New lighting could yield more benefits than expected: Belle Isle study

The installation of a state-of-the-art street lighting system in Belle Isle, located on the Michigan side of the Detroit River across from Windsor, Ontario, was a big step forward in saving energy. energy and electricity while improving visitor safety.

Five years later, a new study indicates that computer optimization modeling could lead to even greater cost savings and other benefits, such as fewer accidents, for communities upgrading their street lighting systems. .

In 2017, Detroit’s Public Lighting Authority replaced 506 high-pressure sodium lights with 193 solar-powered lights for Belle Isle’s major roads and intersections.

New computer modeling shows the number of replacement lights could have been as low as 170 while providing maximum coverage on the 987-acre island and saving around $100,000 on new poles and operating costs, according to the study of researchers from the University of Toledo; Metro Engineering Solutions in Livonia, which designed and installed the Belle Isle replacement lights; Southern Illinois University; and the Chinese University of Wuhan in China.

Belle Isle was established as a city park in 1845 and became a state park in 2014 under a 30-year lease. Top attractions include the Belle Isle Aquarium, Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Belle Isle Nature Center, and Dossin Great Lakes Museum.

It attracted 5.2 million visitors in fiscal year 2021, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which manages the park.

“We would like more people to know about this optimization model, especially non-technical people who may not be familiar with these tools,” said study co-author Yue Zhang, associate professor in the Department of Operations. of Information and Technology Management at the University of Toledo. .

The planning process considers factors such as lamp post height and spacing, type of road surface, glare and coverage distance. For example, street lights should cover the center line of each road and at least two lights should cover intersections, according to the study.

The study, recently published in the International Journal of Geo-Information, highlighted the societal benefits of more efficient street lighting beyond economic and energy savings and improved road safety.

“Public lighting plays an indispensable role in supporting economic, social and environmental activities,” he said. “There are profound perceived benefits to human well-being, such as increased opportunities for economically productive activity, energy-saving activity, and social interaction activity.”

Street lighting, he continued, “reduces time consumption for work and social activities, facilitates leisure and recreational activities, and reduces crime and traffic accident rates.”

The replacement lighting in Belle Isle Park benefits public safety there, said Ed Golder, an MNR public information officer.

However, Golder said, “the presence of personnel from the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division and the State Police had a greater impact.” Most of MNR’s enforcement activities relate to traffic violations.

Zhang, from the University of Toledo, said the mathematical optimization methodology has been used in manufacturing for decades, but his team’s work is integrating it with geographic information systems, or GIS, for applications. on a large scale such as the planning of public lighting.

It’s the “science of the best,” he says.

If the same planning approach had been implemented citywide when the authority rebuilt 65,000 Detroit streetlights in 2016, those savings would have been at least $28 million, the study found.

The intensity of the savings is quite significant, according to the study, and the extra money could have been used for other projects, such as improving lighting in specific areas or “high crime, where the incidence of traffic accidents is high or where there are many pedestrians at night.

Eric Freedman is a journalism professor and director of the Capital News Service.