Today's Question: Should Columbia replace and/or remove street lights in order to reduce its budget?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | 1:37 p.m. CDT; updated 10:39 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 28, 2009

COLUMBIA — Responding to a challenge by the City Council to reduce its budget by $500,000 in three years, Water and Light proposed earlier this year that 1,773 of Columbia’s street lights could be replaced with more efficient bulbs, along with the complete removal of 812 street lights. 

A report given to the City Council states that if the light is situated near any of the following, it will not be removed: an intersection; a curve in the road; a schoolyard; one of the college campuses; a residential student housing area; a governmental assistance housing neighborhood; a public park; a movie theater; or a bar or tavern.

There are two kinds of street lights used in Columbia. Both use high-intensity discharge bulbs that work similarly to fluorescent lamps, which send an electrical charge through a gas in order to release light energy. The two kinds of bulbs use either high-pressure sodium or mercury vapor.

Mercury vapor lamps are the oldest type of high intensity discharge lamps and are significantly less efficient compared to their sodium lamp counterparts. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, sodium lamps are 200 to 320 percent more efficient than mercury vapor lamps when it comes to how much light each can produce per watt of electricity.

The proposal has caused concern among council members, police officers and citizens because of the public safety issue that is involved in removing street lights.  Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, however, said that contrary to popular belief, strategically dimming street lights to allow for less glare and shadows will increase public safety along with decreasing electric costs.

Studies have been done to support his case.  A crime prevention unit in London, England, published a study citing the overall perception that increased street lighting will deter criminals.

“No evidence could be found to support the hypothesis that improved street lighting reduces reported crime,” the study states. “Although some areas and some crime types did show reductions in night-time crime relative to the daylight control, the dominant overall pattern, from which this study draws its authority, was of no significant change.”

Should the city of Columbia replace and/or remove street lights to reduce its budget?

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