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.


5 thoughts on “Worcester’s nutty lighting scheme

  1. Dont you know it’s the City’s brand new logo: “Worcester’s Got Balls!” ?

    One might ask, maybe you’re seeing too much into this, OR:

    Could it be that the testicular nature of these light fixtures are a further representation of male genitalia by urban designers, the same group who demonstrated by their phallic obsession with towers and skyscrapers in years past?

    What exactly makes testicle design more useful or efficient than the sleek, urban design? And what is the cost difference? And what is the impact of vandalism? Those long hanging cojones make an attractive target for a BB gun owner.

    In the last few decades, the type of lighting solutions brought on by science and cost-cutting have given all of us hundreds of ways to do the simple task of lighting. That Worcester can reach back to an era when we had gaslit lighting is rare because most American cities out west have a post WW2 feel and look to them. We have something special, and this lighting reflects that.

    However, I feel strongly about making the new downtown landscape reflective of the horse and buggy era with much more pedestrian traffic, crowded streets and lots more transportation options: railroads, trolley car, bicycles, electric cars, whatever. And to have the new buildings reflective of the ones that they tore down when the Galleria went into place.

    I am very pleased that the urban design team is focused on making the antique look part of the new design scheme because I believe strongly that Worcester needs to retain the “academics”, those high earning engineers, pharmacists and others who leave Worcester once they receive their diploma. So I guess you might call it: “Nads for Grads”.

    • Nicole says:

      I should note that I REALLY LIKE the lights along Main Street and in Federal Square. Those look appropriate for the space.

      The testicular lights, like the clock in the middle of Washington Square, strike me as anachronistic. The lights on Main Street look as if they could be replicas of what was actually there. The lights on Belmont Street would never have been there, for a variety of reasons, and it’s quite obvious. [See here for an example of something that the new lights are trying to look like, except the shape of the light bulb is different.]

      I don’t believe in (faux) antiques for antiques’ sake. At some point, there has to be a consideration of the space itself.

  2. Joe says:

    I think they look more like Acorns than those other kind of nuts.
    Bright, shiny acorns.
    Watch out, squirrels!

    • Nicole says:

      That has been suggested to me as well. I’m not an oak afficionado, but they DO look like the long, skinny acorns (as opposed to the round ones).

      The plus is that I can call them “acorn lights” in polite company.

      As someone else noted, the sapper’s helmet addition (as can be seen in Shrewsbury) does help with the dark sky aspects to lighting design. I think the helmet addition is more attractive as well.

  3. elmparkblogger says:

    I am all for bringing in brick walkways at street corners, antique lighting and similar amenities to bring in pedestrian traffic.

    A more liberal policy for food trucks and maybe food carts could also promote downtown foot traffic.

    And what are we doing to get train travellers or i290 drivers to stop and stay a little while? How easy are we making it for them to relieve themselves or pick up a quick bite here instead of elsewhere?

    That’s where a Worcester Welcoming center –complete with super clean bathrooms–could do a good job of selling the City to newcomers. And I’m not talking about setting up a bunch of brochures outside the mens room.

    I am talking about selling the long history of innovation and inventions. Encourage (ie strong arm) the colleges to participate in internships designed to sell the city. And as goofy as it sounds I even think a national plumbing museum was a lost opportunity to talk about eco-environmental issues, water conservation and a destination for kids to learn stuff. That museum is now in Watertown (http://www.theplumbingmuseum.org/index.html). (So did the Manoog family give up THAT and the Dead Sea Scrolls?)

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