Bay Lights back on after weather issues caused outage 

Creator Leo Villareal tinkered with the program that runs the Bay Lights after thousands of bulbs went dark.
  • Creator Leo Villareal tinkered with the program that runs the Bay Lights after thousands of bulbs went dark.

Not rain, nor wind, nor San Francisco's legendary fog can dim the Bay Lights — at least not entirely.

The light show running along the suspension cables on the Bay Bridge's western span between Yerba Buena Island and The City suffered a bit of a short-circuit since going live. But a tuneup finalized over the weekend to accommodate faulty fixtures means the lights will shine on without pause until March 2015.

Several thousand of the 25,000 LED bulbs affixed to the iconic span are either out completely or stuck in the on position. The culprit: A combination of salty maritime weather and vibration from traffic on the bridge, which has allowed moisture to creep into the fixtures.

"All it takes is a tiny bit of water in the world of electronics to make a major problem," said Ben Davis, a spokesman for the $8 million privately funded project.

The light show will be on for Fourth of July fireworks, along with the opening ceremonies of the America's Cup on Sunday, July 7, thanks to modifications made by the artist. Leo Villareal tweaked the computer program that sets the randomized LED display to account for the dark spots and the permanently lit spots.

The result is "a gentler, more sublime ... effervescent" effect, said Davis, who compared the subtler light show to the bubbles in a glass of sparkling wine.

"Leo has completely re-imagined the artwork. ... What you'll see is a full reflection of Leo's genius," Davis said.

Throughout the summer, certain strands of lights with serious problems will be entirely replaced, and in the fall a more "weatherproof" version will be installed under Villareal's supervision, Davis said.

Even with the hiccups, visitors and diners along The Embarcadero have been enjoying the show.

"It still looks kind of cool" with the lights out, said Andrew Upton, general manager of Embarcadero restaurant Chaya Brasserie, which received "several" reservation requests for tables with Bay Lights views in the past few weeks. "I'd love to see this be a permanent installation in San Francisco," Upton added.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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