When the announcement about the City of Detroit bankruptcy hit the news last week, one of the main points about how tough things had become in the city was that nearly half of the city's street lights don't work. Naturally, this caught my attention! How long has it been this way? Why? Are there sections of the city that have been deliberately switched off, or are they just eliminating lighting maintenance, leaving lights out all over town as they fail? Is this actually a bad thing? Or have they found that the lights were unnecessary and that living without them is fine?
Here's what I learned:
Detroit is deliberately reducing its street lighting load. It is not, however, the only city turning off lights to save money! Other municipalities who have opted to save energy and money by reducing street lighting include Colorado Springs, CO, Santa Rosa, CA, Rockford, IL, and Upper Dublin Township in Montgomery County, PA to name just a few.
Not everyone thinks turning off the street lights is a bad idea. In fact, there are some who say that turning off street lights is plain old fashioned smart. Consider the positions of the International Dark Sky Association or the 2008 National Geographic article, Our Vanishing Night.
Even though academic research shows no significant evidence to link street lighting with reduced crime, the general public seems to associate street lighting with safety. There is also no doubt that lighting can improve pedestrian and bicyclist visibility and can reduce automobile crashes in accident-prone areas.
I wonder if there is a better solution? Perhaps better car headlights? Or streetlights that come on only when people are present? How can we use technology to save people and the planet, too?
Lisa J. Reed, lighting designer and Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC