Officials with the City of Racine want residents to think differently about streetlights. They also think it’s high time the city has a policy about the real use of streetlights and where they should be placed.

According to both Alderman John Tate II and Department of Public Works Commissioner Mark Yehlen, streetlights are traffic safety devices. They are meant to illuminate roadways to keep drivers and pedestrians safe. But, they both understand that most people feel safer in their neighborhoods with the addition of streetlights.

“People feel safe when their neighborhoods are well lit,” Tate acknowledged. “Streetlights can contribute (to that), but that isn’t their real purpose.”

Removing Streetlights Didn’t Increase Crime

Over 1,000 streetlights were removed from a number of city streets back in 2012 and 2013 and the move hasn’t set well with some residents.

The removal of streetlights was spurred both by operating costs and the lack of any uniform installation policy. City engineers strategically identified lights for removal to create more of a cohesive look for city streets and to be sure the distribution of lights was relatively even from neighborhood to neighborhood, Yehlen said.

But despite a general perception that crime increased because of a lack of streetlights, the statistics provided to him by the Racine Police Department actually show that taking down streetlights had little to no effect. In fact, the numbers show that in the last five years, nighttime burglaries in general have decreased every year, he said.

“I can’t make a definitive correlation because other factors play into those statistics,” he explained. “But the connection between a lack of streetlights and increased crime just isn’t there.”

Racine resident Al Hermann disagrees. He believes the lack of a streetlight near his home contributed to his retaining wall getting vandalized several times over a two-week period while Hermann was on vacation. He appeared before the Public Works and Services Committee last Tuesday to ask that the streetlight near his home be re-installed, according to a story in The Journal Times.

“We’ve had nothing but destructive people coming around since that light’s been taken out,” Hermann is quoted as telling the committee. “I used to have an air conditioner in one of my windows, and right after, someone pushed it in and broke into my house.”

Hermann’s request was turned down, but Tate said this isn’t the end of the discussion. He has filed a communication so the city can put together a comprehensive plan to address the use of streetlights and where to place them.

“We have way too many streetlights per capita,” he said. “And there’s no rhyme or reason to where they’ve been installed. Up until now, the city would install a streetlight whenever a resident requested one. I want to push the Common Council to think more globally about the entire city and not just block-by-block or when a citizen makes a request.”

Tate also wants the city to continue using more cost-effective solutions like solar-powered LED lights to decrease its dependency on We Energies. Racine residents have saved almost $200,000 in the four years since the final lights were dismantled.

City To Consider Group Buy For Lighting

Both Tate and Yehlen said they’d like to see the city support and help facilitate group pricing and installation for lampposts and for residents to use lighting to illuminate their homes.

“We could learn something from the suburbs here,” Tate added. “Drive through a subdivision at night and it’s so nice, right? People use lighting on their porches, with a lamppost in their front yards, but there aren’t a lot – or any – streetlights and there’s less crime.”

Using a block on Jerome Avenue as an example, Tate said the property owners there could form a de facto homeowners association and take advantage of group pricing for purchasing and installing lamp posts.

“Not only does this type of program reduce costs, but then it creates a uniform look and property values go up,” he said. “We need to illuminate neighborhoods, and the best way to do that is by illuminating personal property.”