Street light

Street light

A street light, lamppost, street lamp, light standard or lamp standard, is a raised source of light on the edge of a road, turned on or lit at a certain time every night. Modern lamps may also have light-sensitive photocells to turn them on at dusk and off at dawn, or activate automatically in dark weather. It is also not uncommon for street lights to be on posts which have wires strung between them, such as on telephone poles or utility poles.

History of street lighting

Before incandescent lamps, gas lighting was employed. The earliest lamps required that a lamplighter tour the town at dusk, lighting each of the lamps, but later designs employed ignition devices that would automatically strike the flame when the gas supply was activated. The earliest of such street lamps were built in the Arab Empire, [Fielding H. Garrison, "History of Medicine":quote|"The Saracens themselves were the originators not only of algebra, chemistry, and geology, but of many of the so-called improvements or refinements of civilization, such as street lamps, window-panes, firework, stringed instruments, cultivated fruits, perfumes, spices, etc..."] especially in Córdoba, Spain. [S. P. Scott (1904), "History of the Moorish Empire in Europe", 3 vols, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and London.
F. B. Artz (1980), "The Mind of the Middle Ages", Third edition revised, University of Chicago Press, pp 148-50.
(cf. [ References] , 1001 Inventions)

The first electric street lighting employed arc lamps, initially the 'Electric candle', 'Jablochoff candle' or 'Yablochkov candle' developed by the Russian Pavel Yablochkov in 1875. This was a carbon arc lamp employing alternating current, which ensured that the electrodes burnt down at the same rate. Yablochkov candles were first used to light the Grands Magasins du Louvre, Paris where 80 were deployed. Soon after, experimental arrays of arc lamps were used to light Holborn Viaduct and the Thames Embankment in London - the first electric street lighting in Britain. More than 4,000 were in use by 1881, though by then an improved differential arc lamp had been developed by Friederich von Hefner‑Alteneck of Siemens & Halske. The United States was swift in adopting arc lighting, and by 1890 over 130,000 were in operation in the US, commonly installed in exceptionally tall moonlight towers.

The first street in the world to be lit by electric light was Mosley Street, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The street was lit by Joseph Swan's incandescent lamp in February, 1879. [] Wabash, Indiana holds the title of being the second electrically-lit city in the world, which took place on February 2, 1880. Four 3,000 candlepower Brush arc lamps suspended over the courthouse rendered the town square "as light as midday." [ [ Brush Arc Lighting ] ] Kimberley, a city in the centre of South Africa, was the first city in Africa to have electric street lights - first lit on 1 September 1882. Timişoara, in present-day Romania, was the first city in mainland Europe to have electric public lighting on the 12th of November 1884. 731 lamps were used.

Arc lights had two major disadvantages. First, they emit an intense and harsh light which, although useful at industrial sites like dockyards, was discomforting in ordinary city streets. Second, they are maintenance intensive, as carbon electrodes burn away swiftly. With the development of cheap, reliable and bright incandescent light bulbs at the end of the 19th century, they passed out of use for street lighting, but remained in industrial use longer.

Incandescent lamps used for street lighting until the advent of high-intensity discharge lamps, were often operated as high-voltage series circuits. To avoid having the entire street go dark if a single lamp burned out, each street lamp was equipped with a film cutout, a small disk of insulating film that separated two contacts connected to the two wires leading to the lamp. If the lamp failed (an open circuit), the current through the string became zero, causing the entire voltage of the circuit (thousands of volts) to be imposed across the insulating film, penetrating it (see Ohm's law). In this way, the failed lamp was bypassed and illumination restored to the rest of the street. (This is the same principle used in Christmas tree lights.) The circuit usually contained an automatic device to regulate the voltage in the circuit, preventing the current from increasing as additional lamps burned out , preserving the life of the remaining lamps. When the failed lamp was replaced, a new piece of film was installed, once again separating the contacts in the cutout. This style of street lighting was recognizable by the large porcelain insulator that separated the lamp and reflector from the light's mounting arm. The insulator was necessary because the two contacts in the lamp's base may have operated at several thousands of volts above ground/earth.

Today, street lighting commonly uses high-intensity discharge lamps, often HPS high pressure sodium lamps. Such lamps provide the greatest amount of Photopic illumination for the least consumption of electricity. However when Scotopic/Photopic light calculations are used, it can been seen how inappropriate HPS lamps are for night lighting. White light sources have been shown to double driver peripheral vision and increase driver brake reaction time at least 25%. When S/P light calculations are used, HPS lamp performance needs to be reduced by a minimum value of 75%. This is now a standard design criteria for Australian roads.


