Brighter lights, big city

Lighting consortium Three hundred new lights like this one now brighten sidewalks—and improve safety—throughout University City.

The West Philly night sky is brighter than ever because of a new lighting initiative designed to make the streets and sidewalks safer.
The project is part of Operation SAFE (Safety Awareness for Everyone), a comprehensive public safety effort to improve the quality of life for the Penn community, says Maureen Rush, vice president for the Division of Public Safety. “Our philosophy has been to look at the total picture to improve the quality of life for people, to allow them to feel safe,” says Rush. With these new lights, more people are taking to the streets at night to frequent the movie theater at 40th and Walnut, area restaurants and other amenities. In short, Rush says, “the buzz is back in the air.”

The initiative has been funded by a lighting consortium that includes Penn, University of the Sciences, Drexel and University City District, with the collaboration of PECO and the Philadelphia Streets Department.
Rush says that public safety officials have long been concerned about pedestrian safety on University City streets and sidewalks, since many areas are heavily shaded by trees.

Ten years ago, Penn funded another lighting initiative with PECO—UC Brite, in which porch-type lighting was installed in the neighborhood. In January, Penn President Amy Gutmann allocated $1 million to fund an off-campus lighting project as part of a larger public safety initiative.

This phase of the project is intended to shed more light onto the neighborhood’s shaded sidewalks. Crews have installed 300 new fiberglass poles equipped with higher wattage bulbs that are flatter and therefore better at spreading the light onto sidewalks, according to Lewis Wendell, executive director of the University City District.

Wendell explains that UCD got involved with the lighting issue when it commissioned a plan for pedestrian lighting from 40th to 43rd streets, as far north as Market and west to Baltimore Avenue. Shortly after that plan was completed, Penn allocated monies for off-campus lighting and UCD and Penn began talking about lighting options in the neighborhood. In the first project 175-watt floodlights were placed on utility poles. “The idea was to get more light on the sidewalks,” says Wendell. “At that point we had meetings with the City Streets Department to look into the possibility of improving conditions in other areas.” It was in those meetings that the idea for the new poles was hatched.

So far, the neighbors have been supportive of the project. During the project’s first phase, Rush met with the Spruce Hill Community Association, which responded enthusiastically. Two property owners had concerns about the brightness of some of the 340 floodlights installed in the neighborhood. Wendell adds that there is a representative from each of the five community groups in University City on the UCD board, which has tackled the issue of lighting for several years.

While there is no real way to measure the effectiveness of the new lights—and if they in fact reduce crimes on campus and in the neighborhood—Rush says the Division of Public Safety will be assessing the effectiveness of Operation SAFE. The SAFE program includes several lighting initiatives, as well as an increased number of virtual CCTV camera patrols, a new transportation shuttle service and hiring of more police officers, security guards and walking patrol officers. “You really can never say what is the factor that decreases or increases crime,” says Rush, noting that crime in the year-to-date is down 7 percent.
“We don’t want to ever attribute it to one reason. We think really, it’s the totality of the public safety effort.”

The next phase of the project includes enhancing lighting on campus pathways and streets. Currently, a Penn group is identifying areas that could use more illumination—be it pedestrian lighting or lights hanging on buildings. “We see this as an ongoing phase,” says Rush.

Originally published on October 19, 2006.

Originally published on October 19, 2006