Thursday, November 10, 2005

Suburban streetlights - and suggested (though not necessarily implementable) alternatives

Our neighborhood may or may not be getting streetlights. It has become a divisive issue, like the get-a-tot-lot attempt that preceded it.

Several years ago, a petition went around the neighborhood asking people to support the idea of streetlights. Apparently more than half of the homeowners signed (though we declined, for the reasons outlined later in this post). Nothing happened. Suddenly this summer, a notice went up on our neighborhood web site announcing that our County had decided to install the lights in our neighborhood soon. Aerial photos were posted which had dots added in the locations of the proposed lights.

Our neighborhood, I must point out, is in an area where little has happened worse than some broken bottles left on the bike path and the occasional slashed tire (usually by a teen's jealous boyfriend/girlfriend/other acquaintance), dented mailbox, or a stolen car radio or item taken from a garage left open.

One small street in our neighborhood opted out of the lights almost immediately, by signing a petition. Another opt-out petition went around our street very civilly, followed shortly thereafter by two anonymous mailbox flyers opposing the opt-out petition but with a be-scared slant. I pointed out that it was fine to come down on either side of the lights, but not anonymously, and they were considerate enough of the neighborhood to put out a third no-opt-out petition on which they all signed their names. I don't know what the other streets are doing - whether or not they're sending opt-out petitions around. That's where we stand as of now.

Pros and cons:

Most of the neighbors want the lights for "safety" (meaning to keep crime down/away). Our neighborhood has been *very* safe for the several years we've lived there and for as long back as we've heard about it, so we aren't too swayed by that argument. A more persuasive reason (paraphrased) is so night joggers won't trip over their own feet in the dark. Now that there are opt-out petitions, some of our neighbors don't want to end up being a dark street among lit streets, for fear of attracting crime.

The rest of this post is more or less quoted from messages I sent to another neighbor recently...

We don't feel that there have been any safety issues to date, we like the dark skies at night (there's too much light pollution already!), we don't want lights shining into our windows, and we feel that streetlights create pools of darkness around them which give MORE places for unsavory types to hide (should there be any such folks around) - if you're walking around at night under streetlights, your eyes are NOT dark-adjusted and reaction time would be down, should anyone or any animal jump out from the shadows. And all that extra lighting, unless they find some way to use solar-powered lights, is a lot of extra energy being used.

...we really like our stars at night and being able to see front yards and not just illuminated sidewalks. Every year, the skies get hazier :-< [A third neighbor] had an interesting idea - try to get gaslight-style posts in each front yard, by each path, instead of huge street lights. [Our family hasn't] talked that over, and it would still be a lot of extra energy and light pollution although not as much as the big lights (I don't think), and at least it would be something we could partially control. If we wanted lights everywhere, we'd live in the city.

My suggested alternatives to always-on streetlights:

Some solutions that aren't possible (or at least aren't cost-effective) now but which would be much preferable to always-on lights:

* low-level solar-powered curb lighting, aimed at the street; similar edge lighting along sidewalks that JUST illuminated the sidewalks (ie. directional - a special fluorescing cement or gel-edge along the sidewalks & curbs) - minimal light pollution; would outline the sidewalks; in heavy snow, would not be visible (but would glow very prettily through light snow coverage)

* down-ONLY streetlights with a wide enough hood and/or polarized lighting that would somehow illuminate the sidewalks w/o bleeding up to upper stories/the sky - something that could be absorbed after time by the pavement/grass???

* motion-detecting streetlights for streets & similar, but SEPARATE, ones aimed at sidewalks (much lower to the ground) - wires embedded along/under the pavement/sidewalks would detect motion; would illuminate lights just ahead of the direction of the motion; would turn themselves off as the motion passed. How far ahead would depend on the speed - maybe one light per 10mph or fraction thereof. Examples: current & next light on for walkers; joggers/runners might get current + 2 more lights; cars would get at least 2-3 lights, more if speeding, so it would be easy to see drag-racers in our neighborhood! ;-> The intermittent on-off would be distracting for those of us looking up, but would catch people's attention & should help with both the not-tripping sort of safety and the bad-guy/dangerous-animal/too-fast car sort of safety; hopefully the safety issues would outweigh any vision problems. Kind of like [nearby town name] turning its traffic lights red if you're over a certain speed coming up to the light.

As long as it's not those horrible cobra lights...

Where do you fall on this issue? Have you heard of locales which have implemented (successfully or not) the above or other streetlight alternatives? How did it work out?

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