Shining a Light on City Streets

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Thursday January 30, 2014

Toward the end of each City Council meeting, the councilors take a look at items they wish to place on a future agenda, also known as the “bike rack.” Most of the topics are items that have been brought to the council by residents. In recent months, the council has begun addressing them as time on agendas permits. 

At the Tuesday, January 21, meeting, the topic of city street lights (adequacy/number) at various locations was discussed. Director of Public Works Justin Rabidoux was invited to answer questions. 

Planning Commission member Tracy Harrington, who had originally brought forth the issue, was present to recap concerns. After a meeting at City Hall one night, she was riding her bike home and as she turned onto Kennedy Drive, she was shocked by the pure darkness, as she had been sure there were lights along the well traveled multi-use path. Her experience was a catalyst for questions. Is the City keeping up with what’s needed for safety? Are there inadequacies? 

Justin Rabidoux said that in his 18 years in municipal government, there are two areas that stand out as sparking the most contentious debate among residents: traffic calming and street lighting. Adequate street lighting is an issue that has caused conflict between neighbors. Even the implementation of the LED lights has been a source of friction. 

“Street lighting is extremely subjective, “ Rabidoux said, “some people want a black sky policy, others want the lights to automatically go off between certain hours of the day…this may be a planning commission issue since our LDR’s say very little about how we as a city light our streets and sidewalks.” The regulations have yet to dictate that every 60 ft., there must be a street light, for example. 

It’s also difficult for the city to respond on a case by case basis to lighting requests, as they did recently with a resident living in the airport neighborhood who expressed concern over safety around vacant homes. South Burlington does not have its own utility like Burlington, but instead, leases their lights from Green Mountain Power (GMP), an entity that is, in turn, governed by the Public Service Board (PSB). If South Burlington wants to install an additional light, GMP has to put in a request, then the PSB has to approve it. Additionally, South Burlington does not currently have a line item dedicated to installing street lighting. 

Rosanne Greco suggested a collaborative committee be formed that would include the energy committee to discuss and address safety issues. She expressed that it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of public works to determine where and when the lighting is needed. Tracy Harrington also suggested exploring a solar coating for paths that is taking root in Europe as an environmentally conscious alternative. Rabidoux said although he hasn’t received a response yet, he has contacted the company who makes the solar coating and has offered South Burlington as a test site. 

Although it’s challenging to balance what a community wants with what a city needs, everyone agreed that safety has to be a priority and mutual lighting issues with the city’s schools need to be considered in these discussions as well.


SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent