More light should have been shed on Lunalilo project


POSTED: Wednesday, August 19, 2009

People rarely complain about city improvements to their own neighborhoods, but many Hawaii Kai residents and their neighborhood board are up in arms about new street lights being installed along its entryway. City officials should have anticipated the concern about “;light pollution”; and “;excessive glare”; and explained better the need for many new lights to residents before launching the project.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann issued a brief news release in May announcing that the city would “;replace”; 176 street lights along Lunalilo Home Road from Kalanianaole Highway to Hawaii Kai Drive at a cost of nearly $2.5 million. Actually, the plans call for those fixtures to replace 59 street lights that were installed more than 40 years ago.

The city is not required to hold public hearings prior to such a project, but the administration should have allayed concerns of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board before beginning work. The mayor's brief announcement could easily have gone unnoticed or been interpreted as meaning merely a replacement of old lights—who was counting?—with the same number of new ones.

Residents may not have understood the magnitude of the project until an official from the city Design and Construction Department appeared before the neighborhood board on July 28, after the work had begun. The board had approved a motion a month earlier calling for a halt to work on the “;massive replacement project”; until the board could get more information about it, according to Greg Knudsen, the board's chairman.

In a commentary on these pages yesterday, city Design and Construction director Craig Nishimura wrote that the board was told at its July meeting that the city would complete the project's first phase, comprising 144 of the lights but, because of the concern, would postpone the second phase “;until such time the city can no longer maintain the existing street lighting system.”;

The number of lights needed for the stretch was based on a study that “;evidenced a high amount of traffic exceeding 1,200 cars”; an hour throughout the day, the city explained. The city is obligated to provide an infrastructure that meets a neighborhood's needs, and the amount of traffic is definitive measurement. Nishimura said the high-pressure sodium street lighting fixtures are widely used in cities across the country.

Opponents of the project have maintained that the new lights, like the old ones, are not properly shielded, sending part of their light directly into the sky and creating glare that reduces visibility. Nishimura contended that glare occurs when lights are installed at lower heights. He said the city is replacing such fixtures with “;flat lens lighting fixtures that are designed to direct all of the light downward.”;