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Boston Plans To Replace Historic Gas Lamps With Energy-Saving LED Lights

BOSTON (CBS) - They tend to catch your eye when you stroll or drive through any one of several historic Boston neighborhoods. Those old gas-burning streetlamps certainly ooze colonial charm.

But they're now in the crosshairs of city planners trying to balance history, cost, and the environment.

"Cost is not as important," says Rob Whitney of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, "as how it affects the entire neighborhood."

He's talking about the city's desire to replace the iconic gas streetlamps with look-a-like LED lamps that cost way less to run -- and are much more eco-friendly.

"Not a fan at the end of the day," says Beacon Hill resident Jefferson Puerta. "But I understand it."

Gas Lamp LED
LED Lamp on left, gas lamp on right in Boston (WBZ-TV)

It's a prickly debate as the city looks to ditch all 2800 gas lamps -- from Beacon Hill to the Back Bay to Charlestown -- because they cost nearly a million bucks to fuel and spew the greenhouse gasses of more than a thousand cars.

"Our plan is to replace all of the gas lights in Boston with LEDs," says Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Boston's Chief of Streets.

"We are in a climate crisis," he asserts, "and we need to be working in every way we can to reduce our greenhouse gasses."

But the LED's also cost roughly 90 percent less to run -- with less maintenance.

"This sounds like something that'll make the world a better place," says Beacon Hill resident Don Fisher, "so it works for me."

However, the Civic Association of Beacon Hill -- home to just under half of the gas lamps -- wonders why the city hasn't requested its input before now -- and warns of a delicate balance.

Gas lamps
Gas streetlamps in Beacon Hill (WBZ-TV)

"The old buildings. The brick sidewalks. The gas lights," says neighborhood association chair Whitney. "We try to maintain the feel of a historic neighborhood. But we're happy to make changes -- if it makes sense to do so."

He says some residents are worried about the 'Disneyfication' of Beacon Hill, and the jury is still out on the replacement lamps.

For the most part, everyone agrees that the look of the new LED lamps is the most critical factor for resident acceptance.

The only replica installed so far is on Shawmut Street in the Bay Village neighborhood -- and it's still running off an extension cord.

"But our hope is that people will see what we see," says streets boss Franklin-Hodge. "That these lamps are a wonderful way to preserve our history while also protecting our future."

Indeed -- side-by-side -- the gas and LED lamps are virtually identical twins -- something the city went to great pains to pull off.

"I don't think they'll completely change the character of the neighborhood," says Beacon Hill resident Elsa Piculik. "I think it's still a pretty historical place -- and that's one reason I like living here."

"Saving money and reducing our footprint sounds good," chimes in resident Ancil Marshall. "If it looks the same and saves the environment at the same time then I'm all for it."

The city has no firm time frame for completing the lighting switch -- as it weighs community response.

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