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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Reeve Jolliffe

NYC is about to lose its iconic orange glow

By Clayton Guse

New York is changing its color. 

For decades, the city relied on high-pressure sodium lamps to light its streets, parks and highways. The bulbs were a cheaper, more efficient alternative to the mercury-vapor ones that preceded them, and have lit up New York (and other cities across the world) with an orangey glow since they rolled out in the '70s. But over the past few years, the sodium lights have slowly been phased out.

In 2009, Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a pilot program to replace a handful of old sodium lamps with new LED lights in parts of Central Park and FDR Drive. The program was hailed as a success, and the city has since moved to expand the rollout LED lights to every single street light across the five boroughs. 

But with the new bulbs comes a new glow—one that is piercing white instead of the jaundice hue that New Yorkers have come to know and love over the past 40 years. The case for the change is simple: LEDs are more energy-efficient and last longer than their sodium counterparts. This not only saves money and helps move the city toward its goal of substantially curbing its greenhouse gas emissions, but proponents also argue that the bulbs help reduce crime by emitting brighter, clearer light. If you have a keen eye, you might have noticed the new light pouring out into your neighborhood in recent years, giving you a more harrowing view of what your friends actually look like when they stumble home from the pub. 

According to data released by the Department of Transportation following the expansion of LED lighting in Brooklyn in early September, New Yorkers can expect to a near-unilateral shift to the new bulbs in the next year. Of the roughly 396,000 street lights maintained by the department, 60,000 LED fixtures have been installed in Brooklyn, with another 167,000 on the way in the other four boroughs.

So if you were hoping to film a period piece about New York City in the '90s, it might be time to invest into some sodium bulbs.  


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