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.”