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New bulbs on Pine Avenue a dismal failure

Niagara Falls Repoerter

February 15, 2011

By Frank Parlato Jr.

The original plan was for the City of Niagara Falls to improve the street lighting in front of the popular Italian restaurant The Como, on the 2200 block of Pine Avenue, where a number of nighttime accidents occurred. It is dark there, and in fact, up and down Pine Avenue it is an extremely poorly lit street at night.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster therefore expanded the plan to include studying the possibility of replacing the bulbs on all the 12-foot-tall, decorative-style lightpoles on Pine Avenue from Portage Road to Hyde Park Boulevard.

By a clever circumvention of the legal requirement to put jobs out to bid, the mayor got VBC Lighting Inc. of Buffalo to do a "free" lighting "study" and offer a free trial of six metal halide bulbs and fixtures in front of The Como --in contemplation of installing these bulbs along the entire street.

The "trial" bulbs are in. There are two new bulbs in each of three poles. Two poles are directly in front of The Como and one pole is across the street.

At $1,100 a piece, the 146 bulbs and fixtures for 73 lightpoles would cost the city $157,000, if the mayor and the Council elect to buy them. It is, of course, no coincidence that VBC's "free study" showed -- according to VBC Manager Tom Meidenbauer -- that the brand VBC sells, Philips Hadco bulbs and fixture, happens to be the right way to solve the Pine Avenue lighting problem.

VBC is the sole authorized seller for Philips Hadco in this area. The new Philips Hadco lights, however, appear to be only slightly brighter than the old lights, according to the owners of The Como and others surveyed on the street at night by the Niagara Falls Reporter.

A visual inspection shows they cast a yellowish hue, as opposed to the white hues of the old ones. They seem hardly to make a difference. But don't take my word for it; go look at the lights yourself.

You'll recognize them at once in front of The Como as the ones with the yellowish light.

The mayor pushed hard for these new lightbulbs, arguing that the study was "free," so how could anybody criticize it?

He told the Reporter that he has no political ties to VBC Lighting. VBC's Meidenbauer agreed, adding his company was contacted only because Dyster happens to like Philips Hadco bulbs and fixtures.

But the mayor is not an electrician, as far as we know.

Meidenbauer explained that the mayor saw Philips Hadco products on display at a mayor's conference and liked them.

The fact is, however, to select a brand name first and request a study, free or otherwise, by a company that sells that product, gives that company a decided edge, if not the sole track to getting the job. It violates the spirit, if not the letter, of fair bidding and government procurement practices. It is not sound business. In fact, it is capricious. The fact is, also, that a study by a company hoping to sell a product is likely to be skewed to show the need for that product, even if a totally different solution is the proper one.

For example: Suppose the city wanted to study the need for new police cars, and Dyster happens to like Chryslers. While a free study by a Chrysler salesman will undoubtedly show that a new fleet of Chrysler cars is exactly what the city needs, it may be that a Chevrolet is better. Or, if we had a truly unbiased study, we might learn that we do not need new police cars at all. We could refurbish the old ones.

The study, by the lightbulb salesman, has not demonstrated that replacing the old bulbs with his $1,100 bulbs is a solution. In fact, the Philips Hadco bulbs might actually make it worse. Their odd, yellowish color may distract or temporarily blind motorists.

It seems the real blunder was made in 1997, when the 30-foot-tall overhead lightpoles were replaced by the present 12-foot decorative poles. The poles are not tall enough.

It seems that, for a busy street like Pine, the original 30-foot-tall poles, with 200-watt lights that used to shine down on all of the street, and are still in place on some of the intersections, are the solution to the darkness problem.

If you want to be decorative, but dark, stay with the present 12-foot poles.

If you want light, go to any intersection on Pine, or take a drive down busy Portage Road, where they have the 30-foot poles, and see the difference.

If the mayor really wants to light the street properly and not just blow $157,000 of our money -- in a campaign season -- to pander to businesses on the street, or, as Council Chairman Sam Fruscione suggested, since Pine Avenue is called "Little Italy," to the 23 percent of voters who are Italian, he will probably have to either replace the poles or just leave it alone. The new lightbulbs certainly aren't worth spending $157,000.



  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.