By Amanda Woods
Sidewalk lamps in Riverside Park are turned on all day long, burning in broad daylight, and local residents are frustrated.
“My taxpayer money pays for it, and it’s a waste of energy,” said Sharon Walker, an Upper West Side dog walker who often passes through the park.
Upper West Side Council Member Gale Brewer said her office has fielded several complaints about the lamps over the past two or three years. Leon Sutton, whose apartment between 91st and 92nd streets faces the park, voiced his concerns to Brewer earlier this year.
Brewer, in turn, wrote letters on behalf of Sutton—as well as other residents—to the departments of Parks and Recreation and Transportation about the lamps. When the two departments responded, they gave different reasons explaining why the lights have remained on for so long.
Margaret Forgione, the Manhattan borough commissioner of the Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the lights in Riverside Park, told Sutton in a February letter that the lights are left on because of ongoing construction work at the location.
“Please be advised that during construction work within the parks as well as on the highways, lights are frequently left on during the daytime hours for the purpose of troubleshooting, accessing electrical power and identifying other operational problems or needs,” Forgione wrote.
But Sutton and Walker both said they have not noticed significant construction work in the area.
John Herrold, the Riverside Park administrator for the Parks Department, offered a different explanation in his late March response to Sutton.
“The reason this particular section of lights has been on continuously is that the decades-old lighting infrastructure has begun to fail and the controls no longer turn the lights on and off properly, necessitating a temporary override to ensure there is lighting in the park at night for security while the system is overhauled,” Herrold wrote. “Unfortunately, this manual override also meant that the lights have stayed on during the day.”
Sutton doesn’t think the process should take this long, though.
“I’m a real estate developer,” he said. “If this was any private owner’s property, he would have found the answer to this a long time ago. Controls to lights can be located or fixed. This is not rocket science.”
Brewer and Olive Freud, the vice president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, believe there is an alternative to the electric lights in the park that would solve the day-burning problem. When they attended a tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which is entirely powered by solar lights, they realized that solar power would be a good fit for Riverside Park as well.
“If they do solar, it seems to me that it would be less complicated,” Brewer said. They don’t have to plug into anything. There is a little solar apparatus in the lamp itself, and it looks great.”
Brewer submitted her most recent complaint letter about the day-burning lights to Herrold on Friday, in which she requested that he consider powering the park with solar lights.
Freud said she would like to place a demonstration model of a solar-powered lamp in the park so that passersby could learn more about the alternative power source. She is adamant that the electric street lights in the park have to go.
“It seems to me like a no-brainer,” Freud said. “It’s a terrible waste of electricity, and there is a substitute.”
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