I understand that on Tuesday, Sept. 24, the Shelburne Selectboard will be presented with the survey that Shelburne residents participated in regarding the re-installation of some streetlights. Judging from energy in my (Upper Hullcrest) neighborhood, I would wager that the survey will show overwhelming support for re-installation.
While I’m slowly coming around to the realization that I’m fighting a losing battle for a darker night, I want to put in one last plea to you, my Selectboard, to consider the evidence before approving re-installation.
I have been a happier person since the streetlights were removed from my Upper Hullcrest neighborhood. I’m enjoying the lovely night sky, I feel no less safe in my neighborhood or in my home, I still wear a reflective vest and carry a flashlight when I walk at night, I still drive slowly and carefully to avoid pedestrians, cyclists, children, bunnies, and squirrels, I still lecture my four teenagers on the fact that they can’t be seen by motorists at night – streetlights or no, and I in no way feel swindled by the fact that the streetlight that shined in my bedroom window when I bought the house is no longer there. My children have played some epic games of flashlight tag, visiting friends have remarked on the lovely peacefulness of the evening here, fires in our backyard fire pit have been delightful (as have evening hot tub soaks), and I have felt pride over being the resident of a town that is committed to data and evidence-based decision making.
On that note:
1) I have delved exhaustively into research about whether or not neighborhood streetlights reduce crime, and conversely, whether or not the removal or absence of streetlights increases crime. At worst, the results are wildly inconclusive. At best, I can confidently say that the installation of streetlights only marginally reduces crime in 1) high density city neighborhoods like Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles, and 2) in cities that already experience a high crime rate. Streetlights made absolutely no difference in small cities, town, or rural areas (http://www.celfosc.org/biblio/seguridad/atkins.pdf). And in some cases, neighborhoods with streetlights experienced a higher crime rate than those without!
2) A home is most likely to be burglarized while homeowners are at work – during the lightest part of the day. The best thing a homeowner can do to deter potential burglars at night is to get a motion sensor light, not lobby their Selectboard for the re-installation of streetlights that have already been deemed unnecessary.
3) On walking at night: drivers cannot see walkers on the street unless they are wearing reflective clothing and/or carrying a light. It makes absolutely no difference whether there are streetlights or not. Walkers and cyclists are invisible to motorists after sundown. Period.
4) Light pollution is a real thing. And it’s getting worse (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/light-pollution/klinkenborg-text).
5) And on energy conservation: in this day and age, it is irresponsible to keep lights on when they’re not needed. I tell my four children this regularly, as they too often “feel safer” with the lights on, even though they’re in no danger when they’re off.
As we head deeper into the 21st century, streetlights will become scarcer and scarcer, not more prevalent. Insisting that we keep streetlights in one of the least population dense states (and the state with the 3rd lowest crime rate) in the Union is illogical, irresponsible, selfish, and old-fashioned.
Little Vermont once again has the opportunity to lead the nation by putting our money where our mouth is and demonstrating fierce fiscal, environmental, and evidence-based responsibility.
Not to mention the fact that a lively public discourse (and funding!) over the quality of our children’s education, the impact of the changing climate on the lives and homes of Vermonters, the cost of healthcare, the fact that 1-in-5 Vermont children live in a food insecure home, or the shameful gaps in mental health coverage in our state would be far less embarrassing than spending two years arguing over streetlights in one of Vermont’s richest towns.
I encourage you, Shelburne’s elected officials, to resist the urge to make an emotional decision about streetlights, and consider the facts, the most important of which being that the town has already deemed these lights unnecessary.
Thank you so very much for your time and for your service. And special thanks to Mr. Bohne, who has handled this controversy with unprecedented grace and aplomb.
Sarah Weisman, Shelburne