HARLEM — So many superlatives were used by city officials to describe the first of 64 new LED street lights to be installed on 125th Street Thursday that passersby might have thought they were talking about a brand new sports car.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan called the lights "stylized" and "gorgeous" while Assemblyman Keith Wright, who allocated half a million dollars in state funds for the project, called the lamp "sleek" and "sexy."
"I can't wait until this evening comes because then I will say: 'Let there be light. Let there be City Light," said Wright.
The new street light on 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard is the first to be installed in the city.
It is the product of an international design competition won by Thomas Phifer and Partners and lighting designer OVI and is part of an ambitious plan to replace all 250,000 1960s era "cobra head" fixtures throughout the city with LED lighting by 2017.
The street light, which hangs on a streamlined pole, resembles a curved arrow stretching against a slingshot or, for those with a little more imagination, a modernist rendering of the form of the original Starship Enterprise.
"I heard someone else say that," said Barbara Askins, president of the 125th Street Business Improvement District. "It does look futuristic."
But the lights fit in line with the district's vision for itself, she said. There is a building boom on 125th Street with $1 billion in development planned that will bring 1 million square feet of office and retail space. The National Urban League is building its headquarters on 125th Street and a Whole Foods is under construction at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue.
"It gives the spirit, the energy we want you to see when you come to the street," Askins added.
But it's not all about looks. Not only do the light-emitting diodes provide more light than standard bulbs but they also provide significant savings in maintenance and cost.
The LED lamps use 40 percent less energy than standard street lamps and distribute the light they produce more evenly. The LED lights can shine for 50,000 hours and cut maintenance costs by 80 percent, said Sadik-Khan. The city expects to save $14 million per year when the project is completed.
The street lamps will be installed along the 125th Street BID's boundaries of Fifth Avenue to Morningside Avenue. The city will also pay $1.5 million to upgrade area traffic signals. Installation is expected to begin next summer following the solicitation of bids.
"I'm so glad that...Harlem has something first," said Community Board 10 chair Henrietta Lyle.
The DOT is also working to bring the street lights to the Lower East Side, the Flatiron District and the Fashion District.
Workers turned on the LED lights while making some final preparations and a clean, white light shined down grabbing the attention of Astrid Rosario, 26, a hostess who lives in Inwood.
"I like the idea. It's different," said Rosario who said she sometimes uses the M60 bus on 125th Street late at night on her way home from work. "Let's just hope it's powerful."