Challenge to York City Mayor Michael Helfrich's ability to serve moves forward

Resident reports help York City keep streets lit

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch
Street lights are out along South George Street in York City, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York City officials aim to keep streets well lit, for safety and beautification — but in order to keep track of 5.3 square miles of land and more than 4,000 lights, the city is largely reliant on residents to notify them of burnt out or dimming bulbs, according to city officials. 

The city owns about 1,500 12-foot-tall decorative lights, said electric bureau/building maintenance superintendent Dave Rudolph. The shorter lights are concentrated in the downtown business area. 

There are also about 3,000 35-foot-tall streetlights throughout the city, owned by Met-Ed. The city owns a few of the larger lights.

"I think one of the biggest misconceptions that we see ... specifically for the larger lights that are throughout the city, people think that those are primarily our responsibility, and they're not," said city spokesman Philip Given.  

Barb Schroeder, a Springettsbury Township resident downtown for December's First Friday on Dec. 7, said she hasn't noticed too many dark areas in the city. 

However, Schroeder said she "only goes to the places people that don't live in the city go to," such as Central Market or downtown restaurants. 

Schroeder said from her visits to the city, she feels that even the side streets are well lit. 

Joanne Wilmore, a West Market Street resident, said some areas of the city could be brighter — even near downtown businesses. 

Wilmore said she notices dim areas on George Street and Market Street.

"Especially if you're doing nighttime activity, you don't even know if the city is open for business," Wilmore said. 

Report a problem: Although it is not the city's duty to maintain the 35-foot-tall lights owned by Met-Ed, residents can report outages of the taller streetlights to the city and officials will pass that information along to the electric company, Rudolph said. 

Met-Ed has no formal program in place to test streetlights, said Scott Surgeoner, a spokesman for First Energy, Met-Ed's parent company. 

"We rely on customers within the city, residents in the city or the city itself, who may notice those lights are burnt out in the evening hours," he said. 

Residents can directly report issues to Met-Ed by calling 888-544-4877, just as they would report a power outage, Surgeoner said. 

Residents can also report a streetlight problem on the city website by including the location and the 10-digit number that can be found on each pole. If a number is missing from the pole, the city website instructs residents to list the exact location and indicate the pole number is missing. 

As of Oct. 2, there had been 142 reported streetlight problems in 2018, according to city records.

By that same date in 2017, there had been 185 reported streetlight problems, according to records, which also showed a total of 239 reported problems for all of 2017. 

In addition to the online reports, residents can reach out directly to the public works department by calling 717-849-2245 — and many do, said deputy director Chaz Green. 

Recently, a resident stopped Green in the street to mention outages on her block, he said. Green promptly called Rudolph, and he ran into the woman the next day and asked if the lights had been fixed, he said.

She said yes and gave him a hug.

"So it's as simple as that," Green said. "If we know about it, we take care of it." 

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The department of public works tries to go out about three times a month to ride around and look for light outages, he said. 

The city is also making strides to increase the efficiency and lifespan of lights. More than half of the Met-Ed streetlights have been upgraded to LED lights, which are "significantly brighter" and last longer, Given said. 

Rudolph said it's a win-win situation — it saves energy and the lighting life is better. 

Tracey Holman, a city resident who lives on East Market Street, said some of the new LED lights are almost too bright when shining in through windows at night. 

East Philadelphia Street is dimly lit in York City, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Holman has lived in the city for three years. When she first moved, she heard talk of the city being dark, but she doesn't necessarily agree, she said. 

It comes down to perspective, she added. People visiting York with the mentality that it's not safe might think it's dark, but living in the city, the beaming LED lights can "make you crazy," she said. 

During a recent downtown York streetlight audit, Downtown Inc staff, including CEO Silas Chamberlin and project administrator Mark Rooney, walked around taking notice of dimming or dark lights. 

The rail trail, which is lit with the new LED lights, looked like it was "out of a best-practices handbook," Chamberlin said. 

Downtown lighting: The core of the central downtown business district is lit mainly by the city-owned 12-foot decorative lights, with a few of the taller Met-Ed lights, Chamberlin said. 

"It's obviously a balance between wanting to have the streets and sidewalks lit and also wanting to maintain the historic character and the pedestrian friendliness," he said. 

The goal of the audit was to intentionally look at each block and document the lighting, Chamberlin said. 

As they went, they also emailed private properties with lights turned off or burnt out, he said.

"Obviously, it's not just a City of York task to figure out lighting," he said. "Everybody that owns property in the downtown sort of has a collective responsibility to keep the lights on and make sure their lights are working. And, of course, to report things when they see them." 

Since many businesses close around 5 or 6 p.m., the storefronts go dark, Chamberlin said. 

"And activating that space after dark gets to be a problem, and that's why having streetlights are so important," he said. 

Joanne Wilmore, left, of York City, and Montaski McCoy, of Alabama, cross South Duke Street during First Friday in York City, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

To help combat those ill-lit spaces, Downtown Inc is spending $187,000 to light the facades of buildings in Continental Square, he said. 

This summer, Downtown Inc worked with private partners and the York Community Foundation to light up the Northwestern Mutual Building, 1 S. George St., Rooney said. 

One light points down toward the awning, and another faces upward, lighting the facade of the building, he said. 

It not only brightens the street but highlights the historic buildings, he said. 

Soon, Downtown Inc will be working with Royal Square and other partners to light up 2 W. Market St., Rooney said. 

"Increasingly, some restaurants are open after dark," Chamberlin said. "It just brings life back to these places that are otherwise just dark."