The facade of the Sheraton Gunter hotel is lit with green lights just before dark.
The facade of the Sheraton Gunter hotel is bathed in green light just before dark. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

As part of the City’s efforts to develop a downtown lighting master plan, consultants and engineers are keeping both pedestrians and motorists in mind as they focus on decreasing glare and employing effective, complementary lighting for streets and their surroundings.

Consultants and engineers met Wednesday at the Central Library to discuss their recommendations on how the City could improve lighting along streets, buildings, parks, and alleyways in and around downtown.

“This isn’t a lighting study,” said Randy Burkett, president and design principal of Randy Burkett Lighting Design (RBLD). “This is a master plan for streetscape and downtown lighting, and includes sidewalks, parks, facades, and alleyways.”

Based in St. Louis, RBLD offered the recommendations as a guide toward more quality illumination across an area spanning from the Pearl/River North neighborhood to the Lavaca and Lone Star neighborhoods. City officials will analyze the recommendations as they develop the downtown lighting master plan. The local consulting engineering firm Alderson & Associates is providing support in the effort.

More than 20 people attended Wednesday’s gathering, the second public meeting on the lighting master plan. City officials have been working with stakeholders for two years to get to this point.

Consultants used traffic data and a previous transportation study to classify each street in the area based on that street’s traffic volume. Consultants also toured the downtown area to see conditions for themselves. The recommendations also cover different ranges of lighting intensity, color temperature of lighting, and light pole heights that would be most appropriate to each streetscape.

Richard Fisher, a designer at RBLD, described examples of recommended classifications of roads. Pereida Street would be a residential collector street – a road with intermediate traffic in a mainly residential neighborhood.

South St. Mary’s Street, Fisher said, would be a residential arterial street, with more traffic in a mostly residential neighborhood. Delaware and Adams streets are local single-family streets with a low level of vehicular traffic. East Houston Street is a local corridor street with a high level of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Street lamps along Houston Street brighten the way for pedestrians.
Street lamps along East Houston Street light the way for pedestrians walking along the popular corridor. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

South Flores Street is a corridor collector street with medium vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and Broadway is an arterial street with the highest level of traffic.

Reducing glare is a driving force in proper lighting design, according to Burkett. Too much glare can adversely affect an approaching motorist or a pedestrian seeking to safely navigate a road or sidewalk.

“Glare is the enemy of good visibility,” Burkett said.

As for parks, Burkett said that many factors affect how well-lit a park should be, including pedestrian friendliness, glare control, safety, color, landscape beautification, and how well the lights support nightly activities and special events.

Surrounding streets and the lighting along those roads should also  be considered, Burkett said.

Burkett said the same principles can be applied to improving lighting around downtown area buildings and even alleyways. While some people may see an alley as a dark, potentially hazardous area, appropriate illumination of a specific alley can complement an equally well-lit streetscape, he said.

“Probably the most neglected part of a city is the alleyway,” he said. “We see in urban areas a movement to focus more on alleyways, that there are ways to activate them.”

While the consultants made recommendations for how roads could benefit from the appropriate level of lighting, they are not proposing the adoption of specific lighting products.

Wednesday’s meeting included an open house at which attendees viewed maps of the streetscape and lighting classifications, and renderings of street examples.

“The response from the public has been very positive,” said Daniel Salas, project manager in the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department. “Once we learn what our existing conditions are, our next step is to decide how to roll this out, what does that look for the City?”

A third meeting is tentatively scheduled for August, and the City hopes to finish the master plan by early fall.

Audience members liked what they saw in the presentation.

“I think you’ve done great work,” resident Bill Badger told one representative of the consulting team. “Conceptually, you’re on the nose.”

Melissa Henao-Robledo, who represents the Central/South Texas region for outdoor furnishings and lighting design firm landscapeforms, said she wanted to learn more about the lighting master plan. The presentation impressed her.

“I commend the City of San Antonio for investing in a lighting master plan and for having a long-term vision along with Councilman [Roberto] Treviño about the quality of light, because that is incredibly significant for the vehicular experience, the pedestrian experience, energy use, the reduction of sky glow and light pollution,” she said.

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.