Government South Orange

Residents, Trustees: South Orange Gas Lamps Don’t Provide Enough Light

It’s too dark in South Orange. And the 1,400 iconic, historic gas lamps throughout town aren’t cutting it.

But replacing those lights wholesale would be a prohibitively costly enterprise.

Low levels of lighting are contributing to a lack of pedestrian safety, say residents and Trustees. A number of public speakers and conversations at recent South Orange Board of Trustees meetings have touched on this recurring topic.

While other issues such as sight lines and speeding were discussed (and Village Green will cover them in a separate article), the inability of South Orange’s gas lamps to provide adequate lighting and the fact that as many as 25% of those lamps may be too low or out at any one time continues to create safety issues for motorists and pedestrians.

At the July 10 meeting, resident George Matthias complained of the lack of adequate lighting on Vose Avenue in West Montrose, saying that many gas lamps are out or broken. He talked of pedestrians using cell phone flashlights to see their way along dark sidewalks. Matthias called for “a serious talk with PSE&G.”

Matthias said that the town needed to “turn up gas lamps higher or add electric lamps.”

Trustee Howard Levison reported that he has scheduled a “ride-around” with a representative of PSE&G for later this week.

Trustee Deborah Davis Ford pressed Levison to ask PSE%G how the utility is addressing ongoing maintenance issues, saying PSE&G must be “willing to address some of the problems.”

“Some of the problems? It all their problem,” said Village President Sheena Collum.

Collum spoke of the frustrating relationship with PSE&G in her previous role as public safety chair for the Trustees. “PSE&G said that the responsibility was on the town…. We got a group together and found 25% outages in one night.”
“I was part of that,” said Levison.
“They rely on us solely to report outages,” said Collum. “They don’t proactively check it.”
Collum suggested that the town draft a letter to PSE&G requesting a meeting to deal with “a lot of issues.” She said, “It’s worth it for us to have a heart to heart.”

Although many think South Orange continues with its gas lamps because of their charm (the lamps are a symbol of the town with the Township newsletter and one restaurant named for them), the truth is that installing subterranean power lines where they don’t already exist — and replacing the gas lamps with electric lights — would be extremely costly.

During a conversation about improvements coming to Scotland Road at the June 26 meeting, Trustees and Village President Sheena Collum addressed the issue of lighting. As Scotland Road is a County Road, Essex County will be paying for many of the improvements and the renovation of the street is an opportunity to introduce more electric lighting to the town at potentially lower cost to South Orange.

Said Levison at the June 26 Board of Trustees meeting, “We are actively pursuing electric lighting along Scotland as a major issue … coming out of our meeting with the County Executive. PSE&G is going to change out the gas lines in that street as well.”

Adding gas lamps to dark spots throughout town is a pricey prospect, said Levison.

“A single gas lamp is $3-5,000 to install plus the tariff is $80 month for the lamp itself.” Levison said that existing gas lamps are grandfathered in at $12/month.

(In recent years, Levison has worked to make the lamps more efficient and brighter Read more here.)

Davis Ford asked if there was still “only one PSE&G person assigned to check our gas lamps,” and Levison indicated that that was no longer true.

Trustee Walter Clarke agreed that the gas lamps were not sufficient:

“Gas lamps don’t work — even if fully functioning.” Clarke felt that installing more gas lamps was “putting good money after bad … even with a higher cost to put in electrical infrastructure.”

Davis Ford suggested a possible campaign to get homeowners to install LEDs to boost light levels while the town works on a long-term infrastructure strategy. Collum noted that this echoed an earlier “Light the Night” campaign and called it a “wonderful suggestion.”

Village Green will continue to follow this issue.

Read more about the history of South Orange’s gas lamps:

Matters Magazine, Keeping the Lights On”

Newark Star-Ledger, “Last of the gas lamp tenders: PSE&G employee minds a small flock”

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