News

Detroit Agenda: What Goes Into Installing a Streetlight

May 13, 2014

By J. Carlisle Larsen

Photo Credit | J. Carlisle Larsen

“I’m a Detroiter—all my life, and I’ve been here all my life. I care about Detroit—the guys I have working for me care about Detroit. And we wanna make sure we do a good job—you know—for the Detroiters. They deserve it..."

--Ernest Kolger

In the small neighborhood of Minock Park on Detroit’s West Side, a lighting crew is preparing to install one of the city’s new LED streetlights. It’s the first 80-degree day in the city and two crew members are beginning to dig a hole for the pole that the light will be attached to. The crews began the ambitious project back at the height of the cold in mid-February and various weather issues—such as rain and thunderstorms—have slowed progress. Ernest Kolger is part of the crew installing lights in the neighborhood. He explains that there are several steps to get a streetlight up and running.

“You have to have a pole first of all for the light to go on." He says,"We come out, find a location to put a pole, and put a light. And we set the pole, the next step is mounting the mast arm and the fixture, and then we run wire to supply power to turn the light on…”

Kolger says for some residents the LED lights may take some getting used to.

“The LED light is different of course, so they have to get used to that. They had more lights—I think—on certain blocks and stuff, and now we’re actually—they’re having less physical lights, but the streets actually going to be as bright, because the LED is brighter."

Kolger says since the Public Lighting Authority began installing the lights, the agency has received a mixed reaction from neighborhoods.

“We’ve had people that are very happy—a majority of them are—and we have people that are not so happy because they don’t like the light distribution as much they like the old fixtures,” he says.

The old fixtures are high pressure sodium globe bulbs. These fixtures have been targets of scrappers who are after the copper components. Besides being more efficient, the LED lights should prove to be less enticing to people looking to tear apart the fixtures since they lack copper wiring or parts. So far this year, the public lighting authority has installed about 5,000 street lights. But installing them throughout the city—especially on the scale that the PLA has planned—takes time. Kolger says he’s been working on street light installation his entire career. He says there are a lot of factors affecting the amount of time it takes to install a light.

“Sometimes—you know—jobs may take a little longer depending on what we find in the ground—you know—because we have to set the poles and stuff," Kolger says, "The utilities—you know—we have gas, water lines, cable. So, but we can work around that stuff.”

The crews at the Minock Park site are digging the hole for the new light pole by hand…to avoid hitting any of the utility lines in the ground in front of the houses. Kolger says from start to finish…installing new lights like this takes about 45 minutes. He says if the crew was able to use an auger—a drill to dig the holes— that would cut the time by about fifteen minutes. But Kolger says he doesn’t mind the work. Between being out in the sun and helping re-light the city, he says he’s glad to be a part of this project.

“I’m a Detroiter—all my life, and I’ve been here all my life," Kolger says. "I care about Detroit—the guys I have working for me care about Detroit. And we wanna make sure we do a good job—you know—for the Detroiters. They deserve it..."

Kolger’s crew is just one of several working to install lights in the city. The goal of the Detroit Public Lighting Authority is to install 50-thousand of the LED streetlights in the city’s neighborhoods by the end of 2015.


Photo Credit | J. Carlisle Larsen




WDET’s news team took to the streets to talk to hundreds of Detroiters about their neighborhoods – asking what they wanted for their communities – and what needs to change. Learn more about The Detroit Agenda here.