Old, ineffective streetlights across downtown Halifax leave streets ill-lit after dusk. For those who commute every day in a city with a higher-than-national assault rate, the darkness around them is an issue of concern.
“As soon as it’s dim out—not even dark—I’m always thinking ‘What’s the lighting like? Where am I? How big is the street? How many people can see me right now?’” says Meghan Bissett. “It’s a very natural process to go through, and I’m not sure if that’s specific to me being a girl, or if that’s specific to Halifax.”
Bissett plans her route to and from home by taking the best and sometimes only lit paths. “It’s not a big deviation,” she says. “But it makes a difference.” Taking a five-minute detour every day adds up to over 30 hours in a year.
Streetlights have repeatedly been on city hall’s agenda since 1997. In 2000, councillor Reg Rankin prepared a report on resolving inadequate street lighting on private roads. Thirteen councillors chimed in, complaining about dim lighting and outdated technology. In a 2008 information report discussing the issue of burned-out street lights, transportation and public works director Mike Labrecque said, “streetlights were not being repaired in a timely manner.” In June of last year, city council agreed to buy all streetlights in Halifax from Nova Scotia Power for nearly $7.2 million. Halifax Regional Municipality is now responsible for the maintenance, repair and installation of all streetlights on municipal streets and roads, as well as those in municipal parks and open spaces.
As a pedestrian, walking on an ill-lit crosswalk also increases the possibility of being hit by an unsuspecting driver. According to a 2013 HRM Partners in Policing report, 94 out of 176 car and pedestrian crashes occurred on crosswalks. More than half of the accidents happened while the weather was clear and sunny, but many of the crosswalks identified are in the worst-lit areas of south end Halifax.
The intersections of South Street at Tower Road and Spring Garden Road at South Park Street were singled out in the report. Spokesperson Pierre Bourdages says Halifax Regional Police has “no data or information that would link crime and poor lighting.”
Dim lighting is not just a problem for pedestrians. Some people living in the area have to face the darkness at their very doorstep. Jessica Mann has lived in Halifax for only a few months, but already finds the lighting inadequate. She remembers a particularly jarring experience on the steps of her house on Birmingham Street.
“I was standing by the door outside when I heard a whistle. I couldn’t see anyone around, but I could hear someone there,” says Mann.
“My street is dark and empty after 7pm,” she adds. “My fears are justified.”
Maia Kowalski lived on South Street while attending Dalhousie University in 2013. After hearing news of incidents of sexual assault and robbery near the area, she became wary of walking alone after dark. She says the city should improve lighting infrastructure to make women feel secure in their own city.
Halifax has about 40,500 streetlamps. The 2014 budget set aside $8 million to convert the city’s streetlights to the more efficient LED lamps.
“The switch to LED overhead street lights will enable the municipality to address areas that may benefit from additional lighting by allowing for bigger, brighter lights to be installed in current pole locations without adding additional poles or lights,” says Halifax Regional Municipality spokesperson Tiffany Chase.
The municipality plans on submitting a request for proposal to convert all remaining lights to LED over the next two to five years. Until then, Haligonians will have to endure the city’s dark patches.