LEE COUNTY, Fla. — If you’ve ever driven down Colonial Boulevard at night or early in the morning, the strangely colored lights may look familiar.
You’re not crazy if you wonder why street lights are purple instead of the traditional yellow or white. It’s actually part of an ongoing national problem to which Southwest Florida is no exception.
John Nicolette, who lives in the McGregor neighborhood of Fort Myers, takes a regular afternoon walk with his wife and has always been curious about the purple lights along Colonial.
I noticed them tonight when we went for a walk. I mentioned it to my wife and asked, ‘What are those lights?’ She said those are the lights along Colonial. I said ow! They’re pretty!” said Nicolette.
But what he and many others may not realize is that they are a mistake.
The LED lights, which replaced the high-pressure sodium lights at Colonial a few years ago, were always supposed to be soft blue or white, but a manufacturing defect has caused some to turn purple, something the Department of Transportation from Florida knows very well. .
That’s why they, along with other municipalities like Lee County, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and many more, are working to identify and replace these bulbs. And while there’s not much data on whether they’re less safe, some cyclists believe they make it harder for drivers to see them.
“They are dimmer and it is harder to see people below them. They can’t see me, I don’t know, I can’t see them either unless their headlights are pointed right at me,” said Tyler Swartz of Whiskey Creek.
Right now, Lee County says that in the midpoint corridor, there are currently 238 lamps, 34 of which have the purple shade defect. They say their supplier will replace them at no additional cost to taxpayers later this summer, but this is just county roads, not including state or city roads.
“And then we also have citizens who drive by and say, ‘You know, I’ve been driving through this intersection for the last 30 years, and I just noticed that there’s a purple light.’ If they tell us that, we’ll cross reference. It may or may not have been reported, but we’ll make sure it’s on our list,” said Amy Alfonso-Perez, FDOT district maintenance engineer.
But with so many different municipalities, it can be hard to know in which jurisdiction a purple street might be.
In the meantime, other traffic lights or maintenance are still needed after Hurricane Ian, meaning replacing purple lights isn’t always a priority.
“The good news is that when those lights that were damaged by Hurricane Ian start to be repaired, they will be replaced with a correct LED light, fixing the problem they had identified years ago,” Perez said.