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Streetlights are not solving safety issues

By MARK WARNER
DCN Correspondent

It’s 8 p.m. on a November Wednesday. With autumn’s darkness in full force, there is scarce natural lighting to be found on Third Street in Duluth’s Central Hillside. In fact, besides the single streetlights situated on the intersections of Third and Fourth Avenue West, nothing illuminates the area at all. The sidewalks are near black between the poles. On this night, it is the flashing red lights of two Duluth police cars on traffic stop that provide a lighting. There are no pedestrians in sight.

While it may be a stretch to say abundant streetlighting plays a tangible role in crime prevention, there is no denying the fact that bright areas are perceived to be safer than darker zones. Kay Contos, a lifelong Duluthian living in the Hillside, agrees.

“This is a nice enough neighborhood, but a lot of people are intimidated by how dark it gets in these residential areas,? she said. “We really could use some more streetlights.?

Contos’s opinions were echoed by Darlene Leddy, another lifelong resident.

“A lot of money has been spent to fix up the area and make it better for the kids,? she said, “but what good is a nice community center if kids can’t walk the streets??

Currently, Duluth’s policy is to place at least one light at any four-way intersection. Locations for light placement are based chiefly on traffic safety and allowing right of way to be established, not pedestrian safety, according to city Traffic Operations Officer Earl Stewart. For additional lights to be added, a group of citizens would need to specially request it.

Funding would be the primary obstacle in the way of any future streetlight expansion. With Duluth facing a 2008 budget deficit of nearly $700,000, according to the Duluth News Tribune, pools of cash are not easy to find these days. Other cities have even turned to eliminating lights in attempt to cut back spending. Stewart said money plays a role, but other factors exist as well.

“Every time talk comes up about adding streetlights, half the people love it and half of them hate,? Sterwart said. “It’s tough to win.?

In Belmont, Mass., city officials know exactly how tough it is to win. According to the Boston Globe, a budget crisis similar to Duluth’s has hit the town this fall. By turning off two-thirds of the town’s residential streetlights, city officials estimated over $175,000 could be saved annually. After the town’s plan went public, the case for added darkness never saw the light of day. Too many citizens feared safety would be compromised by the plan, and it was nixed.

The pattern of banding together for more streetlighting has worked well in Duluth. In 1998, local business owners formed the Hillside Business Leaders to get new lights installed on Fourth Street, according to the Duluth News Tribune. However, that was a different time financially and nothing is easy for public works officials anymore.

In the end, it seems little can be done to immediately rectify the intimidating landscape currently present in the Hillside. Money is not available now and if it were, most of the public would likely prefer it to be spent on more burning issues. The quality of lighting in Duluth, along with much of the rest of the nation, seems destined to decline before it will be improved.