It was quite common when doing weekend canvassing and knocking on doors to have people mention street lights that were out. It happens, they have light bulbs that burn out and wires that rot from salt in winter – standard stuff. However, the largest number of complaints were related to downtown – where people felt that the lack of lighting was a safety issue. Full disclosure, i am not a huge fan of street lights, but I get their usefulness – I just don’t always notice when they are not working. That being said, there was one individual (who shall remain nameless) who really enjoyed mentioning the number of street lights that were out downtown – it became one of those “alright already, I got it!” type of conversations.
One night in the middle of September last year, I had a change in my plans and suddenly had a free evening and I decided to go downtown, walk around and make a note of the street lights that were out. I will admit that I was hoping to find very few issues with non-working lights so I could tell my friend he was being dramatic. I decided to limit the area to something I could cover in an hour or hour and a half – so it was 5th Street to Front and Church to Grove. I parked at City Hall and took my pad and off I went – scouting for lights that were out and writing down their pole numbers.
After a little more than an hour, I had 41 PSE&G Street lights and 18 City Lights (some encompassing all four corners of an intersection). A PSE&G Street light is any of the standard lights on the metal or wood poles – like those on residential streets. A City Light, would be any of the lights in city parking lots as well as the ornamental, decorative lights that are installed in the business districts downtown and on South Avenue.
For those that aren’t aware, PSE&G maintains the street lights. They don’t check them, they just repair them when reported (which can be done online on the PSE&G webpage). The city pays for the power usage so it is the city’s responsibility to notify PSE&G when repairs are needed. The decorative City Lights are maintained by the City – we own them, we fix them.
After being shocked by the number of lights that were out, I reported them to PSE&G using their online system. All but 2 of the lights were repaired within 72 hours – the 2 leftovers had more complex issues and took slightly longer – when I checked 10 days later those had been fixed as well.
The City Lights I reported, in person, by handing a typed list to Department of Public Works – they were going to facilitate getting the city lights working again.
This past July, while searching for a document on my computer, I came across a document titled “city light repairs” – I had forgotten that I had done that little project last year and wondered if all the decorative city lights had been fixed. So I drove downtown to each of the locations – the city had fixed 6 out of 18 or 33%. So in 72 hours, PSE&G fixed 95% of those reported and in 10 months the city has repaired 33% – and by the way, I saw 4 additional lights that are now not working. I wrote a draft of this blog and saved it – instead posting some other topics. Tonight I went downtown and noticed that the lights are still not working (now a full year since the list was provided).
There are several reasons I bring this up. 1) we have these pretty lights that were paid for and we should use them (plus, these aren’t metered so we are paying PSE&G a fee for them anyway), 2) the city should be able to coordinate a process to identify non-working lights, get repairs on a schedule and have them working within a set period of time (even a week is tolerable) and 3) do any of the city officials, elected or otherwise, drive through the city and notice when lights are out and alert DPW?
The new city hall reorganization that the Mayor created, by himself without public input, has the signal group reporting to DPW instead of public safety. So the management that can’t keep our street lights operating is going to be in charge of repairing the signals at traffic intersections (FYI – the left turn lane red light on Westbound South Ave @ Leland has been out for over a week). I will add that I am not pointing blame at front line workers as my experience is that these issues stem from bad management and a lack of clear priorities higher up the chain.
If we want to improve our downtown and commercial areas and promote additional investment, we need to start acting like we are capable of supporting additional activity and investment downtown. If we don’t care about our downtown, why would someone want to invest money in Plainfield? Two newly completed projects demonstrate this already, the Access Storage facility on South Avenue installed 9 decorative light poles as part of their development approval – ZERO are working 8+ months after installation. The new Art Lofts development on Gavett and Second Street has 4-5 decorative street lights in front of it – ZERO are working. So that increases the total non-working lights to approximately 30.
We also need to focus on code enforcement for trash, dirty sidewalks, over coverage of store windows and illegally installed signage – but that is a completely different topic.