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Streetlight removal

A We Energies employee removes a streetlight on the 1900 block of Mars Avenue, just down the street from Wadewitz Elementary School, on Sept. 18, 2013. The Public Works and Services Committee discussed establishing a consistent citywide streetlight policy at their meeting on Tuesday.

RACINE — About five years after hundreds of Racine streetlights were removed, officials are discussing creating a citywide streetlight policy, a thorny, complicated and costly issue in Racine.

About a year ago, Alderman John Tate II started the conversation around streetlights and the lack of a comprehensive policy because of complaints he’d heard from constituents about the lack of clarity and perceived discrepancy in street lighting.

In March, the City Council requested Public Works Commissioner Mark Yehlen look into developing a streetlight policy that complied with American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials guidelines.

In his presentation on Tuesday before the Public Works and Services Committee, Yehlen said the guidelines from AASHTO and the Federal Highway Administration are focused on traffic and pedestrian safety, which he said is not a huge lighting issue in the city. Plus, the DPW doesn’t have anyone in-house with the technical expertise to apply those guidelines, so they would have to hire an engineering firm.

Yehlen said that if the city wants to develop a citywide lighting master plan, it should take into account many factors, such as traffic and pedestrian safety, law enforcement and crime rates and community development.

“If we’d be interested in improving various neighborhoods, it could be something that could be done in conjunction with the (Community Development Block Grants),” said Yehlen. “And various neighborhood identified for various improvements.”

Such a plan could take lots of time, energy and collaboration to put together. But in the short-term, Yehlen recommended the committee consider a rudimentary lighting plan Yehlen developed and implemented, even though it was rejected by the City Council in 2013.

Quick(er) fixes

In 2012 the city removed 480 streetlights as a result of budget cuts and in 2013, for the same reason, another 530 were removed.

In 2013, when Yehlen was tasked with deciding which streetlights would be removed, he developed a streetlight policy in conjunction with We Energies.

The policy set a standard for residential streets between 350 and 699 feet long to have only one mid-block streetlight, and streets between 700 and 1,049 feet long to have only two mid-block lights.

Yehlen brought the master plan before the City Council, which rejected it. Based on their comments, some aldermen seemed to believe that voting in favor of the plan was giving approval for the removal of streetlights, which was not the case.

Regardless, Yehlen, in consultation with Police Chief Art Howell, used the plan to determine which areas were adequately lit and which streetlights could be removed.

Under that plan, Yehlen identified 213 streets or alleys that did not have sufficient lighting. They are not clustered in specific neighborhoods but instead spread across the city’s map.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Yehlen told the committee that if they wanted to address lighting deficiency, those areas could be a good starting place.

There is still a question of cost: Yehlen estimates that installing a new light on average would cost about $1,000, so to light all the areas he marked would be a $200,000 investment followed by operation costs.

At the end of the meeting, Yehlen’s report was filed. What happens next is up to the committee and the council.

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Christina Lieffring covers the Burlington area and the Village of Caledonia. Before moving to Racine, she lived in Nebraska, Beijing, Chicago and grew up in Kansas City.

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