Particularly in student neighborhoods surrounding the University of Michigan, poor lighting continues to be a cause for concern, as many students and Ann Arbor residents draw a correlation between frequent campus crime alerts, pedestrian safety and poor street lighting.
Online crime statistics highlight a potential correlation between crime in the city and poorly lit areas. According to February 2018 data from the Ann Arbor Observer Crime Map, crime concentrates around areas like Packard or State Street. The most common crimes in these areas are burglaries, followed by slightly lower instances of robbery and sexual assault. Instances of burglary and robbery in 2017 also spiked in October through December — though in 2016, crime was much higher in the spring — especially around areas like North State and Packard Street.
Packard was one of a few neighborhoods the University of Michigan Student Advisory Council identified as lacking proper lighting in a 2017 report.
Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, corroborated these findings and explains crime seems to concentrate around student neighborhoods.
“Lights certainly make people feel safer whether or not they’re actually related to crime,” Grand said. “I keep tabs on my ward where crime is highest and the student areas are definitely one of those. Through the Student Advisory Council and others, we are trying to work to increase street lighting.”
Former SAC Chair Jeremy Glick, an LSA senior, said he sees the concentration of crime in student neighborhoods not only as the result of poor lighting, but also a lack of education among students regarding safety.
“There definitely seems to be an uptick in crime in the Packard area,” Glick said. “This is a non-data based personal opinion, but there seem to be greater chances of attacks and assault. Students are a more vulnerable population. Adequate lighting helps with crime in any area, but greater things to focus on with home invasion would be to be educate students regarding proper practices.”
In response to the lack of lighting, a group of University students have created a petition to brighten the city’s streets. Titled “Bright Students Need Bright Lights,” the petition has gained 203 signatures thus far, and been posted in multiple University class Facebook groups.
The petition argues, “From a security point of view, light correlates with safety.”
One of the petition writers, LSA sophomore Jenna Jacobson, said insufficient street lighting affects Ann Arbor crime and a student’s day-to-day life.
“We are passionate about the lack of lighting in Ann Arbor, and are convinced that if there were better street lighting, there would be less crimes in Ann Arbor,” Jacobson wrote in an intervie with The Daily. “When going to study at night, students have to worry about how they are walking home and if they have friends to walk home with because of the poor lighting. I even have found myself walking home earlier than I wanted to from the library because of the poor lighting on campus. This has definitely impacted my studies.”
Poor lighting in Ann Arbor is not solely a student concern. Monday, the Ann Arbor City Council heard several residents express their concerns regarding pedestrian safety and street lights. Resident Kathy Griswold specifically argued for the safety of children at crosswalks.
“Will the 2019 budget include dollars for adequate illumination at all of our crosswalks given that we have new low-cost options with solar and LED?” Griswold asked.
Similarly, resident Eric Lipson expressed his frustration with the lack of lighting.
“No bureaucratic inertia is an excuse for losing a human life due to lack of public safety,” Lipson said.
According to Glick, the issue of street lighting seems to be a problem both off and on campus.
“University grounds are not exempt from this problem,” Glick said. “For example on North Campus, when I have taken night classes on North Campus, I have noticed areas of darkness where the trees obscure the light.”
Though many citizens consider poor lighting to be the city’s responsibility, Grand said a partnership with the University could fix this problem.
“We continue to put more money into street lights in our budget and trying to find long-term sources of funding,” Grand said. “I would ideally love to see the University be a partner in how we fund our street lights, particularly the street lights that are in areas where students live. I don’t think it falls solely on the city. I would love to see this be a partnership between the city and the University, and I think students are an important voice in helping that process go forward.”
Jacobson and Glick both countered though the University could take a more active role in this issue, ultimately the problems falls heavily on the city.
“Legally, the lighting is the responsibility of the city and is a part of city maintenance,” Glick said. “Ethically, the governing bodies of the University take an integral role in the community.”
Looking forward, Glick says that he believes street lighting will continue to be an issue the SAC will seek to highlight, though it’s no longer a primary focus. Similarly, Grand says street lights will continue to be a priority for City Council.
The city has been continuously attempting to keep up with the safety concerns. In January 2017, the council voted to approve a $143,296 contract with OHM Advisers to take inventory of the city’s streetlights and determine the price for future repairs. Similarly, the city voted in 2015 to spend $200,000 on new streetlights for neighborhoods such as Hill Street, Oxford Road and Geddes Road.
Most recently, in a March 12 budget meeting, Financial Services discussed increasing expenditures for street lighting, almost doubling the budget from $295,000 to $595,000. With this new budget, City Council could install about 30 new streetlights a year.