Monday, July 5, 2010

On streetlights

Yesterday a woman showed me the large area on her lower leg that was injured when she fell on a city sidewalk.

She was asking me when the public hearing on turning off some city streetlights might happen.

She's not for this at all.

This morning I was walking down Prospect St. around the corner from Lime St. There's this really beautiful big tree there, but its roots have heaved up the sidewalk. I'm just saying ...

Anyway, when there is a public hearing, it will be very interesting. The lady from yesterday will be there, with her leg as exhibit #1.


Manager said...

The entire city has roots coming up on nearly every street! And sidewalks have patches, cracks, holes. it must be nice to live on high Street where the bricks are getting re-layed. Yeah. Would like that in front of my house, especially where they dug up the gas pipes and then laid asphalt. Looks ever so lovely!

Tom Smith said...

OK. So, if I understand it correctly, the sidewalks are in such crappy shape that people fall on them even with all the streetlights operating (and during daylight hours?). So, we should continue to spend money on streetlights instead of repairing sidewalks.

Did I get that right?

Dick Monahan said...

As I write, I am sitting in my son's house near the beach in Saco, Maine. There is a streetlight on every pole on this street. It is quite comfortable walking late at night.

Gillian Swart said...

Tom, please don't get all logical on me! :0

Anyway, I think the $65,000 savings on the lights wouldn't pay for more than maybe 100 ft. of sidewalk repair, if that.

Tom Smith said...

Just checking. :-)

Mary Baker Eaton said...

There is an article in today's Daily News that the mayor is going ahead with turning off 510 street lights by September.

There is no mention of a general PUBLIC hearing in the paper, but it is my understanding that the Newburyport City Council Public Safety Committee is going to have one.

I do not like it that an advisory committee, namely the Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) is making policy for our City.

I feel railroaded by this policy and I hope that the City Council stands up to the EAC and speaks for (a lot of) people like me that feel that this is a very, very bad idea!

Joe said...

I wish you (and the folks you talk with) could have attended the last EAC meeting with us along with the Mayor and a few City Councilors. There was a lot of education and an opportunity for anyone to give feedback. I see so many positive affects of fewer lights (and an ordinance requiring quality and efficient lighting in the future). From the dark skies (for viewing the universe), to lesser carbon footprint, to cost savings... the positives are great. I understand concerns for safety and hesitance surrounding a darker night... but the mayor was clear that this is a process (I'm sure there will be more feedback solicited) and there seems to be much opportunity to address specific issues. I think we should look at this with an open mind.

Anonymous said...

$65K might only pay for a few feet of sidewalk, but it should comfortably pay for the new energy advisor...

Mary Baker Eaton said...

(BTW I think dark sky lighting is fantastic. It appears from driving around Rowley and Ipswich that those 2 towns have cut-off street lights. And aside from having dark sky friendly/cut off street lights, I also think it would be a great idea for residents to have dark sky lighting for our homes, that lighting does not appear to be readily available at places like Home Depot.)

As far as the meeting goes, I was pretty astounded that City Councilor Ari Herzog posted it with a 24 hour notice as a "joint meeting of the whole," knowing that no one from the Public Safety Committee would be able to come. When I asked if the Public Safety Committee consented, I got a very tactful, "no comment." I gather the answer to that question would be "no." (I am assuming since the meeting did not make it onto Councilor Herzog's blog, that it may have been less of a "success" than he might have hoped.)

Many people did not attend the meeting because they do NOT trust the EAC, and I believe that I have pointed this out to the mayor.

They would trust a meeting where the EAC comes to the Newburyport City Council Public Safety Committee, as it should, presenting "the map" of the proposed street lights and then the Public Safety Committee holding a Public Hearing. (I would imagine that the EAC and the mayor might not like the idea of a large Public Hearing because, quite rightly it could be raucous. To have only ward meeting appears to me to be a "divide and conquer" strategy, one with the least amount of public "fuss.")

