Technical problems with Bay Lights art piece

June 4, 2013 12:46:11 AM PDT
There are technical problems with the nightly light show on the western span of the Bay Bridge.

The "Bay Lights" made their debut in March when 25,000 LED lights were officially switched on. But hundreds of the light bulbs are now stuck in the on or off position, so the computer-programmed dancing effect of the lights, as created by artist Leo Villareal, is not happening.

The lights on the first three towers seem to be having the most issues. There's a set of mathematic algorithms that create this non-repeating pattern of waterfalls, and zipping streaks of light, so trouble shooting the problem hasn't been easy.

Illuminate the Arts Chairman Ben Davis says they knew there could be some unique maintenance challenges.

"Let's face it, it's electronics 500 feet in the air on the Bay Bridge which vibrates, which has high winds, which is exposed to salty air and rain," he said.

It's like an annoying strand of Christmas lights. Technicians are combing through the system looking for the problem. But the strand of lights is 1.8 miles long and the electronic system is complicated.

"But it's just as vexing where you really have to methodically go through and test and test and test to solve the problem," Davis said.

"If we need to get up there and screw in a light bulb, we'll do it," Epic Roasthouse manager Pete Sittnick said.

Restaurants up and down the Embarcadero say business has been up 15-20 percent since the lights were flipped on.

"Well, we knew that it would be a cool feature, but we had no idea how much it would impact our business," Sittnick said.

The lights are still attracting huge crowds, but Illuminate the Arts wants the Bay Lights project to be perfect. And until it is, they'll keep looking for the cause of that vexing problem. The privately funded project is looking for more private funds to fix it and keep the lights on.


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