More Cities Turning Off Street Lights: Good For Environment & Taxpayers... But For Bicyclists?

threefingeredlord/CC BY 2.0
The value of street lighting.

There is simply no peer-reviewed, unbiased research supporting the notion that street lights alone can reduce crime. The expectation that artificial lighting can by itself reduce crime also defies common sense. If indoor crimes or crimes in a commercially-lit parking lot are included the general crime data (as I assume they generally are), the stats will never correlate strongly. Cities like Killadelphia, PA have seen crime rates go up and crime rates down over the years, while street lighting was held pretty much constant on city-wide average.

In other words, assertions that cities have to 'keep the lights on to keep crime down' are unsupportable. With municipal budgets severely strained by the economy, superstitions about lighting lowering crime are being inadvertently tested on large scale, as more cities turn out the lights.

Lights out in Michigan.
City officials are taking bold money-saving steps. Highland Park MI is cutting off and hauling away three quarters of its street lights: see Darker Nights as Some Cities Turn Off the Lights, a story published by New York Times.

I happen to live in a densely developed suburb of Killadelphia, where residentially zone parcels have few or no street lights and the fake lumens you run into bath mainly parking lots and intersections. Crime and accident rates are average and no one complains. Just takes some getting used to, is all.

Darkness is the great equalizer.
If you feel scared because you can't see person(s) walking toward you, think how they feel?

How does he know you aren't another criminal if he can't see you? How does he know you're not packing heat, that you don't belong to the same gang he does, that you're not a policeman? "He" doesn't.

Got a drive by shootings problem? Turn off the street lights so the shooters won't be able to find their targets.

Back in 2006 I wrote: Turn Off The Lights America. My feelings haven't changed much since then.

...we [Americans] acquired the lights-on habit during a time of dirt cheap electric bills, when worries over climate change shown only on the brows of a few eccentric scientists -- and we continue walking away Zombie-like from the consequences. America's public spaces and commercial centers are purposely lit all night: rationalized as a weapon in the "war on crime", but showing, really, a rigid child-like fear of darkness.

My worry is that streets without lights could be especially dangerous for bicyclists, real drawback in highly developed areas.

Risk management vs budget priorities.
If your biggest problems are teens with pistols and poor people going without, solve those first with reliable techniques. One way to afford that approach would be to turn off the street lights...or at least dim 'em down...and shift savings over to better policing and shelters and job programs or whatever else is politically acceptable.

And thank your lucky stars once you can see them.

Tags: Lighting

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