And I also think that the street lights should be removed from Councilor Herzog's committee, since he has an obvious conflict of interest, being or having been a member of the EAC, and given to the Public Utilities Committee, who wanted it along with Public Safety in the first place.

Council Herzog's approach appears to be "cramming the turning off street lights" down our throats, whereas the Public Safety Committee has a much more open and balanced approach.

Mary Baker Eaton said...

Glad to see the EAC meeting just made it onto Councilor Ari Herzog's blog and that he is for dark sky friendly street lights, enhancing our neighborhoods, and not for turning off the street lights. Works for me. (Still think the issue could go over to Utilities" and that Mr. Herzog might recuse himself.)

And, I think if there is a legitimate public process, that September is way too early to even think about turning off any street lights.

And since it's public information, I sure would like to see the map of where the street lights are being proposed to be turned off, published in lots and lots of public places, the city website would be a good start.

Joe said...

Why is there such distrust of the EAC? As a recent volunteer, it's disturbing. Maybe I'm naive, but citizens with common passions (energy) meeting to brainstorm ideas and then spending personal time to nurture those ideas to action through the leadership of the Mayor... well... it seems wonderful! (and that's why I participate)

Let's assume for a minute that the streetlight-off campaign is without "conflict of interest" (which I truly believe is the case), can we agree that less light pollution (we agree on a high cut-off policy already), less carbon footprint, and less financial waste are all great things that can be accomplished by turning some lights off in a prudent manner??

To your safety concerns, I agree that no light should be turned off that gives even a perceived sense of safety. So, let's come to some middle ground on which lights are a complete waste through a hands-on, light-by-light, ward-by-ward approach. No secret strategies here.

I've been told the map will be available very soon, and it will be made available to all as you stated.

Mary Baker Eaton said...

Hi Joe,
My experience and the feedback of many people I talk to is that in being "Green" that there are a lot of shades of being green, and that not everyone in Newburyport is as "Green" as the EAC.

My understanding is that perception about the EAC is that the EAC would be about Green policy that might not have a balance that takes residents into consideration.  For example the EAC's comments minimizing the effects of the wind turbine on Back Bay residents were taken very much to heart, and not just by those particular residents.

 One of the things that I admired about the mayor, was that at one of those wind turbine meetings last spring, she stood up, and basically said that the city got so caught up in the excitement of having a wind turbine that they forgot to implement a balance between wind energy and the effect that it would have on Newburyport citizens.   It was one of the many reasons that I voted for her.

The Green Action plan-- my feeling is that the Stretch Code did not go over well with many of Newburyport's citizens, and caused further distrust of the EAC.

Turning off 501 Street lights are a lot of lights (and it sounds like eventually the plan could be a total of 1,000 street lights, which is an amazing amount of street lights, if that would be true), something which I feel could be a very emotionally charged plan of action. As you pointed out, people's sense of safety and well being is unquantifiable.

I am glad that the EAC will be working with the Public Safety Committee (Bob Cronin's latest post) and having a public hearing (apparently to be announced) for the Newburyport City Council and the residents of Newburyport.

And one of my concerns would be that what the EAC finds wasteful as a street light, might not be what residents might feel would be wasteful. And also, a plan to turn off street lights could cause a lot of conflict within Newburyport. For example, someone might want the street light in front of their house turned off because it shines it their window, but people who walk after dark, might like those lights to be kept on, so that they could see either the sidewalk or the street (which unfortunately as we all know is often an option), because we are after all a "smart growth" walkable city, one of our great economic assets.

My experience in being a volunteer in something that one is excited and interested in for the City can be incredibly rewarding, but also when actions effect the lives of people in Newburyport there can often be a lot of conflict, and the process can be frustrating and often disheartening.


Joe said...

Mary, we should have coffee!

I appreciate your explanation of the history (the wind turbine) that may have tarnished the trust in the EAC.

In the case of the Stretch Code, it makes perfect sense for the EAC to encourage Newburyport to become a Green Community. The Council decided we weren’t ready yet, and the discussion will continue. I see this as a great balance.

