Local Government Magazine
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White Nights

How better street lighting is stimulating Melbourne’s economy

Melbourne has successfully revitalised its CBD and developed a strong night economy. Yet few people realise the city’s street lighting has been a vital part of the plan over the past 25 years.

Ian Dryden, the City of Melbourne’s team leader industrial design, says replacing the city’s old, yellow sodium lighting in the 1990s was one of the most effective steps in a strategy to attract people back to the inner city.

Now a new lighting strategy will see all Melbourne’s street lights replaced again − this time with LED − to halve the city’s electricity bill.

Ian says white street lighting has turned Melbourne into a safer, more liveable city and has helped attract people back to the CBD in their thousands.

“There were just 100 residents, including hotel dwellers, living in the CBD in 1992. Now we have 29,000,” says Ian. “We also have a 24-hour economy with 450,000 people in the city on a busy night and 300,000 on a quiet one.”

In 1992 Melbourne was a “car-clogged freeway” with a nine-to-five economy. Suburban flight had left central city buildings with only a 40 percent occupancy rate above the first floor and a lifeless central city shopping precinct.

“People said the city felt dark, dingy and unsafe,” says Ian.

Armed with research from the US showing that white light improves visibility and safety, and halves vehicle braking reaction times, Melbourne made the decision to “turn the CBD white”, he says.

Other street calming measures, such as wider pavements, were also introduced to create a pedestrian-friendly environment. But the biggest improvement factor was the road lighting.

Under white lights people felt safer and the city looked so much cleaner that ratepayers complimented the city cleaners on their work.

In 1992 Melbourne turned to metal halide technology for its white lighting revolution, but six months ago – after rewriting its lighting strategy to include environmental measures – Melbourne made the decision to undertake a five-year programme to upgrade all its road lighting to LED.

Under the new lighting strategy, the city expects to reduce its road lighting energy bill from $1.6 million to $400,000 a year, says Ian.

“The changeover to LED will save 45 percent of the city’s total energy bill.”

Designing a sustainable city, attracting the evening crowd, and maintaining safety and amenity are all themes of the new strategy.

Smart controls are also part of the plan. Controls will allow lights to be dimmed when the streets are quiet. They will also assist with maintenance since controls signal when a light is out and can pinpoint the location with GPS.

The city also plans to take lighting in its smaller streets and lanes “off the grid” by powering them with rooftop solar installations.

“We’re on a journey of improvements that are all being funded out of our capital works budget,” says Ian.

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