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Riverside Park Lights Are So Old They Can't Be Turned Off, Pol Says

By Emily Frost | June 8, 2012 11:25am
Daytime lighting in Riverside Park has residents concerned over energy and financial waste, as well as a potential infrastructure problem with the lights.
Daytime lighting in Riverside Park has residents concerned over energy and financial waste, as well as a potential infrastructure problem with the lights.
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Emily Frost/DNAinfo

UPPER WEST SIDE — The city has had to leave the lamps on in Riverside Park 24 hours a day because they're so old that they may never come back on if extinguished, a local city councilwoman revealed this week.

Upper West Side Councilwoman Gale Brewer said she's been bombarded with complaints from locals who are baffled by the waste of energy involved in leaving the park lights on all day.

She said she's worried that the system might fail when it's most needed, at night. The problem was spotted in early May, witnesses said, but it was unclear exactly when it began.

“I cannot believe how many emails I’m getting on this topic,” Brewer told Community Board 7 members Tuesday night, days after writing to the Parks Department about the problem.

“Riverside Park’s lights are on 24/7. Basically, the city can’t turn them off because, if they do, there’s a risk they will never turn back on. We have to figure this out.”

Brewer penned a June 1 letter to John Herrold, who oversees Riverside Park for the Parks Department, and cc'd Janette Sadik-Khan, the Department of Transportation Commissioner, asking them both to address the issue, which she blamed on an “infrastructure problem.”

"It is my understanding that this matter is [an] issue best addressed by the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the reason that the lights are kept on during the day is because decades old lighting infrastructure has begun to fail," Brewer wrote in the letter.

"As the lights can no longer be turned on and off properly, a temporary override is necessary to ensure there is lighting in the park at night for security."

Brewer added that she spoke to Sadik-Khan, who promised that she would investigate the matter.

The Parks Department referred calls to the Department of Transportation. The DOT said in an email Thursday that "a contractor completed repairs this week. The work included rebuilding panels, which addressed the condition."

But the lights remained on full blast in the middle of the day Friday, to the confusion of neighbors.

The DOT did not immediately respond to questions on Friday.

The exact age or number of lamps in Riverside Park were not immediately available. But according to Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, they appear to be Type B Beaux Arts lamps created by Lincoln Memorial designer Henry Bacon in the early 1900s.

Locals say they depend on the lights at night for safety, and are particularly concerned about Riverside Park, which has been the site of several sex attacks, robberies and assaults over the years. 

Rose Tardiff, 19, a student from Syracuse, took her chocolate lab mix Gemma for a walk Thursday. She said the threat of the lights failing after dusk was a frightening prospect.

“The gardens around the 94th Street entrance are not well lit, but Gemma likes to sniff around there,” she said. "I definitely wouldn’t want to be at the park in the dark. That would be scary.”

Other residents said they thought the lights on during the day was an oversight.

"It’s a waste of energy and money,” Linda Sanchez, 60, a frequent exerciser in Riverside Park and nearby resident.

“It’s so bizarre. Maybe the employee whose responsibility it is to turn them off forgot," she added.

Others who stroll through the park regularly hadn’t noticed the lights staying on during the day until recently.

Howard Sieven, an Upper West Side resident who penned an angry missive to Brewer's office May 5, 2012, alerting her to the problem, said he notified 311 of the problem as well.

"For the life of me, I cannot fathom a rational reason for such an extraordinary waste of electricity, bulb lights and certainly worker time to maintain the lights [for 24 hours]," Sieven wrote.