In your blog on March 28th, 2009, you said one of your favorite quotes was, “Baby steps get you to the top of the mountain.” I believe that in this case, turning a few lights off is a dwarfed “baby step” towards reducing our energy consumption. You might believe the “30% off” is more in the size of a toddler step. So, I think we (EAC/Mayor, City Council, Residents, etc.) should discuss what we feel is a comfortable start. I also look forward to the Public Safety Committee’s public hearing.

I agree there are shades of green, but I ponder how green initiatives are different from historical preservation and supporting higher quality education. Try to define/quantify any of these. We have committees and volunteers who work to persuade policy. Through civic discussions we determine a balance. I feel it is important to have these groups pushing the envelope to see where residents want to take the City. Where do you see the role of the EAC?

I hope the City decides to be a leader in environmental responsibility. I feel the frustration you mentioned, but it is rewarding just to be involved.

Off to enjoy our beautiful home,

Mary Baker Eaton said...

Hi Joe,

I really do believe baby steps get you to the top of the mountain. And for me 501 street lights are several huge steps, for me way bigger than a toddler step, that I feel could set the "Green" agenda back lot.

A (very) "few" lights here and there as a start, would for me be baby steps for me, along with introducing residents to dark sky lighting, which is not only smart from a Green perspective, but also incredibly attractive, enhancing and I think, just plain cool.

In some ways I think that Historic Preservation and "Green" could be viewed as two different "entities." "Green" is fairly "new" on most citizen's radar, whereas Historic Preservation has been around Newburyport in a major way since the 1970's. And my read is that when Historic Preservation has taken "baby steps," it's done Ok. Take the "Demolition Delay," it started out as 6 months and then was later expanded to 12 months. The "Fruit Street Historic District" --one street, one baby step. Who knows how a larger (and in my mind very important) Historic District would go over, we'll just have to wait and see.

The "High Street Master Plan" could be an example of lots of big "steps," notably when the Bike Lanes went down (did not understand at the time what a gigantic step that would be) that has left us in "Bike Lane and High Street Master Plan limbo," and all the funding for the High Street Master Plan has dissipated, "poof." It seems to me that in that case too much at one time, backfired big time. And as I said to another member of the EAC, that could be a good model to look at what not to do.

And I think that there are definitely different shades of "gray" when it comes to what people will tolerate in regards to historically preserving Newburyport. And it seems to me that it's been a 40+ year struggle (many times very un-pretty) to find out what that balance might be.


Cliff Goudey said...


I'm curious if you have you ever been to an EAC meeting to actually witness the power grab you describe? The EAC has no power. Appointed by the Mayor to provide advice to that office (Advisory - get it?) it has no authority other than to make recommendations.

Yes, the some members quite logically have a predisposition towards a sustainable community. Indeed the whole reason for establishing the committee was to help the Mayor identify opportunities for energy savings by the City.

The EAC's approach to the street light issue has been thoroughly misrepresented, though not just by you. Members of the EAC and other volunteers from the high school Environmental Club physically surveyed the entire list of over 1,700 streetlights for which the City pays. In that process the details of their location were noted. Criteria were identified to help identify candidates for shutoff but there are many additional factors that would need to be considered before any action was taken.

Building this database has taken a lot of work and so far even the EAC has not seen the complete results. It is a mystery to me how any specific plans for turning off lights has emerged from this incomplete process.

On Councilor Cronin's blog he claims the Energy Advisory Committee has a proposal to extinguish streetlights. Hyperbole like that does little to advance the process but I gather it is politically useful to portray oneself as defending the public against volunteer committees.

Regardless, much undue fuss has been made over the streetlight issue and hope the tone can ratchet back sufficiently to allow the work of the EAC to be useful to the City in saving money. We need to keep in mind that the current pattern of street lighting was established with little public input, rather it was configured by National Grid and its predecessors and absent much regard for value to the taxpayers.

As the needed debate unfolds I am hopeful that a plan will develop that everyone will support.