CHICAGO (CBS2) — Families said they were being left in the dark and they were afraid to leave their homes.
So, 2 Investigator Dave Savini and the Better Government Association teamed up to review a critical Chicago city service: street lights.
Debra Switak, who lives near Midway Airport, says the lamps outside her home have not worked in two months. She does not feel safe.
“It’s just like nobody cares,” Switak says.
The problem isn’t unusual, it turns out. A joint investigation by CBS 2 and the BGA discovered nearly 30,000 people complained about complete blocks of broken street lights from January 2009 through May 2010.
Runae Davis, a 7th Ward resident, says her street lights were out for 18 days.
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“The city has forgotten — temporary amnesia,” she says. “I don’t sit on my porch. I don’t have my grandkids out here playing.”
The Chicago Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining and repairing street lights. Spokesman Brian Steele says the “overwhelming majority” of street lights work properly on a daily basis. But he says the department is “always looking for ways to make that better.”
An analysis of tens of thousands of calls to the city’s 3-1-1 switchboard found South Side residents filed nearly twice as many complaints compared to North Siders.
Maricel Maldonado is one of the South Siders. Near her home, along a stretch of 83rd, CBS 2 found multiple lights out, even above a police camera.
“Robbery or anything — you never know what can happen,” Maldonado said. “You always need the lights on at night.”
The 34th Ward, also on the South Side, had the most broken street light complaints -– 1,209.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable,” says Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association. “Lights are critical for safety, for security.”
But the city’s street light failures weren’t limited to nighttime. Thousands of lights are left on during the day. Along Marquette Road, the lights were left on for three months straight. One day, city crews drove right by. Along Roosevelt Road, CBS 2 counted another 100 lights left on during the day for months.
Harold’s Chicken Shack restaurant had this problem: The street lights were on during the day, but they did not work at night for months.
Owner Montell Brunett says evening business declined because people were afraid to walk there. He said he had to put his own lights in front to make customers feel safe.
Among the top spots for complaints: 65th and King Drive, where city crews made 18 trips, and the 1500 block of North Monticello, where another 16 trips were made. Then there was the 4400 block of West Division, where the lights went out 11 times during 10 weeks.
“The mayor gets lit up, rightfully, when these things fail,” Shaw says. “I hope a light goes on in his head and he really, really cracks the whip.”
“I’m upset,” says Davis, the 7th Ward resident. “I pay my taxes. We’re not in a third-world country. Big city, no lights — where are the lights?”
Two wards that got quick, same-day repairs were the 42nd and 2nd Wards, where the mayor works and lives. Steele of CDOT says all wards are serviced equally.
The average repair time is 2.8 days, Steele said. CBS 2 and the BGA, however, found 17 percent of complaints took five days or longer to fix.