Bid Adieu to That Yellow Streetlight Glow

San Francisco will replace 18,500 old streetlights with LED fixtures, changing the ambiance of the city's nighttime look.

When the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is not focusing on fixing our infrastructure underground, they’re finding new ways to save money and the environment in our city’s parks and streets. This year, teams will replace approximately 18,500 high-pressure sodium street light fixtures with LED alternatives, which are ultra efficient, less expensive, and noticeably less yellow. 

“Our new LEDs, with a color temperature of 3000 Kelvin, will emit warm, white light,” says SFPUC, who have put together a side-by-side comparison of the two different moods created by the old streetlights, and the new ones:

“Light-emitting diodes provide better light for streets, better light for pedestrians, and they are even better for the environment, lasting longer, requiring less maintenance, and consuming up to 50 percent less energy,” states an SFPUC video about the project. This change will go hand-in-hand nicely with the fact that our streetlights are already powered by 100 percent greenhouse gas-free power sourced from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

Each replacement will take around 30 minutes, and simply requires changing out the streetlamp head. Multiply that by 18,500, and it comes out to 9,250 hours of labor — no small feat. 

But not every single streetlamp will be replaced. At first glance, this map of the city implies as such — but type in a residential or business address, and it quickly becomes clear that the changes are only taking place along major corridors. And historic streetlights, such as the ones that run along Embarcadero, will remain as they are.

A map of the LED Street Light Conversion. Green dots mark where conversions have already happened, yellow dictate where replacements are planned, and brown signifies historic lights that will not be altered.


While the data all points to a very reasonable and justifiable project, the transition from old light fixtures to new LED ones will have a remarkable impact on how our city looks at night. In some ways it’s reminiscent of the chaos that ensued when high-definition TV emerged in 2007, subsequently exposing the acne scars and stretchmarks of porn stars. The myth that they were perfect beings was busted, and makeup artists all got much, much more work. In San Francisco, bright white LED lights will hopefully increase visibility for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, but it will also starkly expose the dirty underbelly of our city — the potholes, piles of needles and oil stains on our streets.

Regardless of how the public feels about this change, Filmmakers and photographers better hustle to capture that moody yellow glow before it is gone for good.



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