led street lights
New lights are installed on 73rd street and West End Avenue thus week. Photo by Raymond.

The city’s Department of Transportation was installing LED lights on West End Avenue this week, part of a plan to spread the more energy-efficient lights throughout the neighborhood by the end of the year.

The LEDs should reduce energy costs and last longer than the old lights, saving the city $6 million in energy costs and $8 million in maintenance costs a year, according to DOT. But the new lights have also drawn complaints because they can cast a harsh glow. Justin Davidson of New York magazine wrote that “an azure glare is washing across all five boroughs, the firelight yellow of sodium-vapor streetlights giving way to the clinical pallor of light-emitting diodes.”

That whiteness is a mark of a technology’s triumph. LEDs, more versatile and efficient than any previous light source besides the Sun, Moon, and stars, are becoming ubiquitous in cars, crossing signals, commercial signs, storefronts, advertising screens, indoor fixtures, and smartphones. All throughout waking hours, we soak in their broad spectrum and hardly ever notice that the color of the world has changed.

The Times pointed out that the LEDs were shining into people’s homes in Windsor Terrace, one of the first neighborhoods to get them.

To some residents, the new lights make it feel as though a construction or film crew is working outside all night. Others liken the lights to a prison yard, or joke about alien abductions.

One resident said “It feels like I’m in a strip mall in outer space.”

A DOT spokesperson wrote that the LED retrofitting will occur through the end of the year on the Upper West Side, and they’ll try to keep the light pointed toward the ground.

“DOT has begun the process to convert to LED lighting along the West Side of Manhattan and expects to continue this work throughout the rest of the year. The fixtures are designed to prevent any light from shining above the horizon.”

NEWS | 22 comments | permalink
    1. Hyman Rosen says:

      I am old enough to remember when the white streetlights were replaced with the yellow sodium vapor lamps. It took me a long time to adjust to what seemed to me to be a hellish glow. I’ll be glad when the lights are white again. (And maybe we can get back the green and white police car colors too!)

    2. dannyboy says:

      If you ask the chain stores on Broadway and Columbus, they might prefer the strip mall glare.

    3. Betsy says:

      There appears to be constant doing and re-doing and undoing of our streets.

      Am I just being cynical when the odor of lucrative construction contracts plays in my head?

      • Pedestrian says:

        No you are not being cynical at all.

        While the benefits of LEDs is certain settings cannot be denied, I have to wonder how we will be able to hold the “estimators” accountable for the savings they predict.

        When LEDs are installed, it needs to be done with a recognition that they light in a different way and that south the proper adjustment they will interfer with residents living spaces. But of course that would take thought a planning somethings this administration doesn’t seem to do well!

    4. JDP says:

      As long as the light points downward not to disturb any residents in their home, it is progress. $8mil in savings is a good way to use taxpayers money…. well, its a start and its much greener, too for us all.

    5. ScooterStan says:

      Re: “But the new lights have also drawn complaints”

      Complaints from cranky Manhattanoes ?!? O.M.G., we are shocked, shocked! (apologies to Captain Renault).

      Sometimes it seems as if all these nay-sayers work for K.B.M. (“Good morning, KBM, Kvetch, Bitch, and Moan. How may I direct your call?)

      Latest example: the group of self-appointed ‘Guardians of the Universe’ who filed an injunction STOPPING all work on the planned Pier 55, funded by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenburg’s charity, because they CLAIM to be concerned about the new pier’s effect on the little fish-ies in the Hudson and care not that the pier would bring more greenery AND a performance space to lower Manhattan.

      So how come the fish-ies have survived in the Great Brown River all these decades?????

    6. Beth says:

      These lights are really bright…the one on 73rd and West End now shines a very bright white light into my apartment. I read that there were complaints in Brooklyn and that they were going to replace the new bulbs with ones that are not quite as bright.

    7. bz says:

      These lights are harmful… according to new guidelines recently released by the AMA.

    8. David says:

      We all live in NYC. Bright lights-Big City is what we signed up for. We have shades we can pull down…or we can move to the Catskills where life is quiet and we have no city lights.

      • dannyboy says:

        Those are the only choices we have?

        When I moved to Manhattan it was for the variety of choices available to us.

        Now it’s either take the lights or move to the Catskills?

        • ScooterStan says:

          Re: “Those are the only choices we have?”

          Oh, NO !!

          First of all, one could opt for a NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) project, ’cause we all know that NYCHA can’t even get its burned-out lights repaired UNTIL there’s a tragedy like the killing of an innocent guy and the destruction of a rookie cop’s career all because the burned-out stairway lights had not been repaired.

          Then there’s ALWAYS “the boibs” (slob-urbs) because, again as we all know, THERE ARE MOSTLY “DIM BULBS” IN SUBURBIA.

    9. David S says:

      “…more versatile and efficient than any previous light source besides the Sun, Moon, and stars…”

      Huh? Since when is the moon a light source?

      • ScooterStan says:

        Re: “Since when is the moon a light source?”

        WHA’??? Ya never hoid of Moonlight??????

        If the moon ain’t a light source then all those poets, lyricists, and even advertising copy-writers have been wrong all these past centuries!

        For example, the Great God Wikipedia sayeth:
        “By The Light of the Silvery Moon”
        is a popular song. … It was one of a series of moon-related Tin Pan Alley songs of the era.”

        Thus, ’tis LUNAcy to deny moon LIGHT, even if it is just reflected sunlight.

    10. Larry says:

      According to experts at Harvard Medical School, “If blue light does have adverse health effects, then environmental concerns, and the quest for energy-efficient lighting, could be at odds with personal health. Those curlicue compact fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights are much more energy-efficient than the old-fashioned incandescent lightbulbs we grew up with. But they also tend to produce more blue light.” Blue light does have health effects.. and not good ones..

    11. Robert Distefano says:

      Hyman, I also remember when they switched from white to orange in the 70’s. Many people didn’t like them. Now we are back to white and I am also happy. I do not like the orange yellow streetlights. I doubt very much whether they will go back to green and white police cars though. We will have to be content to watch old reruns of “Car 54 Where Are You?”

    12. Lucien says:

      LED lights are substantially more energy efficient. Also, more lighting reduces crime at night.