. So, there’s a lot of leg work in determining exactly what kind of lighting is needed. Each community has certain lighting levels that meet their expectations for different portions of roadways and parks.”

Environmental Issues

If you’ve ever seen a satellite picture of the United States at night, you know all about light pollution. Excess light spoils the view of the stars, confuses--and therefore potentially harms--wildlife, creates light trespass, wastes energy, and increases glare. Ironically, it also can reduce nighttime visibility. A typical unshielded light fixture loses 50 percent of its light upward. And much of the light squirts out horizontally, increasing glare. Only a small portion of the light actually illuminates the desired area.

A shielded, environmentally friendly light fixture eliminates upward light and minimizes glare. Typically, it needs a lower wattage bulb and directs light only where needed.

The light pollution issue in Carollton was lowered with Musco Lighting. Hyde says, “Once we put these lights in, it really controls the light; there’s no spill. All the light goes on the field rather than into the sky. There’s really no lighting outside the field itself. We have one complex that is around residential. And before if we had lights on late, it would spill into their backyards and into their windows. But now it can really control the light to stay on the fields. We don’t get the calls the next day about ‘Hey, your lights were left on all night.’”

Another environmentally friendly solution to lighting is solar power. It eliminates the need for unsightly wiring. Solar-powered lighting brings illumination to troublesome "dark spot" park areas, where it is difficult, expensive or impossible to run power lines. Benefits include an absence of electric meters, monthly bills and power company charges to bring electricity to the site. There are no land-use permission issues for carrying power across properties, or the inevitable delays caused by all these factors.

Good Lighting Is Good Business

Deciding on the right lighting can be an important step in creating the desired effect for a ballfield, a park or a bike path. It is important to consider all angles before making a decision, including safety, cost, types of lighting and environmental issues. If it is done correctly, lighting will be an asset to an establishment instead of a nuisance to neighbors.

Melanie Minch is a freelance writer in Medina, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at


Chris Behringer, Senior Urban Designer at the Minneapolis office at S.E.H.

“Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. (SEH®) is a multidisciplined firm of engineers, architects, planners and scientists known for our strong, comprehensive technical capabilities and superior client service. We have been a trusted resource for more than 80 years to local governments, state and regional agencies, federal, industrial and private clients. We build lasting relationships with clients and provide innovative solutions and service excellence. We have over 30 offices across the nation.” For more information check out their Web site at:

Corporate Office

Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc.

3535 Vadnais Center Drive

St. Paul, MN55110-5196

Minneapolis Phone # 612-758-6700

“Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising--NJRS report to Congress 1997”

Chad Hyde, Athletic Director of Carollton, Texas

City of Carrollton

Parks & Recreation

4220 N. Josey Lane

Carrollton, Texas 75010

P.O. Box 110535

Carrollton, TX 75011-0535


972-466-4722 fax