I am a resident (49 years) of the Echo Hill South neighborhood. I have also served continuously since 1996 as an officer and board member of the Echo Hill South Association (EHSA) which includes 249 homes. I am responding to the proposal by Councilors Hanneke and Gauthier dated August 10, 2022 to reduce radically town street lights in several residential neighborhoods including Echo Hill South. It proposes numerous other policy changes which will affect the town. I wish here to focus on neighborhood street illumination.
Our neighborhood is minimally illuminated. While the newer LED lights are somewhat brighter and in the view of many more pleasant than the older sodium vapor lights they replaced, it would be hard to characterize the streets as “ablaze” with lights. Typically several lights are shadowed by tree growth, and despite requests to the Department of Public Works to trim branches, the lights remain ineffective. Still they do help illuminate streets that have significant use in the evening hours (5-9 pm) with considerable pedestrian and cyclist traffic. As is common in Amherst, many pedestrians and cyclists wear dark clothing and cyclists rarely have required lights. Without street lights there would be much more danger, especially for younger cyclists.
Our and other residential neighborhoods also have significant student populations who add to the vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Few or no sidewalks exists, so pedestrians must share the roads with cars. Without our minimal lighting, there would be more danger for all who use the roads.
It is claimed that intense street illumination is harmful to residents. During my 25 years on our EHSA Board, I can recall no complaints about street lights. We have had some concerns about private (e.g. driveway) lighting, but even those have been few. The new LED lights seem to be much better shielded and focused than earlier lighting. No light is directly emitted vertically.
The proposal seems to be a complex set of regulations and concerns in search of a problem which does not exist in most of Amherst, least in those residential neighborhoods marked for “black-outs.” Dangers to drivers and pedestrians are much more likely to come from poorly maintained roads and sidewalks.
Some Councilors may recall that during a period of financial hardship ca. 1990, the town did shut off many street lights. Many residents were uncomfortable with the black-outs, and several neighborhood associations collected funds to “sponsor” (i.e. turn-on) street lights. No one in EHS would like to repeat that experiment.
For those who are particularly sensitive to external lights or who live in areas of more intense illumination, there would appear to be several solutions: curtains, blinds, and shades can reduce or eliminate intruding light. Indeed, my mother served during World War II as an air-raid warden in Manhattan, NYC. During black-out periods people used heavy curtains to eliminate the emission of light. Such low-tech devices work both ways!
With all of the needs and concerns of Amherst, I suggest there are many projects more worthy of attention.
Eric Einhorn is a resident of Amherst