Shining a spotlight on streetlights

Minneapolis needs to maintain and update its many streetlights.

Connor Nikolic

I try to catch the bus after class, but with erratic schedules, I end up missing it at least once or twice each week. I walk home begrudgingly, remembering the string of thefts earlier this school year and when my own house was broken into in October.

Too often I’m faced with deciding the safest route to my house. Should I take the quicker way, where I know several streetlights have been out for weeks? Or should I go the long way and hope that better lighting and higher traffic make my walk safer? Most nights I take the latter pathway, but I shouldn’t have to make this choice.

The city of Minneapolis does not do a good enough job of keeping its streets lit. The same lights stay out for weeks at a time on and around campus.

The city also does not do a good enough job of educating the community on what to do if someone sees that a streetlight has burned out. Until recently, I did not know that it was the responsibility of city residents to call 311 or Xcel Energy if a streetlight is out. If you don’t see any action after several weeks — the city takes a couple of weeks on average — it’s your duty to continue pestering Xcel Energy or city officials. And residents seem to be trying: The city saw a 46 percent jump in streetlight repair requests in the last year.

How can Minneapolis fix this problem? The city has started experimenting with LED bulbs. Placing these bulbs in all streetlights would be a start. LEDs save money each year over high-pressure sodium lamps and incandescent lights, which are on their way out. Some LEDs stay lit for nearly 23 years, according to one LED bulb producer’s estimates.

Some dissenters say that LED bulbs emit an “ugly” light that’s similar to compact fluorescent bulbs. That’s the primary reason many refuse to convert from the highly inefficient incandescent bulbs. With current legislation phasing out the sale of incandescent bulbs, these naysayers will no longer be able to resort to their antiquated preferences, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

CFL, or compact fluorescent light, producers never successfully created a comparably aesthetic light to that of the incandescent bulbs. Several producers have created LEDs that cover the entire visual spectrum of light, without delving into wasted or painful lights beyond what a person can see. Although these bulbs still cost significantly more than the current ones around the city, they will more than offset in the difference in years of service and efficiency for Minneapolis.

But changing the bulbs will not solve the problem entirely. The city does not have a system in place to monitor the status of its streetlights, other than waiting for citizens to report a problem. The city should bolster the scanning of city streets in search for broken or burnt bulbs. Local residents can also help by actively reporting issues and keeping their community lit.

Even if research questions how much streetlights affect safety, well-lit pedestrian areas make people feel safer. This citizen comfort is the most important service streetlights provide.