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Neighborhood Walking Guide

  People don't walk in my neighborhood at night.

People may be afraid to walk in your neighborhood at night due to a variety of reasons. Perhaps your neighborhood is poorly lit. A properly well-lit neighborhood for pedestrians means that sidewalks along both sides of a street are lit so that people can see where they are walking at night and no dark areas exist where criminals may lurk. In combination with good lighting, working towards a more crime-free neighborhood and redesigning your neighborhood to prevent crime may be necessary to make your neighborhood a safer place to walk at night. Click on one of the following links to find out more about these issues:

I think my neighborhood is poorly lit — what can I do?
• Understand what makes a well-lit area
• Light your own property and encourage neighbors to do the same
• Report broken streetlights
• Request more lighting in your neighborhood

People are intimidated by crime in my neighborhood — what can I do?
(links to Issue 5: Afraid of Crime)

My neighborhood has dark areas where people can hide — it needs to be redesigned.
(links to Issue 5: Afraid of Crime - Prevent crime through better neighborhood design)


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I think my neighborhood is poorly lit — what can I do?
Poor lighting can discourage people from walking since people want to see where they are walking and who might be lurking nearby. A properly well-lit neighborhood or commercial area encourages nighttime pedestrian activity and adds to pedestrian comfort, security, and safety. It is best to have lighting along both sides of a wide arterial street and there may be a need for specifically designed lights to illuminate pedestrian areas.

Lighting is the greatest single deterrent to crime. Well-lit neighborhoods are safe neighborhoods. Residents want the security of well-lit neighborhoods so they can enjoy leisurely walks and know their children are safe playing outside.

However, this issue transcends crime because as people age, they are not able to see as well at night. Accordingly, properly-lit neighborhoods should be provided regardless of how much crime there might be in the area. Here's what you and your neighbors can do to ensure that your neighborhood is well-lit:
    Understand what makes a well-lit area
    A well-lit neighborhood is not blindingly bright, but is properly lit. This is an important distinction since overly-lit neighborhoods can contribute to light pollution, which
    • Wastes energy,
    • Causes glare for motorists,
    • Makes the starry sky harder to see,
    • When excessive and constant, damages vegetation,
    • Contributes to light trespass (meaning, for example, a light that shines into your bedroom window when you're trying to sleep), and,
    • When different types of lights are used, makes an area look confusing and trashy.
    Whereas overly bright lights can even make nighttime visibility more difficult because of the contrast the light creates with the surrounding darkness, lower lit lights can actually make it easier to see into the darkness.

    Neighborhood lighting should be abundant and bright, but not overly so. Lights should be shielded downward like the full cut off (FCO) lights in the figure above, not up into the sky or especially sideways into people's eyes. Globe lighting and flood lights should be avoided where possible since these types of lighting project light everywhere instead of concentrating it where it's needed most, on the street or sidewalk. Lighting should be on properly-tuned timers so that they are on when needed and off when they're not.

    It's believed that 30% of all lighting in the United States is wasted light, and wasted light is wasted energy. As an example of what can be done to lessen the effects of wasted lighting and light pollution, people concerned with this issue in Connecticut helped convince the state and county governments to replace more than 180,000 streetlights with glare-free light fixtures as the old lights wore out. Additionally, a professor from the University of Chicago has developed an ordinance (PDF format, 67k) and accompanying appendix (PDF format, 52k) that local communities have adopted to reduce light pollution in the greater Chicago area.

    Light your own property and encourage neighbors to do the same
    Vandals, burglars, and thieves like it dark and dark spots may exist along the sidewalk in front of your house. A light on your front porch, back yard, or in an alley behind your home will discourage them and will continue to providing a continuously lit sidewalk on which people can safely walk at night. Use lights that project downwards instead of upwards or sideways. The light on the top in the diagram to the right wastes approximately 45% more light than the light on the bottom. A 75-watt light bulb will light your yard for less than $29 a year. The cost of a 20-watt florescent bulb for a year is approximately $8. You can also invest in a photo cell socket control for about $7 that will automatically turn your light on at dusk and turn it off at dawn. Local agencies and power companies can provide dawn to dusk lighting on private property for a reasonable monthly cost. Such lighting is often subsidized by the community for the elderly in high-crime neighborhoods.

    Report broken streetlights
    The procedure for getting more lighting in your neighborhood will vary depending on the size of your city or town. Larger cities may have full-time staff dedicated to lighting whereas smaller cities and towns may assign this task to an individual in the public works or traffic department, or streetlights may be the utility company's responsibility. The first step in getting lighting, or additional lighting, should be a phone call to your city or town hall to find out who is responsible for street lights. You can also check your city or town's web site to see who and how to contact the proper person, department, or company.

    As an example of how the requests are handled in some cities and towns, upon receiving a request, a field survey of the existing lighting in the area may need to be done. If the existing lighting is determined to be below standards, then you may have to circulate a petition to get signatures of the people who will be most affected by the new lighting in your neighborhood. Next, the petition will be reviewed by your city or town and authorization will be sent to the utility company to begin the design process and install the new street lighting.

    Other cities or towns may handle the request differently and may require you to submit a petition before a field assessment is conducted. Next, city or town staff will evaluate your request, assist in further completion, prepare a cost estimate, and present staff recommendations to your town, city, or county council. A public hearing and assessment may then be held to determine the significance and perhaps accept the proposal. Some agencies may require the adjacent property owners to pay for the streetlight installation and/or ongoing lighting costs. Even so, the increase in safety and security is often well work the cost.

    In some cases, pedestrian level lighting - lighting installed specifically for pedestrians - may be needed to illuminate sidewalks and walkways separately from roadways. In addition, encourage your community leaders to use lights that provide the most natural types of lighting for walking and avoids the use of lights that distorts color and does not offer the same degree of comfort or security.


International Dark Sky Association, 2003, "Light Pollution." http://www.darksky.org/links/lighpoll.html

Rhodri Evans, 2001, "Yerkes Observatory and Light Pollution." http://astro.uchicago.edu/home/web/rhe/Astronomy/lightpollution.html

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, 2001, "Question of the Week" (regarding light pollution). http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/scienceques2001/20011005.html

National Crime Prevention Council, 2003, "Lighting Up for Crime Prevention." http://www.drdoall.com/lighting_up.htm