Pedestrian lighting — or lack thereof — is a hot topic in Reston, and Reston Association’s Environmental Advisory Committee weighed in on it at last week’s meeting of the Board of Directors.
EAC member Melissa Gildea said the committee’s opinion is that there is no correlation between increased lighting and a reduction in crime, and they also say bright lighting on walkways and paths has an adverse effect on wildlife.
“A lot of times, what we do with lighting is completely unnecessary,” Gildea said. “There is no reason to have anything lit like the day.”
In its official recommendation for lighting in regard to safety, the EAC says:
“We recommend that night lighting is only used where there is a documented need for it for human safety. In considering where to place lighting, the activity level of the area should be considered. Recreation areas active at night may require lighting, while pathways in wooded areas and in natural meadow areas should remain dark to protect plants, insects, birds and animals in those spaces. Designed environments can help deter crime; having green space is a documented crime deterrent.”
“The reason you use lighting has to be important enough for us to disrupt the environment and disrupt ourselves,” Gildrea said. “Passive surveillance [not lighting] is the No. 1 way to keep crime down.”
Gildea said research in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York found that increasing lighting in secluded areas such as alleys actually increased crime in those places.
“You can’t reduce crime by lighting an area,” she said. “The criminals could see what they were doing.”
The EAC’s official recommendation does say that it would be in favor of “amounts of lighting that published research indicates will foster a perception of safety in a neighborhood.” In places where lighting is deemed appropriate, the EAC recommended lighting that is near the ground and very low-level.
Director Ray Wedell took umbrage to the claim that increased lighting does not decrease crime, saying anyone looking to prove something can find a study to support any preconceived notion. To prove his point, he cited a study he found that indicated the opposite of the research EAC cited.
“We have to make our own decision based on common sense,” he said. “Don’t just say that it doesn’t work. If properly deployed, it works alongside all kinds of other things.”
The board voted unanimously to send the EAC’s findings to the Design Review Board and the Pedestrian Lighting Working Group for consideration. The board will have an opportunity to review any proposals for pedestrian lighting before they are implemented.