Worcester’s nutty lighting scheme

Lower Belmont Street has been an epicenter of frustrating road work for the past few years.

For at least two years, motorists have been on the receiving end of unfinished paving and scarified road (which, it must be admitted, is preferable to the previous washboard-like conditions).

This summer saw trees being cut, a stone wall taken apart and (almost) put back together.  The right westbound lane has drifted between being half-open and totally closed.

And, a few weeks ago, the lanes adjacent to the median were shut down to bring the citizens of Worcester new streetlights.

If you’ve attended any of the Burns Bridge hearings, you’d find MassDOT telling you that the improvements to Belmont Street would include what they call “Worcester’s signature lights.”  By this, they mean lights like the ones on Shrewsbury Street:

In short, what the state (and likely the city administration) consider our city’s “signature” street lighting resemble nothing so much as glowing testicles:Now, I have nothing against testicles.

But I don’t think nature intended for them to be dangling from light poles.

And — while I find the Shrewsbury Street lights ugly in the way only faux-olde-tyme-y urban design elements can be — the Belmont Street lights are ugly and are completely inappropriate for the space.

As you may recall, the lights that used to exist were your standard circa-thirty-years-ago highway lighting:

The bland highway lighting has been replaced with the Worcester signature testicular lighting:

While the highway lighting was bland, it was quite appropriate for the space.  This part of Belmont Street has three lanes on either side, and you can see that the arm of the light extended farther out over the road than the new lights do.

In addition, you’ll note that the older light was made to focus light down onto the road.  The newer light, while it boasts a much larger bulb, is not just casting light onto the road.  While this might work well in a space like Shrewsbury Street — where the lights are installed on the side of the road where pedestrians are also walking — it doesn’t work well in a space where the primary goal is to illuminate the road.

If you drive into Shrewsbury, you’ll note that they’ve put a bell on their lights, which I think helps focus the light down (where it should be focused).

Shrewsbury prefers its nuts in a stylish bell.

(Aside: is it just me or does the bell remind one of a sapper’s helmet?)

Whatever else I think about the testicular lights, at least some of the buildings on Shrewsbury Street look as if they’re old enough to have been around when old-fashioned lights were brand new.

Nothing on Belmont Street — not the numerous gas stations, not the parking garages, not the juvenile detention facility, not the MassDOT building — is even remotely old enough (or quaint enough) to warrant dainty or decorative lighting.

The real problem, though, is that we’ve designated this lighting — which should have been designated as appropriate for historical districts or pedestrian heavy areas — as Worcester’s “signature” lighting.

The lights you’d choose for the Common are not the same lights you’d want on a six-lane roadway.

The lights you’d choose for a pedestrian-heavy street are not the same lights you’d want on a pedestrian-unfriendly boulevard.

We can debate whether gonads on a stick make for good decoration around a Common or historic district, but they certainly don’t work along the center of a major thoroughfare.

The same design aesthetic that thinks Times New Roman and a Webdings heart should be Worcester’s signature street sign elements has likely made the unfortunate choice of decorative lights where practical ones are more appropriate.  In this case, the utilitarian should prevail.

When are we going to consult professionals in these fields — whether it be sign design or lighting design — rather than the whims of an administrator’s bad design sense?

I sympathize with thwarted talent — certainly, in an alternative universe, I’d be a traffic engineer — but street design should depend on more than the gut instincts of those who don’t know best.