CHICAGO (CBS) — In the dark of night in July 2020, the city of Chicago took down a statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park, after multiple clashes between protesters and police.
The site looks very different now, but one thing has not changed. The site where the statue once stood is still lit up every night, and one of our viewers wanted to know why.
So what’s the cost of wasting light? And why is this spot lighting nothing?
CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra went looking for answers.
“I’ve been walking here for five years, for miles and miles,” Foraker said as he met with CBS 2 on Thursday afternoon in Grant Park to talk about what it looks like at night.
“These are, in my opinion, major industrial lights,” he said.
It’s the corner of Roosevelt Road and Columbus Drive that got him thinking, at the spot where the Christopher Columbus statue used to be. The city removed the statue in July of 2020, but 15 months later, the pedestal where it once stood is still lit up, as Foraker said, like a landing strip at O’Hare.
“It’s just the stub. It’s wrapped in plastic, and surrounded by chain link fence,” Foraker said. “They serve no purpose, yet we continue to pay to light up a non-existent statue.”
Light waste in the city continues on a smaller scale, too. In the last six days, 311 has received 13 complaints about street lights on during the day, including in Bridgeport.
Those are some of the 996 complaints of this issue so far this year. Last year saw a total of 2,080 such complaints.
Taxpayers cover the $8.25 million the City spends on street lighting, whether they should be on or not.
“Is it wasteful? Yeah, sure. I mean, anytime you’re utilizing a resource – in this case electricity – to no obvious benefit, that’s wasteful,” said Dr. Kimberly Gray, of Northwestern’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy.
Gray said those costs are cheaper now.
“Is it a significant concern in the scheme of wasteful energy use in the city of Chicago, or in any North American city? I might say that it’s not at the top of my list,” she said. “Lighting has become incredibly efficient.”
The Chicago Department of Transportation said it’s almost finished converting 280,000 outdated high-pressure sodium streetlights to LED, with better sensors to show when they’re on or off.
The project is expected save taxpayers millions.
As for the statue site, Foraker emailed his alderman. In response he was told, “The city kept the lights on to make sure no additional damage is done.”
On a site already secured, Foraker would prefer they save the cash.
“My parents used to say, ‘You know, we’re not made of money, let’s turn the lights out.’ So everything that we can do to save money, in the end it will add up,” Foraker said.