Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Brighter Metro?

The Washington Post reports:

So many light bulbs, so little light. Metrorail stations have 73,836 lights designed to produce a soft glow, the better to show off the stations' vaulted arches. But riders grumble that stations are too dark to read newspapers or even make out an escalator step.

Metro says it is listening: Poor lighting is its top maintenance concern. It is also a pet peeve of Metro's interim general manager, Dan Tangherlini.

"It looks like we're not really on top of our ballgame when you walk into a station and see light bulbs out," he said.

Thus illuminated, Metro officials plan to announce today steps to brighten the stations, 47 of which are underground.

Some steps are short-term: Metro will promise to replace burned-out bulbs within 10 days instead of three months. Brighter bulbs will top the platform pylons, the tall rectangular columns that display the station name and stops. And crews will do a total replacement and inspection of station lights every 10 months instead of annually.

Longer term, Tangherlini said, Metro needs to ask the bigger questions: "What kind of lighting do we want in the station, and how can we improve lighting while maintaining the architectural integrity and beauty?"

A review of how Metro lighting works and how difficult it is to change a light bulb leads to this observation:
...most relamping has to be done when trains aren't running, typically between 1:30 and 4 a.m. weekdays. It might sound easy, but it takes 13 workers -- and this is no joke -- working two shifts to change all the lights in a small station. It can take them seven shifts to finish screwing in all the bulbs and tubes at larger stations, such as Metro Center, that have more than one level.
The original article also reviews quite a few possible changes.

I have never had a problem with station lighting. It is darker than it could be, but not as bad as the complaints make it sound. Rush hour waits aren't long enough to make reading very important. Nevertheless, more light would probably be good.
The better lighting has benefits for Metro employees as well as riders. It will help operators of eight-car trains, who need to look down the platform to see passengers getting on and off the last car. Transit police will have clearer images on security cameras.
I also wonder if it would be possible to just paint the stations white.

I am growing doubtful about all the latest news. The recent flurry of proposals and announcements is starting to look like Mr. Tangherlini may just be campaigning to hold onto his "interim" job.

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