This post was written by Keith Dawson for UBM Tech’s community Web site All LED Lighting, sponsored by Philips Lumileds. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the All LED Lighting site may go dark at any time. This material is Copyright 2013-2015 by UBM Americas.

2015-01-13

The Bay Lights Will Shine On

The Bay Lights, at 1.8 miles long the world's largest LED artwork, will go dark in March but will return in 2016, thanks to $4 million raised in a public campaign.

We wrote about the project on the west span of the San Francisco-Oakland bay Bridge in March 2013, less a month after it had launched. The work of light / computing artist Leo Villareal, the installation was initially scheduled to run for two years -- hence the March shutoff next year -- unless funds were raised to extend its life.

Perils of Pauline's bridge lights
The sum needed for an extra 10 years of life was originally set at $12 million. In June the organization that had come together to run the Bay Lights project, Illuminate the Arts, started a public funding campaign. The two-month Keep 'Em Lit Through 2026 campaign, using the crowdfunding site CrowdTilt, "fizzled," according to various reports, after raising a few hundred thousand dollars.

Perhaps $12 million was a bridge too far. ITA went into negotiations with Caltrans, the state agency that owns the bridge. By October the two parties had arrived at a deal whereby $4 million would guarantee that the lights would come back on early in 2016 after scheduled bridge repair work was done. Caltrans would take over ownership of the public art project and would allocate money for ongoing maintenance.

Now to raise $4 million by the end of 2014. ITA began a new campaign and, with the help of a local philanthropist who kicked in $2 million, made their goal with half a month to spare.

A discouraging word
This despite some naysayers, such as urban design critic John King, who disparaged the Bay Lights and said they should be allowed to become a memory.

Three years on
Three years will have passed since the lights were first installed by the time the art work reopens. ITA and Villareal plan to take the opportunity to upgrade the LED lights used.

The first time around the artist chose Philips Color Kinetics eW Flex SLX LEDs at 4200K CCT. While these lights are sealed and IP66 rated for outdoor applications, the continual salt, wind, water, and traffic vibration in the Bay Bridge environment proved hard on them. Thousands had to be replaced over the last two years (Philips provided the replacements without charge).

But the project is determined to take advantage of developments in the intervening years. Local news organization KCBS reported that the project intends to source LEDs that "would be custom-made to withstand the harsh bay environment and 'significantly improved' from the old ones."

Let us hope the Bay Lights continue to twinkle for many years to come. Not only are they beloved by the people of San Francisco, they are a very public advertisement for a few of the things that LED lights can do.

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