The $100K Lackawanna streetscape project that was once designed to give a facelift to one of north College Park’s major neighborhood street is instead stirring much controversy, so much so that some neighbors on the street think the City is ruining their neighborhood street.
The City received the funding through Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) grant to beautify the east part of Lackawanna St. between Narragansett Pkwy and 53rd Avenue. Many residents use the street as an access point to the north gate of the Greenbelt Metro station.
At the heart of the controversy lies the rows of bright white street lights that the City’s engineer and planner have used to illuminate the 2500 ft long street segment. Though the City has been working on the streetscape project for more than a year, Pepco activated the lights last Friday.
“I was shocked coming home on Metro on Friday night. From the platform, the whole street is lit up like a runway. It is insane,” said Heather Bourne, a resident living on the street.
“If the money was granted with a stipulation that the lamps be bright enough to supply an emergency landing strip for wayward aircraft, this could explain a few things. If we got the money to simply light up a sidewalk, any emergency landings will now be an unfortunate side effect of our exceptionally shiny street,” added Aaron Bourne, husband of Heather Bourne.
The Bourne family is planning to send a signature petition to City asking the City engineer to correct the lighting problems.
The runway analogy wasn’t limited to Bourne family alone. Mathew Byrd, another nearby resident said “It’s great for playing street hockey at 3 AM, and maybe for providing a navigational aid for the Space Shuttle, but aside from that, it’s a nuisance.”
The exact wattage of the lights is still unknown, but most residents agree they are way brighter than actually needed.
“The lights are bright enough to light up my back yard! The light from across the street shines into my living room! Our city has a planner and an engineer. If they were asleep at the wheel on this, I think we need to hold them accountable. This is a neighborhood, not a football field.” Aaron Bourne commented.
An email to the City planner was not returned.
The planning document outlining the installation of lights states that the purpose of the lights is to “encourage the feeling of safety, improve view sheds, and enhance the appearance of the streetscape.” The City planner used induction lamps, which are believed to be similar to fluorescent lamps.
The Bournes however think the City went too far if it thought safety was the main reason for adding those bright lights. “Please ask yourself, was crime bad enough to ruin our street? My family has to live with this; we don’t just walk through it on our way to the metro.” Aaron Bourne asked.
Some residents also complain that the a detrimental effect due to excessive light pollution will result in lowering values of their house properties. “The lighting along Lackawanna is absurd and will need to be toned down. In addition to the very negative effect on the lives of people living along that street, I don’t see that it will do much to raise property values in the eyes of prospective buyers,” said Jennifer Bardi, another nearby resident.
Other residents think the intensity of lights is only a small part of the problem; the bigger problem is with the white blue lights which have been proved as health hazards. “We all want lighting that is environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and makes the street safe, but we want the lighting to be healthy, too. And the evidence is clear: blue-white spectrum outdoor lighting in a residential area is a public health hazard,” said Lourene Miovski, another nearby resident. Ms. Miovski said she knows about these concerns because she is a cancer survivor.
The light pollution debate went so intense that it dragged the City’s Committee for Better Environment (CBE) into discussion. CBE recommends environmental-related matters in the city to the Mayor and Council. “CBE should be interested in the amount of electricity being consumed by the new lights on Lackawanna St. as well as avoiding light pollution,” wrote CBE co-chair Stephen Jascourt in an email to City officials. Mr. Jascourt recommended that the City planner should use low wattage bulb as a remedy for the problem.
Not every resident is however totally against the changes. Some think the security benefits outweigh other concerns. “I’m walking home for the first time under these lights and it’s also the first time I feel confident I won’t be assaulted while commuting. IMHO they are wonderful.” said one resident who use the street daily on his commute to Metro.
“No one has died because of this – and hey, maybe a mugging was even diverted this weekend because of this. How about some positive thinking?” said Jane Hopkins, asking her fellow residents to be patient until the issue is addressed by the City officials.
The pollution debate caught District 1 City council member Patrick Wojahn off guard. Mr. Wojahn, who also lives on the street, believes that “the lights were the right thing to do”. He said he heard from a number of residents (both on and off Lackawanna Street) that they were glad the lights were coming. “I’m sure we can work this out in a way that will not have a detrimental impact on the residents of Lackawanna Street,” added Mr. Wojahn.