Consultants for the downtown lighting master plan installed a temporary mock-up of vertical lights that alternate in color at the Municipal Plaza Building. Credit: Edmond Ortiz for the San Antonio Report

Consultants are in the final stages of crafting a master plan that would guide the types of lighting the City could deploy around the central business district and in Southtown.

The consulting firm, St. Louis-based Randy Burkett Lighting Design, has spent much of this year working with the City and CPS Energy to survey the downtown area and get feedback from affected businesses, neighborhood associations, property owners, and other stakeholders. Local consulting engineering firm Alderson & Associates has been supporting the study.

The goal has been to develop recommendations for adequate lighting along streets, parks, alleys, and building facades – all to reduce glare and maintain safety for pedestrians and motorists in the city center. Randy Burkett, company president and design principal, said a wide range of factors have gone into the making of the lighting plan.

“The streets are really important, and there are many things that are baked into this – sky glow, light pollution, light trespassing – technology can balance those concerns,” Burkett said. “Then we have to balance that with historic [preservation] concerns, appearance, aesthetics – all that has to go into the stew pot of solutions.”

Burkett said the draft master plan will go through a final round of review by various City departments, CPS Energy, and stakeholders throughout the rest of October and November. Consultants will then evaluate feedback from those parties. Ideally, City Council would study the final version of the plan before the end of the year, Burkett said.

City officials would decide from there how best to pursue suggested lighting strategies, including partnerships with business and property owners.

More than 40 people attended the latest community meeting on the urban lighting master plan Tuesday night at Acenar restaurant. Some of Tuesday’s meeting covered the more technical aspects consultants have been applying to their examination of neighborhoods in downtown and Southtown, including the River North, Lone Star, and Lavaca communities, which were split into zones distinguished by traffic volume.

Randy Burkett of Randy Burkett Lighting Design talks about the temporary mock-up of lighting along the Plaza de Armas facade. Credit: Edmond Ortiz for the San Antonio Report

The plan will feature recommendations for lighting intensity, color temperature, and light pole heights, all of which will vary according those zones.

The objective, the consultants said, is to provide illumination that is aesthetically pleasing, functional, and adequate for the levels of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in a certain area – The higher the traffic and pedestrian traffic, the higher the intensity.

For example, neighborhoods south of Cesar Chavez Boulevard would see single-source lighting measuring 2500K, or Kelvin on the color temperature scale. Much of the central business district and River North would merit lighting measuring 3000K, and well-traveled pedestrian and vehicular pathways of Cesar Chavez, and Houston, Commerce, and Santa Rosa streets in downtown would demand higher intensity around 3000K-3500K.

For perspective, many household fixtures use lights measuring 2700K, or warm incandescent, to 3500K, or household fluorescent.

Burkett Lighting designer Rich Fisher said proper lighting for intersections is important. The plan will recommend the City ensure that lighting intensity and color temperature are relatively consistent within the immediate area.

“We want to keep the difference from one street to another within 1000K,” Fisher said. That way drivers can easily discern what lies ahead of of them as they proceed from one intersection to the next, he added.

Another key, consultants said, is to ensure glare is cut down in public rights-of-way and along buildings and other fixtures. Glare is debilitating, Burkett said. “It makes it more difficult for your visual system to function.”

Burkett and his colleagues will also recommend efficient ways to retrofit or replace specific lights, especially decorative ones or those in historic areas or near landmark buildings.

Other recommendations will cover adequate lighting for parks, alleys, underpasses, and building facades. Even canopies, tree lighting, and seating in public spaces, such as those along rivers and lakes, can benefit from efficient lighting.

Burkett said alleys and underpasses are typically underutilized, adding that cities and property owners could improve illumination or use colorful, timed lighting in such spots to make the immediate area more inviting for merchants, customers and pedestrians.

Following the presentation, many of the attendees took a walking tour of a few structures, including the Municipal Plaza Building and Plaza de Armas, where consultants temporarily installed styles of lighting that could enhance building facades and nearby street and sidewalks.

Richard Thelen, who lives near St. Paul Square, said he likes what he sees in the plan, and hopes the City will install more effective lighting in his neighborhood soon.

“The reason we came here was because of the glare in St. Paul Square,” Thelen said. “We’re wondering if that’s going to improve. From what they’re suggesting, it sounds like it will. How long will it take to get done? That’s what we’re wondering about.”

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