Streetlights Turn Purple in Milwaukee

Spooked citizens claim it is to ward off vampires


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

People who have driven through the Milwaukee area recently may have noticed the purple-tinted streetlights lining I-94 or I-43. A significant number of streetlights on the highway now have a purple tinge, especially in the southeast region of Wisconsin. 

Susana Da Silva of CBC News notes that these sudden purple lights have “spawned theories online about everything from vampires to vaccines.” 

Michael Pyritz, the regional communications manager of the southeast region of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation reassures residents that the cause is merely a manufacturing defect in the LED lights. 

An article written by Drake Bentley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel states that in 2018 the Department of Transportation implemented a “wide-scale conversion of Milwaukee streetlights led by the Department of Public Works in an effort to save energy costs.” 

These bulbs were sent to the Wisconsin DOT about three years to sixteen months ago with the expectancy to last up to 10 years. However, already in the past year, more than 400 bulbs have undergone the purple-blue metamorphosis. Bentley writes that some noticed the change beginning in March of 2021.

Pyritz stated that the purple bulbs cast the same brightness as the standard white bulb. However, Duke Energy is planning on replacing the bulbs due to suspicions that the change in color may hint at a shorter lifespan of the bulbs, though this has not been verified. These defective bulbs are not the work of a single manufacturing company. Other states and regions, such as Kansas and Florida, have also experienced this purple change in their bulbs. Da Silva adds that Vancouver is experiencing the same problem with the bulbs supplied by Manitoba Hydro.

Interestingly, the purple-blue color is the true color of LED lights. David Beron, president and CEO of RAB Design Lighting in Etobicoke, Ont. explained to CBC News that the LEDs get their white glow from a coating of phosphor over its surface.

The differently colored lights have received multiple opinions from the public. Da Silva interviewed Christina James, a Vancouver resident, about her opinion regarding the lights. James said, “I do actually like the look. I like it when things are glowing different colors. I kind of like the vibe.” She even expressed that she will be “a little disappointed” when the lights are replaced by Manitoba Hydro. 

In contrast, Wendy Chu, a Wisconsin resident, stated that the purple-blue color is distracting and gives her headaches. 

Pyritz said, “I didn’t imagine that anybody was going to become that attached to them.”