Lights out: Councils leaving residents in the dark

Residents say that a move by towns to turn off street lights at night as a cost-cutting measure is creating unsafe conditions

Wonder if the overpriced food will go digital as well (photo: B Lund)
February 15th, 2013 2:47 pm| by admin
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The long, dark Danish winter has become a bit darker. As a cost-cutting measure, more than 20 councils across the country are reducing or completely shutting off their streetlights at night. The practise has been going on in some areas for more than three years.

Jørgen Møller, a teacher and researcher at Statens Byggeforskningsinstitut (SBI), the national building safety group, called the trend a very bad idea.

"It is very dangerous, especially for the disabled, if one cannot see the pavement at night,” Møller told Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper. “It also creates a sense of insecurity, especially among older people. It sends the signal that the town has been abandoned, and it creates unsafe driving conditions.”

Car lobby group FDM said that two-thirds of the 30 councils they surveyed said that the lack of street lights did not affect road safety.

A recent study by a Norwegian traffic safety group showed that halving the number of streetlights in a town causes a 15-25 percent increase in accidents in the unlit areas. A study by Dansk Vejforening, an interest group whose members include road maintenance and transport companies, showed that street lights reduce the number of fatal crashes by 60 percent and that one out of every three accidents happen on dark roads.

Møller recognised that councils are under financial pressure, but said that cutting streetlights was the wrong way to save money.

“I understand economic priorities, but it is wrong to turn off the lights like a thief in the night,” he said. “Clear rules need to be established.”

Faxe Council decided in 2011 that it would turn off certain streetlights in the early morning hours. The council said it made the decision out of both environmental and cost considerations. Information on the town’s website assures residents that lights would remain on busy roads, pedestrian crossings, traffic islands and at other traffic safety facilities.

“Our streetlights have been turned off between 1AM and 5AM on certain roads for more than a year, and we have not received a great amount of complaints,” Knud Erik Hansen, the mayor of Faxe Council, told his local online newspaper, faxe.nu.

Local resident Bjørn Hansen, however, challenged the major’s assertions.

“I am pretty sure dark streets increase the risk of burglary, and Faxe already has a break-in problem,” Hansen told faxe.nu. “A lack of criticism doesn’t always add up to a consensus. It may just mean that people do not believe they will be listened to if they complain.”

The council estimated that cutting back on lighting could save them as much as 500,000 kroner per year.

The lights began to go out around the country in 2010 when the former interior minister, Bertel Haarder (Venstre), said that a council could use the off switch to help manage its budget.

At the time, leaders from Socialdemokraterne (S) disagreed with the idea of cutting lights to cut budgets. Now, they seem reluctant to take those decisions back from local governments.

"As a local politician, I was personally involved in turning off the streetlights in Holstebro, and I still think it is best left up to the local government to make that decision,” Annette Lind, S's rural spokesperson, told Kristeligt Dagblad. “We realised pretty quickly that it was a bad idea in Holstebro, but I think we at Christiansborg must be careful not to be forcing too many rules on local authorities."

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