You’re About to See Honolulu in a Whole New Light

Did you notice the city’s new light fixtures?
In Mānoa, a test LED (foreground right) outshines the high-pressure-sodium model with its familiar orange tinge.
Photo: Michael Keany 


Honolulu’s a beautiful place, full of blues and greens, but you’d never know it once the sun sets and the city’s 52,000 high-pressure-sodium streetlights flicker on. Sure, the streetlights make it safe to drive, but their weird orange glow makes everything look like it’s wearing a bad spray-on tan.


The orange is set to disappear soon, though, thanks to the city’s decision to swap out its old sodium-bulb technology in favor of new LED fixtures that emit bright, slightly blue-tinted light. So far, only a few test blocks have been lit with LEDs, in neighborhoods including Mānoa, Mililani Mauka and Kāhala, but, as soon as a contractor is chosen, the rest of the island will follow suit, beginning in late summer.


The main benefit of LED lighting is its energy efficiency. The city projects savings of $3 million a year once the new units are fully rolled out and, as a bonus, the contractor will be covering the cost of installation in return for a cut of the energy savings.


In addition to being cheap, LED’s neutral lighting comes with clear aesthetic perks, not only for residents driving around town at night, but also photographers and filmmakers. Ken Libby, cinematographer for Edgy Lee’s Waikīkī, in the Wake of Dreams and Song Without Words, a recent Honolulu noir, says, “It’s going to make things much more pleasing for night-shot movies and films.”


When the bidding was announced, astronomer Richard Wainscoat at UH Mānoa’s Institute for Astronomy raised concerns about the choice of high-intensity 4,000-Kelvin lighting. “We’re wasting an opportunity to restore our night skies,” he said. Department of Design and Construction director Robert Kroning told HONOLULU, however, that “the new LED lights will be shielded to prevent light from straying into the sky.” Wainscoat countered that some cities are swapping out 4,000-Kelvin LEDs for 2,700-Kelvin white lights, “because people complained.” Kroning’s response: The LEDs the city has stipulated can be “directed to stop where the sidewalk ends and a private property begins,” to minimize the effect on residences.


To see for yourself, the photo above, taken at the corner of Lo‘i and Kaloalu‘iki streets in Mānoa, shows the before-and-after look of LED and sodium lights.