The major criticisms of street lighting are that it can actually cause accidents if misused, and can cause light pollution.

Dangers of street lights

There are two optical phenomena that need to be recognized in street light installations.

*The loss of night vision because of the accommodation reflex of drivers' eyes is the greatest danger. As drivers emerge from an unlighted area into a pool of light from a street light their pupils quickly constrict to adjust to the brighter light, but as they leave the pool of light the dilation of their pupils to adjust to the dimmer light is much slower, so they are driving with impaired vision. As a person gets older the eye's recovery speed gets slower, so driving time and distance under impaired vision increases.

*Oncoming headlights are more visible against a black background than a grey one. The contrast creates greater awareness of the oncoming vehicle.

*Stray voltage is also a concern in many cities. Stray voltage can accidentally electrify light poles and has the potential to injure or kill anyone who comes into contact with the pole. [cite web | title = Stray Voltage Still on the Loose | publisher = Scienceline | date = 2006-08-04 | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-19 ] Some cities have employed the Electrified Cover Safeguard technology which sounds an alarm and flashes a light, to warn the public, when a pole becomes dangerously electrified.

There are also physical dangers. Street light stanchions (poles) pose a collision risk to motorists. This can be reduced by designing them to break away when hit (frangible or collapsible supports), protecting them by guardrails, or both. High winds or accumulated metal fatigue also occasionally topple street lights.

Light pollution

In urban areas light pollution can hide the stars and interfere with astronomy. In settings near astronomical telescopes and observatories, low pressure sodium lamps may be used. These lamps are advantageous over other lamps such as mercury and metal halide lamps because low pressure sodium lamps emit lower intensity, monochromatic light. Observatories can filter the sodium wavelength out of their observations and virtually eliminate the interference from nearby urban lighting.

The light pollution also disrupts the natural growing cycle of plants.


A misconception is that installing street lights will automatically make streets safer and reduce crime, so political pressure can be a major factor in installation of street lights. Untrained officials often assume that if some is good, more must be better, and install the brightest lights possible. Misuse of street lights can cause accidents, and crime lighting is an entirely different type of lighting than used for automobile navigation.Fact|date=July 2007

Purposes of street lights

There are three distinct main uses of street lights, each requiring different types of lights and placement. Misuse of the different types of lights can make the situation worse by compromising visibility or safety.

Beacon lights

A modest steady light at the intersection of two roads is an aid to navigation because it helps a driver see the location of a side road as he comes closer to it and he can adjust his braking and know exactly where to turn if he intends to leave the main road or see if someone is at the intersection. A beacon light's function is to say "here I am" and even a dim light provides enough contrast against the dark night to serve the purpose. To prevent the dangers caused by a car driving through a pool of light, a beacon light must never shine onto the main road, and not brightly onto the side road. In residential areas, this is usually the only appropriate lighting, and it has the bonus side effect of providing spill lighting onto any sidewalk there for the benefit of pedestrians. On Interstate highways this purpose is commonly served by simply placing reflectors at the sides of the road to reflect the light coming from people's headlights.

Roadway lights

Street lights are not normally intended to illuminate the driving route (headlights are preferred), but to reveal signs and hazards outside of the headlights' beamFact|date=July 2008. Because of the dangers discussed above, roadway lights are properly used sparingly and only when a particular situation justifies increasing the risk. This usually involves an intersection with several turning movements and much signage, situations where drivers must take in much information quickly that is not in the headlights' beam. In these situations (A freeway junction or exit ramp) the intersection may be lit so that drivers can quickly see all hazards, and a well designed plan will have gradually increasing lighting for approximately a quarter of a minute before the intersection and gradually decreasing lighting after it. The main stretches of highways remain unlighted to preserve the driver's night vision and increase the visibility of oncoming headlights. If there is a sharp curve where headlights will not illuminate the road, a light on the outside of the curve is often justified.

If it is desired to light a roadway (perhaps due to heavy and fast multilane traffic), to avoid the dangers of casual placement of street lights it should not be lit intermittently, as this requires repeated eye reajustment which implies eyestrain and temporary blindness when entering and leaving light pools. In this case the system is designed to eliminate the need for headlights. This is usually achieved with bright lights placed on high poles at close regular intervals so that there is consistent light along the route. The lighting goes from curb to curb.

