Step by Step

Step by Step

An update on the quest for smart-city streetlights in Los Angeles

By Norma Isahakian

Over the past century, street lighting in the City of Los Angeles has evolved from ornamental designs to the modern aesthetic of today. Lighting technology has changed along with it—moving from gas to electric and incandescent to mercury vapor, high-pressure sodium and now LED. This final transition to LEDs, as well as the proliferation of remote monitoring devices, has led to myriad possibilities for the implementation of smart-city streetlights.

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LA currently maintains about 223,000 streetlights with over 400 different designs dating back to the beginning of the 1900s. Over 4,500 miles of city streets are lit for a population of four million, illuminating not only the roadways, but the sidewalks and pedestrian walkways, bridges and tunnels. LA has installed over 200,000 LED fixtures citywide, and as of today, 90% of the system has been converted with over 30,000 remote monitoring devices attached. This has resulted in savings of electricity worth over $10 million each year and an annual carbon emission reduction of over 60,000 tons.

Due to the transition to LEDs, which resulted in an increase in the electrical capacity on our street lighting circuits, and as technology is exponentially expanding, streetlights have become coveted infrastructure for the attachment of smart-city elements. There are many reasons that streetlights are becoming the center of the smart city movement. Among these reasons are that streetlights are geographically located in cities with an existing electrical infrastructure and are a perfect height for connectivity.

This new smart-city era allows for better communication, the collection of data, early warning systems and the ability to control infrastructure to better the lives of residents, visitors and businesses. Nevertheless, without proper planning and preparation, streetlights will become the “hat rack” of the city—convenient for the attachment of a variety of elements such as cameras, air quality meters, digital kiosks, etc. As LA works with other departments and ventures into the attachment of various products that are not lighting related, one of the critical questions to answer is this: “What is the vision for a smart city in Los Angeles?” To formalize that vision, it is important to define what a smart city is. According to the city’s Bureau of Street Lighting, a “smart city is an Internet of Things that provide better communications, collection of data and the ability to control infrastructure that will improve the lives of all constituents and visitors.”

Los Angeles is now on the cusp of this transition, testing products and deploying pilot projects in order to prepare standards to implement the vision for the future of a smart city. These pilots include a variety of products and services. Over the past three years the city has deployed 432 electric vehicle charging stations on streetlights to promote the use of electric vehicles aligned with the city’s Sustainability Plan. It has also added:

  • Mid-block crosswalks that increase in illumination when pedestrian activity increases
  • Transition zones around sport venues that brighten up during times of events
  • Air-quality meters to provide data that may help drive policy
  • 852 solar-to-grid locations generating electricity for the electrical grid
  • Cameras for safety, surveillance and video analytics to count cars, pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Over 2,500 4G and 5G attachments on streetlights that will enhance the city’s communication system for residents, as well as for first responders during an emergency situation

As other cities begin moving forward, there are three steps to keep in mind:

  • The testing of products through pilot projects: The testing of products has a two-way benefit that allows the city to understand what is involved in this new transition while helping the industry develop products that work with streetlight systems. This process will aid in developing protocols and requirements as you work with your vendors.
  • The identification of stakeholders: Identification of stakeholders is key as these groups will help define what the cities need. Typical stakeholders include elected officials, communities, other departments, agencies and emergency services. The goal is to decipher what each stakeholder wants and needs. Cities should build a framework to continuously engage with these stakeholders as the smart-city movement evolves. Also, each city should remember the concept of “digital inclusion” and make an effort to include all communities since smart-city products need to improve the lives of all constituents, and not just targeted neighborhoods. Education and access is vital to provide that bridge for disadvantaged communities.
  • The development of policies and procedures: Finally, each city should develop their own standards and protocols to make sure they have a guide on product selection to reduce costs and help coordinate systems in order to not end up with streetlights that look like “hat racks.” These standards and protocols will be developed from the experience of pilot projects that will answer the questions: “What type of communication systems do you want deployed?”; “How many communication services do you want to pay for?”; “What are your privacy policies?”; “Where will all the data be collected?”; “Who will have access to the data?”; “What ownership models would work for your city?”; and, “What security measures will you need in place?”

As we look ahead, the Bureau of Street Lighting/City of LA is working toward a strategic plan that will summarize the smart-city movement, outline the city’s efforts to deploy pilot projects and put together a roadmap for the path forward. The primary goal of our strategic plan is “one city, one voice,” which is an effort to include all stakeholders and efficiently mobilize smart-city elements into the world of streetlights. The plan will focus on the three elements that are outlined above while providing an insight into the community’s understanding of what a smart city is. This information is important so that cities can formulate a method of keeping communities engaged as cities move forward deploying smart-city systems.

In addition, LA has a goal this fiscal year to have a smart-city showcase that will include a street with smart streetlights. This is meant to start the conversation and education of the possibilities, and define the city’s vision about what we want in our smart-city portfolio. LA is also calling for a “Streetlight Design Contest” for its basic streetlights. This design will ask that the basic streetlight not only define LA, but be flexible to incorporate future smart-city products. So as Los Angeles ventures into this new world of smart technology, there is a need to ask our streetlights to do more than they have traditionally. We rely on them not only to illuminate our roadways, but also to carry the future of this smart-city movement and to enrich the lives of all residents and visitors.

This article is based on the SALC 2019 presentation, “Smart City Street Lighting Initiatives in the City of LA.”