Re-Lighting Richmond – How the City Got it Right
Like many cities around the country, the City of Richmond, VA, is constantly facing challenges drawing folks downtown to go to the circus at the Coliseum, to have dinner in the great restaurants of Shockoe Slip or to go watch “Havoc” at a VCU basketball game. With a residential population in the city that is now trending up after years of decline, most of these visitors will come from the suburbs. And with limited public transportation options, virtually all will require parking that is convenient and safe.
The City of Richmond owns nine garages and is the process of acquiring others. Though strategically located throughout the city, unfortunately, many of these facilities are aging, facing existing conditions that can be unappealing to parkers, whether from a dated original design or the benign neglect due to years of cost-based trade-offs causing maintenance or improvements to fall behind.
As Lynne Lancaster, Richmond’s interim Parking Administrator, in evaluating the parking situation, realized the tremendous value of the assets and how they could shape the future of Richmond’s downtown. More than just a cost-center, parking could really help the redevelopment efforts, by improving the experience of visitors coming downtown to eat, visit, and play. “Parking is key to bringing folks downtown and helping to revitalize the area,” according to Ms. Lancaster.
Working with the City’s operator, Johnnie Hogue of Standard Parking, Ms. Lancaster was able to identify the first garage where a relighting project would have the most positive impact. This would include increasing the usage of an under-utilized facility during non-work hours, adding economic value to the neighborhood by enticing new visitors, and the opportunity to significantly reduce operational costs from the use of energy-efficient lighting. Project payback, while important, is secondary to increased security and customer satisfaction.
The garage at 7th & Marshall Streets sits in the heart of downtown, just blocks away from the Virginia State Capital, the central business district, and around the corner from The National, one of the premier music clubs in Richmond. The garage is mostly full during the day, primarily with monthly parkers who vacate the downtown as soon as the workday ends.
To ensure that Richmond was getting the highest return on its investment, Ms. Lancaster and Mr. Hogue reached out to others who have been in similar situations. One of these was Pete Little, Executive Director for the Parking Authority of Baltimore City. Beginning in 2007, Baltimore had relighted their entire portfolio of 17 garages using Green Lighting Technologies’ (GLT) vapor-tight three-lamp fluorescent ParkLight™ fixture. The feedback from Mr. Little: “we tested what seemed like every light fixture out there over two winters - fluorescents, induction, LEDs. The GLT ParkLight™ came out as the clear winner for light output, quality of construction, and overall economic value. We did the project and now every garage looks great, even after four winters. The garages are brighter, safer, and the cost savings have been tremendous”.
Using this feedback, the city decided to do an evaluation of its own. Having identified 7th & Marshall as the initial location, some of the challenges of the project became apparent. While having 70-watt high pressure sodium fixtures in a three-across layout provided decent overall illumination in foot-candles, the orange-brown light was unappealing and gave the garage a foreboding feeling at night with numerous dark areas. But relocating new fixtures to a more typical two-across layout would have significantly increased installation costs. A 3-to-2 approach by simply removing one of the fixtures would create areas of darkness because of the distance between fixture locations in the existing conditions. The key was to find a low-wattage fixture that could provide a broad distribution of illumination, while still providing the electricity reductions necessary for a reasonable payback period.
The evaluation included a number of different fixture layouts, including both two and three-lamp configurations with multiple mirror designs in order to utilize the white-painted walls and ceiling for more uniform light distribution. Ultimately, what performed the best given the conditions and goals was GLT’s two-lamp vapor-tight fluorescent with a slotted uplight reflector at 61 watts.
This fixture represented a 40% reduction in electricity consumption from the existing conditions. Plus, the rated life of fluorescent lamps is nearly double that of high pressure sodium, while costing a tenth as much, dramatically lowering maintenance costs. When fully installed, the illumination doubled in most areas with dark areas eliminated.
Based on the success of the 7th & Marshall project, a new garage was selected a couple of blocks away. This was a different challenge in that the garage was already well-illuminated. But it used antiquated 8-foot T-12 fluorescent fixtures that were well past their expected life. With the government-mandated phase out of T-12’s, a relighting project was necessary. In evaluating the garage, it was recognized that the existing layout was a great candidate for a 2-to-1 retrofit using GLT’s three-lamp fixture with uplight reflector.
The results were tremendous. Despite going from four 8-foot T-12 lamps on each side of the drive aisle to three four-foot T-8 lamps, the illumination increased. The more than 60% in electricity savings created a payback period of just over 1.5 years. And the rated life of the lamps is nearly double for tremendous maintenance cost savings
For Richmond continuing these efforts across its current remaining garages has the potential to save more than a quarter million dollars per year in operational costs. The improved illumination makes the re-lighted garages more appealing to parkers. “Relighting the garages has had a tremendous impact on how drivers will perceive our garages,” says Ms. Lancaster. And that is called doing a relighting project right.
Peter Kelley is principal at Green Lighting Technologies. He can be reached at
Article Abstract from March, 2014