Arnold Streetlights: What Effect?

8 Jul

The Arnold City Council has adopted the trend of giving its ordinances and resolutions cutesy names. Usually, the bills are named after regime-friendly council members in order to advance their political careers. But sometimes the names tell us what the bill will supposedly do, kind of like how Obamacare is called the “Affordable Care Act.” But the claim attached to one recent Arnold resolution is speculative at best.

Arnold’s main bad-idea man, councilman Phil Amato, proposed a street light program by which the city would pay half the cost for subdivisions to install streetlights. Amato called this the “Crime Fighting Street Light Program.” He stated that “more light means less crime.” While this is a common assumption, the facts do not appear to support it. The effects of streetlights on crime are no better than mixed:

According to a 2007 systematic review of lighting experiments in American cities, increased street lighting in Indianapolis, Harrisburg, New Orleans, and Portland, Oregon, did not coincide with a drop in the affected areas’ crime rates, but it did in Atlanta, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Fort Worth. Yet even in U.S. cities where lights “worked,” they didn’t appear to work consistently: While Fort Worth saw a decrease in all types of crime, Kansas City saw a decrease only in violent crime.

Why would this be?

[S]ome research indicates that an increase in number and brightness of streetlights actually increases the occurrence of crime, noting that street lighting allows perpetrators to monitor their own actions without the use of flashlights or other lighting devices that would make them visible to others. A case has also been made that offenders need lighting to detect potential targets and low-risk situations

Here are some more citations that show mixed or negative effects of new streetlights on crime.

Why oppose this street light program? After all, it may make people feel better. But what about light pollution? Some people like to be able to look up at the stars at night. Streetlights make it difficult to see anything up there.

But more importantly, homes all over Arnold are plagued by storm water problems, as this rainy summer has underlined. But rather than address these issues, the Arnold council spends money on frivolities. Two councilmen, Brian McArthur and Gary Plunk, voted against the street light program for this reason. From the June 25 Leader:

Both said they would like to see more streetlights in the older subdivisions, but they don’t think the city can afford the program right now. They said it would be better for the city to spend any extra money it has on solving longstanding stormwater problems before taking on streetlights.

Good for them. Unfortunately, the council majority has other things to worry about.

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