During his campaign for mayor, Joe Hogsett promised to bring street lighting improvements to areas most in need in the city of Indianapolis. With support from Indianapolis Power & Light Company (IPL), he's following through on that commitment.
Our city is now in the midst of a large-scale initiative to improve street lighting, and those improvements will benefit everyone. Under an agreement signed last year between the city and IPL, at least 4,000 new streetlights will be installed over the next several years. That's the first major initiative for lighting since 1981.
Streetlights aren't just about safety; businesses stand to benefit from this initiative, as well. Some businesses may benefit directly if new lights are installed along their streets. Other businesses will benefit indirectly because their customers and employees will be able to reach them in a safer environment.
Government data from the most recent census shows nearly 9,700 Indianapolis metro area residents regularly commute to work using public transportation. Bus riders walk from their homes, wait at bus stops along busy streets and walk on to their worksites after getting off buses. Some IndyGo riders work unusual hours, starting earlier than others and often working after the sun goes down. These commuters include shift workers, food-service employees, health care workers, security guards and maintenance staff. Everyone depends on these workers, and it's in the public interest to make sure they can commute safely.
Some local residents rely on city buses for shopping needs throughout the day. Individuals who work unusual hours often need to shop at unusual hours. Numerous large retailers throughout the Indianapolis metro area are open until 11 p.m., some super stores are open 24 hours a day, and for some, convenience stores are the only source for everyday purchases along the bus route between home and work. While parking lots at the stores may be well-lit, bus riders, bikers and pedestrians need proper lighting along adjacent streets.
The same census report shows an additional 25,000 Indy residents get to work by motorcycle, bike or on foot. With 64 miles of on-street bike lanes in the city, bike ridership is increasing. Added lights will help with visibility for both cyclists and drivers. Residents within walking distance of work will feel safer in areas that are well lit.
Added streetlights may lead to reduced crime in target areas, although research results conflict on this point. The National Institute of Justice reviewed multiple studies and found that crimes decreased in some locales as much as 21 percent after lighting was improved. Some studies found reduction in crimes against people as well as property damage offenses. Many businesses and some traffic lights use video cameras for surveillance, and better lighting in some areas has led to better clarity of the recorded images.
While most studies focus on the added security or safety that may come to a neighborhood with extra streetlights, other studies, like one from the UK by David Farrington and Brandon Welsh, find that better lighting increases "community investment in the area" and leads to "increased community pride and community cohesiveness." Anytime there is increased community investment in an area, that area is better able to thrive economically, especially with local businesses rooted in that community.
Mayor Hogsett's project to install thousands of new streetlights is open for public input. Residents and business owners have the opportunity to suggest specific locations to be considered for light placement. The best way to identify such areas is to get out and assess a neighborhood at dusk. Locate bus stops in need of added lighting, sidewalks that are dark, poorly lit intersections and places where bike lanes are not well lit. Consider local businesses and whether streets surrounding their locations need more light to help customers and employees arrive safely. It's good for the community - and it's good for business.
Judith Wright, JD, MBA, is a clinical assistant professor of business law at Indiana University Kelley School of Business at IUPUI.
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