Downtown Northfield is now tuned up for this week’s Winter Walk. Do you like the white lighting?

Downtown Northfield at night, December 2011 Downtown Northfield at night, December 2011 Downtown Northfield at night, December 2011
Downtown Northfield is looking festive this morning with the 4+ inches of snow yesterday, just in time for the 13th Annual Winter Walk (PDF schedule) coming up on Thursday eve. I took these photos just before 6 am.

Downtown Northfield at night, December 2011 Downtown Northfield at night, December 2011 Downtown Northfield at night, December 2011

Downtown Northfield at night, December 2011 Downtown Northfield at night, December 2011 Downtown Northfield at night, December 2011

Update 12/13: I’ve added the phrase “Do you like the white lighting?” to the blog post title because of the comment thread.


  1. These pictures really show off the beauty of the white lighting Northfield has used downtown: things are clearer, cleaner, and truer to color. I hope it’s the direction the City (either itself or with Mn/DOT or Xcel) goes when doing future lighting replacements outside of downtown, too.

    Philips (which, in full disclosure, makes a lot of money off these fixtures) has an awesome video on the benefits of white light.

    December 8, 2011
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Sean, has Northfield completely done away with the orangish lighting downtown?

    December 8, 2011
  3. Actually you did a post on this a couple of years ago. They made a big change then, and now seem to be updating as things are replaced. Currently (I think), Division Street from 2nd to 7th is white, as are 5th and 4th from Washington to Water. S Water St (by the Co-op, etc) remains orange, as does the similar lighting on Hwy 3 and on the Crossing site. I know of no current plans to take this beyond downtown.

    Incidentally, St. Olaf has replaced all their pole lights (hundreds of them) with white LED fixtures over the last six months. The parking lots remain lit by orange lights, but it is a major aesthetic difference on campus — and a huge reduction in light pollution, due to improved fixture design. I wonder if you might try to prod Jim Fisher (who’s previously commented on LoGro) about why Olaf went in that direction?

    December 8, 2011
  4. David Ludescher said:

    Many thanks to the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce for again putting on this event. Non-Chamber members and townsfolk can help support this event by calling Kathy Felbrugge at 645-5604 to make a contribution.

    December 9, 2011
  5. kiffi summa said:

    That was really fun to see, not just for the beautiful lighting, but all the various street scenes… sold me 100%, including the energy and cost savings.

    I wish they had some statistics on reduction of ambient light; i.e., how does this rate with the “Dark Skies” people?
    Does the 30% less intensity translate into the same ‘savings’ on dispersed light, or is that entirely dependent on the physicality of the light fixture?

    December 9, 2011
  6. John Colling said:

    While the energy savings of the new lights Downtown is good, I don’t like what has happened with the color. I liked the warmth and richness of the old lighting, in contrast to the stark bluish white lighting that just feels cold to me. True white light is not the most appealing aesthetically, that’s why LED makers have been working toward making LEDs that are a little closer in color spectrum to incandescent lights. Something between the old lighting and new lighting would be good.

    December 9, 2011
  7. Depends on the reason for supporting dark skies. For laymen who just generally prefer being able to look up and see the sky, less light intensity and shielded fixtures are what matter most. For true astronomers, they prefer street lights to be low-pressure sodium, since it’s a very limited-spectrum light that can be filtered out of telescopes. The downside of that is that it’s also very limited-spectrum and unpleasant for the people actually using the light. Fortunately for us, our only observatory is on the far northeast edge of town — so we need to respond mostly to the general aesthetic of keeping light on the ground, not in the sky.

    The lower intensity, yes, means that less light would be reflected up, but the main thing we can do is having more fixtures, closer to the ground. In most areas, we currently have VERY bright fixtures, once or twice a block. Lower-intensity shielded fixtures at a greater frequency would be better in terms of providing consistent lighting, and reducing light pollution at intersections. If $$$-viable, fixtures like downtown would be best; if not, shielded fixtures installed more frequently on utility polls would work well, too. Since Xcel owns/maintains those, though, I’m not sure if they offer white/shielded options.

    December 9, 2011
  8. John:
    I know a lot of people dislike white light, especially at first glance. That’s why I’m particularly curious why St. Olaf made the choice to go white. The trouble with any type of yellowed light is that you don’t get the clarity benefits of white light — i.e., you need more light to provide the same visual discernment for people. But the video I link to expresses it more eloquently than I do. 🙂

    December 9, 2011
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Sean, the lighting on the entire Riverwalk also remains orange; likewise, Ames Park and 2nd St. between Division and Hwy 3. Any idea what the delay is for these areas?

    I’ll see if Jim Fisher can comment.

    December 13, 2011
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve added the phrase “Do you like the white lighting?” to the blog post title because of the comment thread.

    December 13, 2011
  11. Pete Sandberg said:

    Hello, this is Pete Sandberg from St. Olaf, and Northfield too!

    First, I should say that there are different ways to get white light, and I have no idea what Xcel has been doing in terms of lamping and other adaptations in Northfield.

    I can comment on the reasons behind our switch to LED, and I say LED rather than white because color rendition was less important in our decision than a few things to do with LEDs. One of the really good things about the high pressure sodium (HPS) lights we’ve had for many years was the ease of maintaining consistent color across the campus. Virtually all of our outdoor lighting was HPS and the absence of glaring contrast from a mix of lamp types was good. This might be sort of subtle, but I think important.

    First, there are energy considerations. There was a sort of legend on campus that our fixtures and lamps were all 400 watts. They were in fact 100 watts. LEDs are touted for their energy efficiency, but the difference between 100w, and the new 52w, made for a very very long payback because of the cost of the new fixtures and the much higher lamp cost.

    Second, and more important, we wanted to replace our clear globe fixtures because they shot light all over the place, and during the evening it could be hard for drivers to see pedestrians because the globe light was right in their eyes. If you recall driving across the south side of the campus on 19 at night, the entire hilltop had a kind of glow that is now largely gone. There all sorts of reasons to try to stick to the dark skies ideas, and our other goals made this much better.

    Third, the very long term maintenance costs are better because LEDs far outlast any of the other options. Long term material and labor expense is less.

    Spacing is more important with these cut-off fixture than with our globes, as the globes lit up the understory of the trees and so helped distribute light, just not where we always wanted it. When the cut-off fixtures were turned on there was a perception that there was far less light; in fact, the photometrics showed there was equal to or more light on the ground where we wanted it. The contrast from the HPS was so very different. We are presently in the midst of filling in some spots that were maybe OK earlier because of reflected light.

    Again, I go back to consistent color rendition. I believe this is a big factor in our perception of light quality. In my opinion, white is superior to the HPS orange, but having a variegated system would feel worse than either by itself.

    So, thinking about overall project cost, the conversion to LED and so whiter light, is probably not cost effective enough to do unless the fixtures themselves need to be replaced to meet some other goals, like our hope to cut way down on indiscriminate light dispersion or to get a completely different kind of color.

    I’m not sure how helpful this is to the discussion, but is how we ended up where are.

    I have included a link to the college’s digital Christmas card which is worth spending a few minutes on in any case, but the photos are from a few years and you can see scenes with each sort of fixture and lamp

    December 16, 2011
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Pete, thanks for the detailed explanation and rationale. And the link to the St. Olaf digital Christmas card!

    December 17, 2011

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