Power pole streetscape blight

I don’t know about your community, but here in Greater Lansing there seems to be an intense love affair between public utilities and power poles. “Holy pincushions, Batman, you’d think they’d all been raised by a family of porcupine.”

In some places, the primary roadway corridors look like a linear parade of power pole blight.  Sadly, all too often this leaves communities in the region with disjointed and unpleasant streetscape aesthetics to overcome.

Seriously...in the middle of a roundabout?

Seriously…in the middle of a roundabout?

Attempts have been made to convince the utilities to remove their visual blight and bury the power lines, but that is usually greeted with consternation and rebuttals on the cost-effectiveness of such actions. If the community or property owners wish to pay for burying the lines, they would be glad to oblige. As a result, instead of a modern and efficient electrical grid, numerous locations end up with a cobbled together third-world grid that struggles to provide quality service during ice, snow, and wind storm events.


One would think that after a certain number of repetitive power outages and emergency repairs to broken, damaged, and fallen power lines, electric utilities would initiate routine burying programs on their own to reduce the number of outages and their firm’s long-term maintenance costs. Throw in regular tree trimming efforts and eventually burying power lines doesn’t look so expensive anymore. Apparently the bean counters differ on that assessment.

Years ago, power utilities were often active participants in economic development, community enhancement, redevelopment, and revitalization efforts. It was seen as a way to increase the utility’s customer base. Today, many utilities appear to act in their own best interest and have increasingly become a stubborn impediment to new initiatives and progressive streetscape design ideas. Whether this is a function of the short-term profit mindset or local firms being bought out or merging with multinationals is not entirely clear. Unfortunately, whatever the reason, local communities are left with paying the price of power pole/line blight with unsightly pincushionesque landscapes dotting the horizon. As planning professionals, we are left shaking our heads at the insanity and shortsightedness of it all.

No one is advocating for the burying of the area’s entire power line infrastructure. That would be impractical. But, in those areas where the power poles have become overbearing and omnipresent, or in places where redevelopment and revitalization efforts are trying to get underway, burying the power lines makes sense. As stakeholders in the community, it is hoped the utilities will join local efforts to achieve a more aesthetically pleasant streetscape and overall community vision.

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9 Responses to Power pole streetscape blight

  1. the Axis4 Group says:

    Reblogged this on UTTU.


  2. Erik says:

    Nothing sets off a roundabout like the beauty and elegance of a utility pole.


  3. get smart says:

    The power lines here (KW and Toronto) tend to be buried in the newer suburbs that consist of big developments where they do a ton of earth moving and burying of other utilities anyways, but in much of the inner cities they’re still above ground.


  4. Chris Easton says:

    One element of undergrounding you may not be considering is that each primary line also contains connections to transformers, which contain connections to buildings. In some cases, the transformers are above ground. Some not. So, to underground primary, you need to not only plan the cost of the excavation and trenching, but also the connection to each building. Some property owners may not be interested in the cost of a new service across their parking lot, etc. without any appreciable value except aesthetics. Some of the lines you show are not primary, but transmission lines, which can very expensive to place underground. Depending on the utility, they may be willing to consider underground when the conductor needs replaced. This cost can be large depending on the nature of the area, i.e. urban street vs. rural.


    • Rick Brown says:

      Thank you for the info. I think there can be a happy medium when a community is trying to redevelop or revitalize itself where utilities can be more cooperative. We have a huge project that has been stymied by a utility that is insisting on being paid a ridiculous to bury the power lines.


  5. Milorad Paunovic says:

    I am originally fro former Yugoslavia, a not reach country and we learned to save by spending more. Yes, by spending more.
    In the 1970-es started an action of going underground with all utilities that can be buried. But not literally buried in trenches in dirt, they were guided through prefabricated concrete blocks with 5-7 openings running along the blocks. On each street corner there was a manhole for servicing the utilities. In longer street blocks the manholes were added between corners. For each house connection there are installed special “connectors” and the wiring will go underground in a plastic pipe to the wall of the building and up in the wall till it comes to a utility box. Till this point the utility “belongs” to the utility company. From the box away it belongs to the house owner and he is responsible for the cost of maintenance. In that time they used only two of seven “channels” in the concrete blocks (electricity and phone). Today they are fully “occupied” and in the last 40+ years the streets/sidewalks were not cracked open to add any utility. That was a good investment 40 years ago.


  6. Pingback: Pissed-off planner: upgrade the damn grid! | Panethos

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