Local residents petition for more lights

Bryce Haugen

At night, when Blaine DeLair looks out of his window across 15th Avenue Southeast, he doesn’t have much to look at.

“What can you see?” said DeLair, a psychology sophomore. “Nothing.”

DeLair is one of 22 Marcy-Holmes neighborhood residents who signed a petition Sunday that calls for low-level lighting along the popular pedestrian walkway just north of Dinkytown. The lighting would stretch from Fifth Street Southeast to Como Avenue Southeast, where many students live.

Two Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association members and two University students collected signatures for an hour Sunday. Association President Brian Biele said the signatures, which will be presented May 2 to Paul Zerby Ward 2, who represents the Minneapolis campus and surrounding areas, show the community’s broad support for the proposal.

On Wednesday, Southeast Como Improvement Association collected signatures in the Como neighborhood section of the road.

Lighting is needed along the street to improve safety at night, said Minnesota Student Association Vice President Amy Jo Pierce, a leader in the effort. Pierce said she knows students who have been attacked in the area.

“We really think it’s important that students are safe walking to and from campus,” she said.

Lighting might also help reduce vandalism in the area, said Marcy-Holmes Association Neighborhood member Ardes Johnson, a 15-year resident of the area. She said the lighting issue has been talked about for years.

“That was the first issue brought to Paul Zerby when he was elected to City Council (four years ago),” she said.

But after some Prospect Park neighborhood residents sued the city about the cost of the neighborhood’s lights, the City Council issued a moratorium on low-level lighting construction.

Johnson said that the project for low-level lighting picked up steam when MSA passed Project Lighthouse – a series of proposals aimed at improving “cost, safety and conditions” of student housing – in fall 2003.

“The students really made the difference,” she said.

Biele said the city ordinarily wants support from approximately two-thirds of affected landlords and residents before installing lights, but gathering signatures is just a formality.

“The City Council can do this tomorrow, if they want to,” he said.

It hasn’t been hard to find supporters, Biele said. He said almost every resident he approaches is glad to sign, and several landlords, who will pay for the lights through special assessments, have also expressed support.

“Anything that can make pedestrians feel safer is probably a good idea,” said Ari Hoptman, a five-year neighborhood resident, who signed the petition.

Biele said he hopes the City Council approves the project soon so the acorn-style street lamps can be installed before next school year.

The communitywide effort includes the two neighborhood associations, MSA and the Panhellenic Council. It also involves the University, which has agreed to pay for lights along its lengthy section of the avenue.

Pierce said she hopes the widespread collaboration transforms to other projects. In the future, the groups might push for lighting along Fourth and Fifth streets southeast, where there are many fraternities and sororities.

“This really shows we can all work together on a project,” Pierce said.