Shedding light on new ‘retro’ lamppost design

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The Henry Hudson Bridge is going retro.

In the 1930s, lampposts on the bridge were made of wood, replaced over time by aluminum poles. But as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority upgrades the bridge, it’s also taking a trip down memory lane by bringing back the wood — and some motorists have already started to take notice.

But not necessarily in a good way.

“It’s so crazy and excessive,” said Robert Stevens, a daily traveler of the Henry Hudson Bridge. “It just seems like a waste of time. I started seeing these wooden poles, and I was like, ‘Why the hell are they spending money on wooden poles when you can’t even get in and out of Inwood Park?’”

While bridge crossers might be focused on what the poles are made out of, MTA is more interested in what’s at top: LEDs, and they’re designed to save energy — and money.

Light-emitting diodes not only use less energy compared to regular light bulbs, but they also require less maintenance and fewer replacements because of their long lifespan.

Yet, the poles themselves appear to be overpowering the bridge.

“They put so many close together, and in the 23 years we’ve driven back and forth, I’ve never noticed the bad lighting,” Stevens said. “There are so many poles now you can probably jump from one to the next.”

But the old-style lights were not good for pedestrians and cyclists, something even Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz remembers when riding across the bridge beneath the timber lamps as a child.

The new lumber lights were designed to “try to mimic the Robert Moses area,” according to published reports last year. Moses is one of the main people behind much of New York City’s modern layout, including expressways like the Henry Hudson Parkway.

It’s part of the MTA’s $86 million bridge improvement project that has resulted not only in periodic lane closures in both directions, but restricted access to pedestrians and cyclists as well. Those closures have created a number of traffic headaches for drivers like Stevens, who sometimes is forced to get off at the Dyckman Street exit.

Stevens, however, also questions how sustainable the new lampposts are. For him, it’s odd that there seems to be twice as many poles now as when they were made from aluminum.

“It’s just overkill, and you think about all the money people could get in social services and things like that,” Stevens said. “Someone’s paying for that, and somebody’s making a killing.”

The wooden poles already are up on the northbound side of the bridge, and the MTA currently is working on the southbound side, spokesman Christopher McKniff said in a statement. Plans are to have the work completed by early next year. MTA started planning the new poles in 2010, setting up a prototype to see how well it withstood the elements.

Dinowitz, on the other hand, likes what he sees.

“I like the way they look, and it reminds me of how the parkway looked when I was a kid,” the lawmaker said. “I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like them. And if they’re more energy efficient why wouldn’t anyone?”

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