Silver Lining In A Budget Shortfall: 1/3 Of Street Lights To Be Turned Off In Colorado Springs


Nighttime earth. Image credit:excerpted from full image published online by National Geographic, developed by NASA

As in most US cities, tax increases are not a politically feasible option for the City of Colorado Springs, CO. With state and municipal tax receipts falling, the City has proposed radical budget cuts to live within its means. The upshot is that grass in parks will be mowed infrequently and a third of the street lights will be shut off. Not only are these changes good for the municipal budget, they are good for air quality and for climate protection. Every US city should do the same wherever feasible, regardless of budget.

I know everyone has an anecdote about how a heinous crime was averted (or not) because of bright street lights (or lack thereof), or about how accident rates were affected at an intersection. But, these are one-off anecdotes. I have yet to see a large-scale, peer-reviewed, contemporary study that offers convincing evidence of uniform benefits of streetlights. In many situations, they are put up to protect us from an unreasoned fear of the dark, driven by zoning codes that were set up by lawyers and bureaucrats. Now I get to contradict myself by sharing an anecdote to prove the general point!A while back I asked the manager of a big box store why all parking lot lights were on well past business hours - to the distant edge of the lot, a thousand feet from store front. He got back to me with 'corporate controls that' or some such lame explanation. Others have told me this is done for the stock clerks and janitorial staff. Right.

I see this same light-wasting scenario nearly everywhere I go in the USA. Same for exterior flood lights that have nothing to do with security (directed where police have no line of sight, or above ground level). Call it an architectural vanity or a marketing device if you wish. It's a 'cow path' that society follows blindly to the death of the future.

The Tea Party movement could be unintentionally good for the environment
Forced belt-tightening may be the only thing capable of forcing Americans curtail blatantly wasteful exterior lighting. If it takes an outraged, pro tax-cut 'Tea Party' populism to trigger an examination of what's really needed versus a superstition driven luxury, I say 'bring 'em on..'

Role of the media.
For heaven sake, Mr TV reporter, don't interview the police chief for his final word on where they should be on, or off. He likely has no more objective insight on city-wide needs than an angry neighbor demanding street lights be installed because his garage got tagged.

Caveat: I'm obviously not advocating shutting off all streetlights; but rather a close examination of what's really needed. Better to err on the conservative side.

From the Denver Post:

COLORADO SPRINGS -- This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops -- dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Fair disclosure: I'm biased because I live in a suburb with lights only on major thoroughfares and at busy intersections - and much prefer it to the sodium vapor bath experienced all night long when I lived in the city.

More street light posts. (pun intended)
On Call Street Lights: Light By Phone Saves Energy and City ...
Groundbreaking Study Proves Street Lights Help People See Better ...
Starry Nights are Healthier, Cheaper and Reduce CO2 :