Repeated Street Light Outages Leave Residents In Dark

Send Your Tips To Dave Savini

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.

bga Repeated Street Light Outages Leave Residents In Dark

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.

LISTEN: CBS 2’s Dave Savini Reports For Newsradio 780

“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.”

lights out by ward Repeated Street Light Outages Leave Residents In Dark

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.

10 or more complaints Repeated Street Light Outages Leave Residents In Dark


“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.

More from 2 Investigators
  • 6 WARD

    Don’t forget about the alley lights.
    I have filed a report with the city 4 times for the same ally light.
    This light has been out for 3 months.
    There are vacant lots and vacant buildings on this block.
    It is so dark here senior citizens are afraid to pull their cars in and out of their own garages

  • Skorps

    Garish city streetlights suck. They need shades to better reflect light downward, and not into my windows.

  • Chicagoisdying

    Ofcourse there is special treatment for different wards. Been going on for decades.

    Also, they are short(very short) of crews/man power. Haven’t hired anyone to replace those that have retired. Simply, there’s not enough people to do the work. Especially at night. They simply need more people.

  • isaac january

    Why are we waisting money on lights that come on during the day, but not at night

  • Anne

    12600 S. Emerald Ave should have been on the list, these street lights are out approximately every two months. I call every single day the lights are out and they are usually out more than 5 days (they are out now and have been out since Sunday night). They seem to also be put out right before the weekend. They need to put in light poles that cannot be tampered with. I believe these street lights on this block our out because of vandals.

  • Robert G. Mican

    Street lights on South Shore Drive between 71st and Yates and 73rd Streets have been on 24 hours a day since July (3 full months). Residents do not call because then lights will not be on at all, day or night. This includes 72nd Street between Exchange and the lake, 72nd place between South Shore Drive and the lake, and 73rd Street between Exchange and the Lake. It is not likely that this comment will have any effect at all. Written by a resident living in the same home 68 years.

  • Brian Steele

    CDOT takes streetlight repairs very seriously, and the vast majority of the tens of thousands of streetlight-outage requests we receive are completed within a few days. For more information in this topic, please visit the CDOT web site at Thank you.

    • Robert G. Mican

      Wake up Brian! Your crews are reporting lights repaired when they have not even visited the scene.of the problem. The paperwork or electronic reports you are receiving about jobs completed is trash! This is the 21st century! There is no excuse for thousands of lights to be out in this city during normal weather conditions. You are not doing your job.and neither are your subordinates. It is easy to respond that you are doing the best that you can do and yet there is no other nearby community of any size that has the lack of response that your department has. Your performance in a private company would not be tolerated.

  • Big Bill

    Brian Steel
    Not True! You have over Four Thousand Street Light Outage,s that are well over Six Months Old that have not been FIxed ,Lets tell the Truth

  • JT Pryor

    I live in the 34th Ward, near 111th & Halsted & throughout the summer the lights were off for weeks at a time. My neighbors and I all complained and felt very unsafe, but when we reported the outages they took a lot longer than 2.8 days to resolve.

    Mr. Steele, with all due respect, you are incorrect with respect to this issue – “completed within a few days”? The lights by me were always off for a minimum of a week, and once for 24 days straight. This is a severe problem, and I really appreciate that CBS2 & Dave Savini has reported on it.

  • Yvette McDonald

    The TWO (2) FULL and CONSECUTIVE BLOCKS of 78th and St Lawrence and 77th and St Lawrence are in COMPLETE BLACKOUT and have been for over a month! Obviously the 2.8 day rule does not appy here! This is so very dangerous especially when you consider that daylight hours are so much shorter. Thanks to CBS and Dave Savini for exposing this issue!

  • Anne

    Now everybody knows there is a problem, what is going to be done to correct. Streetlights should be tamper resistant. Lights in the 12600 S Emerald block have been out since 10/25/2010. Called 311 they say they have numerous requests for the block, when are they going to be fixed?

blog comments powered by Disqus
Daily Weather Reports Delivered To You!SIGN UP NOW: Get daily weather reports every morning from meteorologist Steve Baskerville!
CBS Sports Radio RoundupGet your latest sports talk from across the country.

Listen Live