No Changes Proposed For Placement Of Street Lights In Revised Policy

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Report On The Meeting Of The Town Services And Outreach Committee, May 4, 2023

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.

Anika Lopes (Chair, District 4), Dorothy Pam (District 3), Shalini Bahl-Milne and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5). Absent: Andy Steinberg (At large)

Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager) and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)

Questions Remain About New Street Light Policy
Councilors Ana Devlin Gauthier and Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) have been working with the Town Services and Outreach Committee (TSO) to revise Amherst’s 2001 street light regulations to encourage more efficient lighting that minimizes glare and maximizes shielding to comply with dark sky guidelines, and offer a warmer light thought to be less disruptive to wildlife and people.

The proposed revised policy about street lights no longer includes reducing the number of lights.

When the Devlin Gauthier and Hanneke’s street light policy proposal was first presented to the Town Council in August 2022, it  received criticism from the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), the Disability Access Advisory Committee (DAAC), and members of the public because of its reduction in the number of lights in many areas of town. The proposed revised policy does not include changing the placement of lights, except to add them at regional transit bus stops. The remaining proposed changes involve the quality and shielding of the lights.

In public comment, Chair of the DAAC Myra Ross said her committee was fine with updating the characteristics of the lighting, as long as the new policy does not compromise the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, especially given the poor condition of many of the town’s sidewalks (and roads). Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne raised a concern already voiced by TAC that having the lights dimmed to 70% at 11 p.m., or an hour after the last bar or music venue closes, may present a safety hazard for people walking home or to their cars. She also thought that, at a time when the town is trying to revitalize the downtown, dimming the lights at 11 “seems like we are saying good night.” She recommended that TSO get feedback on the proposed changes from area businesses and also hold a public forum.

Devlin Gauthier maintained that 70% was still relatively well lit, and that full brightness would be kept until the later hour in heavily trafficked areas and at bus stops. She added that public safety personnel did not voice concerns about the proposed changes. She did not feel a public forum was warranted.

Dorothy Pam said she would like a demonstration of how bright 70% lighting is, because so many of the town’s sidewalks are in “such bad shape” and many roads do not have sidewalks, so that pedestrians are walking in the road. Devlin Gauthier said the existing lights cannot be dimmed, so a test of 70% lighting is not possible.

The proposed policy recommends replacing the existing streetlights with adequately shielded, efficient, warm lighting over the next 10 years. Bulbs would be replaced as they burn out in order to achieve cost efficiency. Town Manager Paul Bockelman would be charged with coming up with an implementation plan and the cost of the new lighting would be included in upcoming budgets. 

Pam said she was uncomfortable voting for a policy without having any idea how much it will cost, and she worried that dimmable lighting might cost much more and be more likely to malfunction. Bahl-Milne, too, wanted to see initial cost estimates, pointing out that the Waste Hauler Bylaw is awaiting cost estimates before it will be brought back to TSO. She reiterated her desire for input from the business community, at least from the Business Improvement District (BID) and Chamber.

Devlin Gauthier said she will discuss these suggestions with Hanneke and bring the matter back to the committee in the future.

Police Cruiser Surveillance Policy Passed
Hanneke joined the meeting to discuss the proposed policy for surveillance for in-cruiser audio and visual recording. She and Bockelman met with Police Chief Scott Livingstone and Lieutenant Brian Daly to resolve conflicts between the proposed policy and the Amherst Police Department’s directive. The APD’s directive was copied directly from the POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) Commission and must be followed for the department to be accredited.

The revised town policy mandates that data that is not saved for evidentiary purposes be overwritten within seven days. The data may only be shared with the state’s attorney general or by public record request. The new policy passed at TSO by a 4-0 vote and will be referred to the full council for approval.

Committee Requests Presentations From Town Departments
With the informative presentation from Town Engineer Jason Skeels last year on how the town prioritizes road repairs, TSO members expressed a desire to hear from other departments handling, for instance, tree management, conservation lands, sustainability, recycling and composting. Bockelman suggested that these presentations could be made into videos available on the town website.

Pam went further, suggesting that the town make more educational videos, such as a “Welcome to the Transfer Station” video that residents new to town could watch. Bockelman said that most town services are geared to seniors through the Senior Center and the homeless. For other services, the town relies on local private organizations. He said he will talk to staff and consider compiling a local directory.

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2 thoughts on “No Changes Proposed For Placement Of Street Lights In Revised Policy

  1. There are two solar lights on Pine Street next to the crosswalks, and when they work, they offer a cushion of safety crossing the street. However, one of the lights has been defunct for quite some time. Will this be repaired any time soon? Thanks.

  2. I am relieved that removing streetlights is no longer an option, but reducing brightness also is also problematic. Lighting is essential to public safety. I welcome the streetlight that is across from my house in South Amherst. Adequate illumination is protective of everyone using the roadways and those lucky enough to live in areas with sidewalks. The need for good lighting is particularly important outside of downtown areas , where sidewalks are nonexistent and roadways have insufficient width for cars and bicycles to pass each other. Possible alteration in bird migration, affected more by the light pollution of UMass and not the town, is not sufficient reason to make changes, and input should be sought from more than the downtown business community. Cost efficiency and environmental considerations in choice of lighting and source of power are good to consider, but please let’s keep the focus of the discussion where it belongs – on the safety of the public who live throughout Amherst.

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