Environmental Advisory Committee Suggests Moderation for Any Lighting Proposal

by Dave Emke March 27, 2017 at 2:45 pm 40 Comments

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.

  • 30yearsinreston

    Lights impact the wildlife ?
    Were they referring to the feral muggers and criminals ?
    Reston is no longer a bucolic arboreal place
    It has been modified by developers and growth to a mixed city/suburban landcape

    I am more concerned with the accidents and crime that affect citizen safety due to lack of lighting than a few deer and coyotes
    The committee should be as well

    • Sigh

      Why. Not read some of the studies that show generally increased lighting does not decrease crime, 30years, rather than give a knee-jerk reaction.

      • Sigh

        Sorry. Autocorrect. “Why not read…”

      • 30yearsinreston

        I don’t need a study to know that lighted areas are safer than dark ones
        This is not a knee jerk reaction
        Use your common sense

        • Mike M

          Ahem. When common sense is not politically correct, it’s because “you haven’t read ‘the study.'” I think the text book case of this was the “study” in New Jersey that said raising minimum wage actually improved employment rates. That study remains “the study” because others don’t corroborate. Common sense about unpleasantry is the bane of those who choose to see the world the way they want it to be rather than the way it is.

    • Greg

      We could not agree more. As to the police. The black hole of Fairfax County is Reston.

      • John Farrell

        No, that would Great Falls,

        or Clifton,

        or Mason Neck,

        or Vale Road,

        or Henderson Road.

    • Richard703

      I live on one of the few residential streets in Reston with street lights. They help the deer find the plants in our front yard (to eat) when it’s dark. The foxes seem to like the light too.

      • vdiv

        No, the light helps you see them. They are there regardless.
        Nocturnal animals do not like the light.

        • Richard703

          It was a poor attempt at humor.

  • Richard

    Light at night is just another pollutant in this area that we don’t need. Light a few major intersections. Otherwise, keep it far away from my neighborhood. “Common sense” means accepting the science.

    • Greg

      What science?

    • DarkSky

      Amen. It’s depressing to see Reston being taken over by reactionaries.

      • Bo

        It a shame some people don’t realize this is a changing world.

        • Greg

          Remarkably, it’s the same lot that want failed “village centers” and long-empty Brutalist bunkers to remain as is for no reason other than resisting change. Equally remarkable, most of them blindly and wildly advocated for the silver line but now recoil in horror at the development (and much-needed change) the silver line begets.

  • 30yearsinreston

    Past DRB objections to safe lighting include
    1 they don’t like the color of the lights
    2. The don’t like the standard light poles and fixtures. They want something more ‘aesthetic’
    3. They object to artificial lights that change the color of the surrounding properties

    They don’t seem to get the fact that when it’s dark, the color is changed to black

    • The Constitutionalist

      Black is not a color. 😉

  • DarkSky

    Reston has been way ahead of its time compared to other communities in
    terms of limiting public lighting at night, directing light downwards,
    etc. Just as awareness is growing about light pollution and the need to
    curtail it, let’s not regress, let’s continue to lead by example.

    • Mike M

      How about you go save the grizzlies instead?

  • Brad

    Keep Reston dark.

  • Anonymous Poster

    Is there a link to this study that shows negative correlation between night lighting and crime rates, along with supporting studies? I want a link to the original study though, since I’d prefer the primary source material than someone else’s interpretation of said study.


    • 30yearsinreston

      Good luck with that

    • Paul Walsh

      Finally someone asking to review the primary sources, even if requested anonymously and somewhat sarcastically. Was the study peer reviewed? That’d be good to read too.
      I personally like it dark, would prefer lights along the paths to be nearer the ground. Would like to see alternatives to big bright lights, that still provide for safety.
      Finally, people, this is a community site. Post using your real names.

      • Anonymous Poster

        It wasn’t sarcastic, I’m genuinely curious to review the source. Tone is hard to convey via a message board, though next time I’d suggest giving the benefit of the doubt.

        I regularly post under this username. There’s no reason to slap my real name around because it’s immaterial to the discussion.

      • The Constitutionalist

        This is the internet. There’s no reason for us to post our real names. Being able to post behind the veil of anonymity keeps the discussions on the issues and not on the individuals.

    • The Constitutionalist
      • Anonymous Poster


      • Anonymous Poster

        After reading it, I have some concerns about the methodology for the statistical analysis on the outset, but it’s interesting that it’s difficult to unravel whether it was the lighting or the additional surveillance that lighting may be able to afford that could be the reason for the observed reduction in crime. I’d have questions about overall LA crime rates for the study in the region to give another baseline for what the area was experiencing and what contribution this specific one, but it’s difficult to study because of potential spillover (I’ll commit my crime next door where it’s poorly lit, which would throw off the statistic because the crime still was committed just elsewhere), or if the region had decreased crime rates, was that due to outside economic factors or because of increased lighting. It’s interesting and in my opinion a decent study for a student at the BS level. But because of that, I still have concerns about the overall methodology for selection of the areas of study and the like…

        It seems inconclusive still to me at this point, but the literature study was also a good read. I think it’s just not clear if there’s a real correlation or causation for any perceived reduction in crime.

        Thanks again for linking the study!

        • The Constitutionalist

          I agree.

          Not a problem at all, there are many many more to be found but they are generally in agreement.

          What is more likely, is that in certain more populated and dense areas, people will frequent well lit areas that were previously not lit and therefore criminals will move from that area to the next.

          It’s people that prevent crimes, not lights. If that was simply the case, no crimes would be committed during the day.

  • Nyla J.

    I like it dark.

    • 30yearsinreston

      Like a mushroom
      Throw more crap on the residents

    • Tom H

      I absolutely prefer dark as well. If you cannot handle the dark, carry a flash light.

  • The Constitutionalist

    I understand the arguments and pros and cons from both sides. However, I don’t see community lighting as a priority. Our community is not like those cited in the studies. Increasing the lighting here will not have the same effect as it does in sprawling metropolises. It will also be an expensive undertaking that quite frankly, I would prefer us not to waste our money on.

    Before anyone chimes in here about common sense, please remember that many things are right that defy common sense. In almost every study proving that well placed lighting reduces crime they link the increased lighting to increasing the community activity at night.

    As Mike points out farther down in the comments, and I’m paraphrasing because I’m lazy, he’s found that criminals will knock out the lights before they commit their crimes because they like to commit their crimes in the dark.

    All this shows is that the criminals don’t care about the lights, they’ll just knock them out and continue unabated, and it gives them something else to vandalize and something else for us to spend our money fixing.

    Reston is not a place where people will visit parks more if they’re lit up at midnight, and it’s people that prevent crimes, not objects.

    • 30yearsinreston

      What a load

      • The Constitutionalist

        Fixed to not be illogical.

  • Debra

    Wherever there are sidewalks, the sidewalks should be lit. People walking between the Wiehle/Reston East Metro station and homes in neighborhoods off Sunrise Valley Drive and Twin Branches Road should not have to use a flashlight to prevent trip/fall hazards on uneven sidewalks (e.g. where the squares of concrete meet isn’t always completely flush). This is a safety issue that is completely unrelated to interpersonal crime. The lights can point downwards to prevent “light pollution” for astronomy buffs and to minimize disruption of wildlife. Sunrise Valley and Twin Branches are completely pitch dark and that is unsafe for pedestrians as well as for drivers who can’t see the pedestrians crossing side streets.


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