Gia Biagi, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, says her department saves time, money and manpower thanks to the city’s new smart streetlights.

Jul 10 2023

Smart Streetlights Help Smart Cities Launch Networking Initiatives

Municipalities upgrading lamps also get a big jump on communications projects.

Chicago has modernized its 280,000 streetlights with new smart LED lights that consume half the energy and last twice as long as traditional ones, resulting in massive cost savings, reduced carbon emissions and improved public safety.

The city completed its four-year, $160 million streetlight project last year by replacing its hazy, orange high-pressure sodium lights with LEDs that produce a brighter, warmer white light.

The connected smart streetlights automatically alert the city of outages, enabling faster repairs. The improved illumination, combined with smart technology, makes streets safer at night, says Gia Biagi, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Transportation (CDOT). 

“It was a massive undertaking, and it’s rare that you see the effect of infrastructure projects right away. But the quality of light is clearer and crisper, so when you are driving, the streets are more visible,” Biagi says. “And because it’s a smart asset, we can better manage the system. We know lights are out before citizens do because the system tells us that information.”

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Most cities today deploy energy-saving LED lights, but a growing number are going one step further by investing in smart, networked streetlight technology, analysts say.

Intelligent public lighting systems enable cities to remotely monitor and manage their streetlights, including brightening or dimming the lights. Smart LED lights have a longer lamp life, reduce carbon emissions and allow cities to respond to outages much quicker, says Nikola Ristivojevich, senior analyst at IDC.

“In addition to enabling cities to provide the proper amount of light for local street conditions, installing intelligent lighting will help improve citizen satisfaction regarding security and safety, while bringing municipalities significant savings in power consumption and lighting system maintenance,” he says.

Smart streetlights and smart poles also can serve as the backbone of smart city infrastructure and power Wi-Fi or 5G networks and Internet of Things devices, including video surveillance cameras and sensors that monitor weather, air quality, traffic and noise, such as gunfire, he says.

“This type of lighting system is recognized as a significant step in the development of smart cities,” Ristivojevich says.

How Chicago Is Using Its Smart Lights

Chicago’s smart streetlights will save the city $100 million over their first 10 years of operation. The technology also streamlines maintenance while delivering better service to Chicago residents, Biagi says.

The city installed control nodes on each streetlight that send data over a secure mesh network to the city’s data center, where it is processed by the city’s cloud-based streetlight software, says Craig Turner, deputy commissioner of CDOT’s electrical operations division.

The program integrates the cloud-based software with internal city applications, including 311 software for managing citizen complaints, to consolidate work orders and create a unified electronic workflow.

Essentially, the cloud-based app allows CDOT to centrally manage the entire streetlight operation, eliminating the city’s previous paper processes, he says. When the system detects outages, it automatically creates work orders.

The application displays the work orders on a map, allowing CDOT to route repair crews more efficiently.

The repair teams, in turn, can use their iPad devices to pull up their work orders and close them out electronically while on location.

“It sounds simple, but it’s an incredible leap forward for us,” Biagi says. “In the past, they had to come back into the office and fill out paperwork.”

The connected lights allow for two-way communication through a wireless mesh network made up of wireless access points throughout the city, Turner says. The smart lighting system is made up of a mix of lighting controllers, including those by Quantela (formerly CIMCON), that allow the status of fixtures to be monitored.

For example, CDOT employees can remotely check the health of a fixture and view its vitals and history, such as hours burned, current and voltage, before dispatching a crew, he says.

The smart streetlight initiative is one of many smart city projects in Chicago. The city has started to deploy smart corridor technology, which alerts buses and other city vehicles that pedestrians are in crosswalks ahead of them, Biagi says.

EXPLORE: Why smart city strategies must balance progress and privacy.

Colorado Springs Is Piloting Smart Streetlights

Last year, Colorado Springs, Colo. completed a successful six-month pilot of 90 smart streetlights. Now, the city’s Office of Innovation is working on mounting additional sensors, including air quality monitors.

“We’re putting together a report with data from the pilot, so we can make a case for being able to scale this project,” says Carlos Tamayo, the city’s innovation manager.

The Office of Innovation has collaborated with Colorado Springs Utilities and several city departments on the pilot projects, including parks, economic development, traffic engineering, police, public works and parking.

They tested smart streetlights and software from two vendors, one using a cellular network and the other using a mesh network to transmit data. One of the vendors, Verizon, transferred data through its 4G/LTE cellular network to Verizon’s cloud-based data platform.

When conventional streetlight fixtures fail, Colorado Springs and its electric utility replace now them with LED lights, which reduces a streetlight’s energy cost by 50 percent. From the pilot, the city discovered that the ability to dim smart streetlights can potentially reduce power consumption by an additional 10 to 20 percent. The technology dims the lights when fewer people or cars are typically on the streets, Tamayo said. 

As part of the pilot, the Office of Innovation installed weather sensors on six streetlights to measure snow depth. Through real-time snow data and predictive analytics, the city could more strategically and efficiently allocate snowplows throughout the city in the future, Tamayo says.

Police also tested video cameras to get better situational awareness, while the parking department tested sensors that soon could show residents available parking spaces.

So far, the city has converted about 7,000 of its 29,000 streetlights to LED.

The LEDs include NEMA sockets that allow the city to easily add controllers or other technology to network the streetlights together if city leaders do decide to invest in a citywide smart streetlight project, Tamayo says.

READ MORE: How Colorado Springs continues its quest to be the ‘smartest of smart cities.’

New York’s State Initiative Is Supporting Citizens

The New York Power Authority, the nation’s largest state-owned public power utility, launched its Smart Street Lighting NY initiative in 2018 to help the state’s municipalities finance and install LED streetlights in their communities. So far, about 130 municipalities have taken part, including Albany.

Smart streetlights equipped with control nodes wirelessly communicate their status, power parameters and fault notifications to a cloud-based app that municipalities can access through a mobile app or web browser, says NYPA spokesperson Alex Chiaravalle.

Since Albany purchased its streetlights from its local utility in 2019, the city has converted nearly 11,000 streetlights to LED and has saved more than $7 million to date, says Jason West, the city’s sustainability director.

Source:, “Chicago Completes Smart Lighting Streetlight Modernization Program,” Feb. 23, 2022

Albany’s smart streetlight technology includes Philips connector nodes that use cellular 4G/LTE connections and existing mobile networks to transmit data. Through a cloud-based app, city staff can get the real-time status of the streetlights: Yellow dots on the map show functioning streetlights, while red dots show faulty lights, so the city immediately knows about problems.

“We can have lights fixed before anyone’s even reported it,” West says.

The city plans to use its smart streetlight infrastructure to power other smart applications. It is collaborating with NYPA on a pilot to provide free Wi-Fi to part of a historically disadvantaged neighborhood.

This equipment can offer a wide array of capabilities and functionality. While it will primarily provide public Wi-Fi hotspots, the equipment can also support add-on technology, including electric vehicle charging, parking analysis and air quality monitoring. The pilot aims to evaluate benefits and challenges to smart city equipment, he says.

Overall, smart streetlights are worth the investment and effort, West says.

“It’s a fantastic system,” he says. “The bottom line is it saves money, allows us to make repairs faster and reduces emissions. These are all good reasons to do it.”

Photography by Bob Stefko

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