Today's Question: Streetlights and the city budget

Friday, July 10, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Columbia's street lighting plans have been lit up with controversy ever since the Columbia Daily Tribune quoted a police officer advising against using lighting as a "cost-cutting mechanism." At issue is the city utility's proposal to reduce wattage or remove more than a quarter of the city's 8,950 street lights.

While many residents have expressed concern about Water and Light's proposal to reduce the wattage of 1,773 lights and to remove 812 other lights. Utility officials estimate the cutbacks would save the city more than $100,000 a year.

A tough budget year means the city must make hard choices and look for savings where it can. Reducing any program's funding will inevitably make some people unhappy. The question is always whether there are other, less essential programs that can be cut instead.

Residents are concerned that lower light will embolden criminals, a hypothesis that has been both supported and refuted in scientific studies. Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala thinks lighting that is too bright could actually hurt crime prevention by making it harder for people's eyes to adjust to dark patches in between lights.

"You can't always believe what the prevailing wisdom is," Skala said.
"'Brighter is better;' I just don't buy that."

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade submitted a letter to the Missourian in June refuting the perception that brighter lighting is always safer. He argued that lighting with a high color-rendering index is safer because it improves visibility more than brightness.

If the city moves forward and reduces the number and brightness of its street lights, no doubt some people will be upset. But if it doesn't, then it will have to find a way to save money somewhere else.

Is reducing the city's street lighting an appropriate cost-saving measure?

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