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Admire Chicago’s orange glow before it’s gone

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LEDs are replacing the orange high-pressure sodium lights

An aerial view of Chicago.
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When the sun goes down, Chicago’s streets, alleys, and parks take on a hazy orange glow. The color from the streetlights has become part of the city’s character and to some it’s beautiful. Especially if you’ve ever had the chance to see it while in flight—the street grid moves glowing in amber. While the warm tint from the high-pressure sodium bulbs is comforting, slowly a whiter light is replacing it.

Turn down a street where the city’s LED lights are installed, and it looks a bit odd at first. What might be sacrificed in familiarity, the city is making up for in savings. The Smart Lighting Program has installed 100,000 LED streetlights to date, saving the city $12 million on its ComEd bill, according to the mayor’s office. Ultimately, it’ll save about $100 million since LEDs operate with just a fraction of the electricity that the older streetlights use.

In the 1970s, when the city first began installing the high-pressure sodium bulbs people were not enthusiastic. Skeptics likened the streets to a yellowy washed-out, nightmare. Critics today question some LEDs’ bluish light, more akin to daylight, which can be eerie at night. The good news is that the city’s lights aren’t the bluest, the LEDs strike a balance between warm and cool temperatures making it feel more natural.

Eventually, about 85 percent of the city’s public streetlights will be replaced with LEDs. No more orange glow. But on the bright side, the lights will need to be replaced less often and soon a management system will automatically tell the city when bulbs go dark.

So before the last golden glow burns out, let’s admire the city under its older streetlights.

The Michigan Avenue skyline from Millennium Park.
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The former Dearborn Station in the Printers Row neighborhood.
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People walking in Lincoln Park near North Pond.
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Underneath the L tracks in the Loop.
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Michigan Avenue during a snow storm.
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Franklin Street bridge.
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Lower Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
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An alley lit by Chicago’s orange streetlights.
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Streetlights flicker on in the dim light.
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The skyscrapers of the downtown seen at sunset, from the elevated position of the John Hancock Observatory.
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An aerial view of the city at night.
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