Detroit has been struggling for decades to shine as a major American city. Now, residents and city officials are calling attention to Detroit’s inability to keep its streets lit. While this is a difficult issue for a city with few resources, the Bing administration must quickly develop an effective plan to address the lighting issue to ensure the safety of Detroit residents.
From massive population and business flight, to an unsustainable 13 percent unemployment rate, the Motor City’s list of ailments is growing and the money to address these problems is virtually non-existent. Making matters worse, nearly 20 percent of all public lighting in Detroit doesn’t work, and efforts to fix the problem are proving ineffective.
According to The Detroit News, 15 to 20 percent of the city’s 88,000 lights aren’t working. In some neighborhoods, 50 percent of lighting is non-functional. Public lighting currently costs the city $10.7 million annually, and fixing the problem would substantially increase that figure.
The biggest challenge facing efforts to relight the city is theft of valuable transformers and wiring in lighting fixtures. Many of the fixtures are outdated, allowing for criminals to easily rip transformers from bottoms. These units are costly and time-consuming to replace — often requiring the entire fixture to be rewired.
City workers are replacing transformers, but they cannot keep up with the rate of theft. In the Indian Village neighborhood, transformers disappear only days after being replaced. In one incident, a worker was seriously burned during an underground explosion, which highlighted the age of cables and lack of previous maintenance.
The city should focus on infrastructure problems and maintenance. These efforts, however, need to be prioritized by neighborhood. Since many neighborhoods are almost completely unpopulated, the city should first focus on densely populated areas that require lighting repairs.
Detroit residents have expressed concerns that the lack of public lighting decreases their feeling of security. Dark neighborhoods and stretches of major roads do little to detract from Forbes ranking Detroit the most dangerous city in the country. Lighting has the potential to improve individuals’ perception of their safety and potentially impact crime. If Detroit is going to thrive again as a city, residents need to feel safe living there.
The city has been exploring options to privatize public lighting, including a deal with DTE Energy. Transferring the problem to a third party risks that company putting its profits before the people of Detroit. Privatization will not detract from the underlying theft issue. Public lighting is a city concern and should be taken care of by the Public Lighting Department.
A plan to combat the problem was supposed to be revealed at an Oct. 17 Detroit City Council meeting, but no representative from Public Lighting came. Detroit officials need to take the public lighting problem seriously, not delegate it to private companies or ignore it altogether. When the issue is readdressed at the City Council meeting on Oct. 31, Detroit must come up with a comprehensive plan to turn the lights back on and keep its residents safe.