If there is one unsettled issue that has been hanging over the Michigan Student Assembly’s head for years, it’s off-campus lighting. Student neighborhoods don’t have adequate street lighting, making them dangerously dark at night and susceptible to crime. No one seems to disagree about these things. But no one wants to foot the bill for the new lights. The newest reincarnation of improved off-campus lighting, proposed this week by MSA, will suffer from the same debilitating financial problem unless MSA, the University and the city agree to fund this project.
After the first annual “safety walk” in January 2006, which paired MSA and the University’s Department of Public Safety together for stroll through student neighborhoods at night, three areas were identified as needing more lighting. And that’s about all that has been done. In response to the review, the Ann Arbor City Council estimated the cost for providing lighting to the three areas to be more than $20,000. The council balked at paying for the lights, and MSA was sent back to the drawing board.
Cutting its losses, MSA is now asking the city to light just one of the areas. The lucky finalist is an area at the intersection of East University Avenue, Oakland Avenue and Tappan Street known as “The Triangle.” For six LED streetlights in the area, it is estimated that the total bill will be more than $10,000. Despite MSA’s compromise, the funding may still jeopardize the new light.
It’s tough not to place some of the blame for this recurring problem on MSA. The assembly hasn’t motivated students enough to get a critical mass necessary to convince the city and the University that this issue is important. As a campaign promise of numerous MSA candidates, there is an expectation that MSA will do whatever it takes to get this done. It hasn’t.
While MSA hasn’t stoked students’ outrage, the city hasn’t given this issue the attention it deserves either. Rather than footing the roughly $20,000 it would have cost to light all three areas, the city shirked it duty to protect its citizens – even if they are students. By redirecting the financial burden onto the residents and requesting that each property owner pay $100 for increased lighting it ensured the demise of this project.
What the City Council doesn’t seem to understand is that it has a stake in this too. Ann Arbor has a reputation as a safe city. Shootings, knifings, other crimes and just uncomfortable circumstances call this perception into question, whether in student neighborhoods or not. Better street lighting help’s people feel more safe and the city’s police make sure they are more safe.
Lastly, the University has done its part in dooming the project. Even though it’s the safety of its students at risk, the University has been unwilling to contribute to a project that concerns areas technically lying outside of campus boundaries and DPS’s jurisdiction. DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said this off-campus concern was why the University wouldn’t contribute part of the $10,000 MSA needs to get its latest plan passed. Her distinction is arbitrary and misses the point. The University could contribute, it just won’t. A few thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket of the University’s budget. It’s irresponsible for it not to help fund a project that directly affects the safety of its students.
MSA is asking for six streetlights. If it can’t find a way to get them, whether the University or the city chips in, that will speak volumes about the power of MSA.