A bright idea: Make streets safer with light

BY SARAH PADGETT

Published December 6, 2006

A new student group is trying to make sure your late-night walks home from the library or the bar will be a lot brighter.

Morgan Morel
Greenwood Avenue, a student-heavy South Campus neighborhood, pictured at night. A new student group, Make Ann Arbor Bright, is pressing the Ann Arbor City Council to improve poor lighting in student neighborhoods. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY PETER SCHOTTENFELS

Students founded Make Ann Arbor Bright to improve student safety by increasing off-campus lighting after Paul Feigenbaum, their English graduate student instructor, gave their class an assignment to fix a problem affecting their community.

For some of the students, the lighting issue is personal.

Two of the group members said they had been followed while walking home at night. They both said that with better lighting, the situation might have been avoided.

The group also conducted interviews with students who had been mugged. LSA Student Government Vice President Justin Benson, a member of Make Ann Arbor Bright, said that mugging victims overwhelmingly agreed that more lighting could have prevented the attacks.

LSA senior Kristen Woytowicz, a member of the group, said attacks in the student neighborhoods south of Central Campus have made lighting a major concern.

"More lights would improve visibility for the students walking, decreasing the likelihood for attacks," she said.

Make Ann Arbor Bright took its ideas to City Council Monday, after gathering evidence that students support its goals.

The group collected more than 300 signatures on a letter to City Council asking for more off-campus lighting.

On Monday, group members presented the signatures to City Council. Benson and LSA junior Jennifer Hines spoke about the dangers facing students who must walk through poorly lit areas and asked council members for support.

Benson acknowledged that more streetlights would cost money, but said that shouldn't be the council's primary concern.

"You can't put a price on safety," he said.

After the meeting, group members said they were pleased with the presentation.

It's not yet clear how receptive council members are to the idea.

Before the meeting, City Council member Joan Lowenstein (D-Ward 2), who represents the Hill area and some student neighborhoods west of Central Campus, said she wasn't sure more lighting would solve the crime problem. She also said factors like light pollution and energy costs made more lighting less appealing.

LSA sophomore Kate Mitroka, chair of the Michigan Student Assembly's Campus Safety Commission, said she supports the initiative.

"Good lighting is an important way to keep people safe," she said. "It is necessary for community members - students and non-students - to take ownership of this issue. Better lighting is something we can and should do something about."

In January, a flock of MSA representatives fanned out on South University Avenue and the streets near the Oxford and Hill areas. They found a lack of lighting near Elbel Field, Arbor Street and South University Avenue.