Chart of the Day: Street Lighting and Safety Perception

This chart’s methodology might not be that great, but it’s studying the oft-overlooked topic of street lighting. Check it out:

umn lighting chart

The chart is from the Minnesota Daily, where issues around public safety have been on the radar following a few crime incidents. Here’s what Elizabeth Smith, the Daily writer, has to say:

An estimate in July 2014 from the city’s public works department   showed that adding lighting in Southeast Como alone, would cost about $2 million, said SECIA’s director Ricardo McCurley.

The proposal would charge homeowners an average property tax increase of  $4,000 over 20 years, which is slightly more than $16 a month per area property.

Nearly 70 percent of students who took the MSA survey said they would be willing to pay at least five dollars more a month for increased lighting.


Start seeing lighting.

12 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Street Lighting and Safety Perception

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I’d like to get more lighting in my neighborhood, especially along primary corridors. We have the old Xcel cobras right now, which stink. But the special assessments required of property owners make getting the necessary signoffs politically impossible. Which is sad.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      Yeah our block just has one of those high, bright, yellow lights (assuming the cobra light) midblock. A couple acorn lights spread across each side of the street, with covers on top to keep light from casting into homes, would be so much better. Same for the alleyway. Better yet – some ADUs with soft exterior lighting and utility companies reimburse you for the usage (or operate directly).

  2. Scott Walters

    Xcel is happy to provide you with an alley light any time you want one. Costs about $12/month. Most people go in with their neighbors and settle up annually – same time as you do your alley plowing accounting. Four or six neighbors splitting a streetlight is pretty trivial.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      At least in Mpls it seems as though the city covers the cost for Xcel to have two small cobraheads down each alley-block, though there are still plenty of dark spots. $12/mo seems extremely expensive. Probably a high pressure sodium fixture. My neighborhood organization has discussed subsidizing the cost of alley-facing exterior full cutoff light fixtures on garages, since they could be procured in quantity at roughly $30 each. With a good LED bulb, it would only cost the homeowner about $5 per year to operate dusk to dawn.

  3. Eric SaathoffEric S

    I was really surprised how little lighting there was on Mt Airy when I was going up Park, east on Winter and then down Mt Airy St. It made it a little scary for me even on my bike, as I was going down hill at 20+ mph with many pot holes. How does street lighting assessment work around public housing projects?

  4. Molly

    I think that there needs to be more thought going into the difference between better lighting and brighter lighting. In “The End of Night: Searching for Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light” the author Paul Bogard presents some very compelling research showing that bright lights create the illusion of safety at times, while reducing actual visibility.

    1. Rosa


      There is nothing worse than being in a tiny island of light, surrounded by darkness, to make me feel unsafe at night. Especially at a spotlight on my bike, or waiting at a bus stop. Lower levels of ambient light feel a lot safer – it’s a reason to stay along a busy street.

      It also doesn’t help to have more lights if there’s no one to see. Because of garage placement, we can’t see our alley from the bedroom windows of our house – so more light there might make a person feel safer, but since most of our neighbors have similar layouts, the actual safety might not be better.

      The same eyes vs. light problem makes a huge difference along long stretches of Lake Street, Cedar, Park/Portland, and Franklin – the blocks with little shops and restauarants feel a lot safer than the blocks with big institutional buildings, or businesses that all close at 5. (though that might also be just a feeling, I haven’t looked at crime stats.)

  5. Julia

    I think Molly has a good point. There is decades long strong rhetoric around the advice (especially to young women) on how to “be safe” that includes “stay in well-lit areas.” Why do we think this data that suggests the marketing worked holds any meaning on how to make spaces safer for people?

    As a small female, I do feel safer when sidewalks are well-lit (marketing worked on me too!). More than that, however, I feel safer when there are other people around, including individuals and groups, and they represent a diverse range of demographics. I like to see them engaged in a variety of activities (walking pets, running, waiting for public transit, entering/exiting businesses, sitting and chatting, playing in parks, etc.).

    The main benefits I see to more streetlights would be that it might encourage more people to be out and about. But if the area/neighborhood just doesn’t have that many people or a mix of uses, I’m very skeptical about any safety benefits.

    1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

      I agree with Julia. Lighting is great, but if there are no people around, it still feels less safe. I never felt safe walking from Highland Village back to St Kate’s at night. It was a dimly lit neighborhood, but even with lights, it would still only be residential with no eyes on the street at night. Conversely, when I moved to the Midway, I felt fine walking to/from the Turf Club or Big Vs because there were plenty of other people around and other evening businesses (Applebee’s, Ember’s, Porky’s, Wendy’s). All but the Wendy’s is gone from that track and almost all of the new businesses are daytime businesses. This leaves less people on the streets and a decresed sense of safety, much like Highland Park felt 20 years ago. Mixed use and businesses with various hours that attract people from the neighborhood are just as essential as lighting to evening walking and safety.

  6. ryan0290

    I hate the lights in my Alley. They glare into all the windows and do nothing for ‘safety’. I wish every garage had a small light shining down at the ground about 8 feet up instead.

    The illusion of safety is not the same as safety. I crave more darkness.

  7. David Peterson

    Hi folks,

    Minneapolis Public Works just updated the street lighting policy last Tuesday at Transportation & Public Works – it will go through City Council this Friday. I encourage you all to read the policy for details about lighting standards and how/where lighting gets installed.

    It’s understandable that many people prefer metal pole lighting to the Xcel cobraheads. The difficulty is that it is expensive to install – roughly $50,000 for a long residential block, 25,000 for a short block. In neighborhoods that have metal pole lighting, it was either a combination of NRP dollars buying down the cost of assessments agreed to by residents (e.g. Field/Regina) or entirely assessed (e.g. Prospect Park).

  8. Erik B

    Apt post considering a woman was raped basically in the middle of the street in Dinkytown a couple weeks ago.

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