Research a few years ago suggested that by comparison to other countries, more pedestrians are hit by motor vehicles at night in Britain.Fact|date=January 2008 The theory behind this was that Britain almost exclusively, used low pressure sodium street lighting, (LPS); unlike the rest of the world that use mercury vapour gas discharge lightingFact|date=January 2008. This was most noticeable when flying in from Europe at night and seeing a warm orange glow when approaching Britain. LPS lighting, being monochromatic, shows pedestrians as shadowy forms, unlike other forms of street lighting. In recognition of this, pedestrian crossings are now lit by additional "white" lighting,Fact|date=January 2008 and sodium lighting is being replaced by modern types. Fact|date=January 2008

ecurity lighting

Security lighting is similar to high-intensity lighting on a busy major street, with no pools of light and dark, but with the lighted area extending onto people's property, at least to their front door. This requires a different type of fixture and lens. The increased glare experienced by drivers going through the area might be considered a trade-off for increased security. This is what would normally be used along sidewalks in dense areas of cities. Often unappreciated is that the light from a full moon is brighter than most security lighting.

Main manufacturers of street lanterns and/or bulbs


* Osram Sylvania
* Rexel
* GEC (General Electric)
* Philips
* Pierlite
* Thorn
* Westinghouse


* Cooper Lighting division of Cooper Industries
* General Electric, USA.
* Osram Sylvania
* Westinghouse Lighting Corporation (formerly Angelo Brothers) division of the new Westinghouse Electric


* Osram, Germany.
* Philips, the Netherlands.
* Industria, the Netherlands.
* Schreder, Belgium.
* Siemens, Germany.
* Svetlina AD, Bulgaria.
* Aura Light, Sweden.
* AEC Illuminazione, Italy.
* Tungsram, Hungary
* Art Metal, Poland.

United Kingdom

* CU Phosco
* Industria
* Philips
* Thorn


* Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Japan
* Sanyo, Japan
* NeoPac, Taiwan

ee also

* History of street lighting in the United States
* Street light interference
* Urbiotics


External links

* [ An enthusiast's guide to street lighting - including many close-up photographs of UK street lighting equipment, as well as information on installations through the ages. (UK)]
* [ UK Association of Streetlight Enthusiasts ]
* [ Example Installations of Integrated Renewable Power in Street Lighting] , An example of a street lighting system with integrated solar and wind generator from Panasonic / Matsushita
* [ Australian Street Lights (an enthusiast site)] .
* [ Against the Dusk - fine art photographs by G. Golden Crutcher of street lights against the western sky]
* [ A Canberra-based street light site (Australia)]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • street light — street light, = street lamp. (Cf. ↑street lamp) * * * ˈstreet light [street light street lights] (BrE also ˈstreet lamp) noun a light at the top of a tall post in the street …   Useful english dictionary

  • Street Light — may refer to:* Street light * Street Light (Photographic Collection) …   Wikipedia

  • street light — (also street lamp) noun a light illuminating a road, typically mounted on a tall post. Derivatives street lighting noun …   English new terms dictionary

  • street·light — /ˈstriːtˌlaıt/ noun, pl lights [count] : a light on a tall pole next to a public road called also street lamp …   Useful english dictionary

  • street light — lighting on a public street, lamppost located on side of a street …   English contemporary dictionary

  • street light — see streetlight …   English dictionary

  • Street light interference — Street light interference, or SLI, is an alleged anomalous phenomenon where a person seems to turn off (or sometimes on) street lights, or outside building security lights, when passing near them.Although street lights sometimes turn on and off… …   Wikipedia

  • Street light controller — is a device that is used for switching On or Off the street lights on proper time.The timers can also do the same, but the controllers are made withe extra features like power saving modes, staggering facilities,or with remote controlling… …   Wikipedia

  • Street Light (Photographic Collection) — For the devices used to illuminate streets, see Street light. Street Light (Photographic Collection) is a massive photographic documentation of Sydney, Australia after dark.The project was started in 1986 by Australian photographer Robert James… …   Wikipedia

  • Third Street Light Rail Project — The Third Street Light Rail Project is the construction project that expanded the Muni Metro system in San Francisco, California along the eastern side of the city. Construction was finished near the end of 2006, and a weekend only non revenue… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.