When a lamppost crashed onto a vehicle that was parked on Washington Street early last month, city officials described it as a freak accident caused by a rusted out light standard.
A woman sitting in the Ford Explorer escaped injury, but the pole damaged the vehicle's windshield, hood and fenders.
Four weeks later, a light pole crashed onto a car that was headed down William Street. Once again, the driver wasn't hurt in the Nov. 6 incident. But her nerves were frayed, and her vehicle was damaged.
City crews have stepped up inspections of lampposts since the Oct. 3 collapse on Washington Street. Acting Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said officials believe they've isolated the pole problems to certain nongalvanized lampposts that were installed on up to 80 streets decades ago. Nongalvanized poles are more prone to rust damage, especially during harsh winters when a large amount of salt is used on city streets, Stepniak said. The good news, he said, is that the city hasn't erected this type of lamppost in many years.
"We've changed a lot with respect to pole standards," he said.
Still, the city has dispatched three Public Works employees to inspect many of Buffalo's 32,000 lampposts.
"Any poles that are considered an immediate hazard are removed," Stepniak said. "If they're not a hazard, we're banding them."
Stepniak was referring to a process that involves welding a metal sheet to the base of lampposts that have sustained rust. Banding a pole costs about $200. Replacing a lamppost costs 10 times as much, Stepniak said.
The recent inspection blitz hasn't pinpointed too many problems, he said. A full evaluation is expected to be completed in early December.
The Public Works Department is doing the best job it can to monitor and maintain poles given its limited personnel, Stepniak said. He's encouraging residents to take a close look at lampposts near their homes and work places, and to report any potential problems. People can call the Citizens Services Division at 851-4890.
Buffalo owns most lampposts that line city streets. National Grid owns a small number of wooden poles with light standards in the city. The utility also owns the wiring and lamp mechanisms that are in city-owned poles.
National Grid Public Affairs Manager Stephen F. Brady said that while the city is responsible for maintaining its poles, the utility alerts Buffalo crews to problems its crews may spot when they're repairing lights.