Atlantic City gambles on LEDs to fight crime, slash energy costs

Atlantic City, the New Jersey seaside gambling city with one of the highest crime rates in the U.S., is the latest municipality to switch to LED public lighting, as it gambles that the brighter technology will make its streets safer while also cutting electricity and maintenance bills.

Starting with 155 bulbs and fixtures in the touristy but dingy Ducktown neighbourhood of nightspots– where at least one bartender advises out-of-town customers to travel in groups or in cabs – the city plans to install 8,000 LEDs by the end of next year, the Press of Atlantic City reports.

While many cities around the world are turning to LEDs – light emitting diodes - Atlantic City will be the first in the state of New Jersey to completely change over, Councilman Frank Gilliam told the newspaper. 

'We have two objectives,' Atlantic City Planning and Development director Elizabeth Terenik said. 'To create a more well-lit environment, and also to save money.'

It all plays into a broader push to revive the city's sagging fortunes, which have declined in recent years as gamblers have found new, competing venues in New Jersey and other states.

Mike Picucci from utility Atlantic City Electric estimated that the lights will require only between 35 and 70 percent of the electricity of conventional street lighting, and will last 20 years compared to 5 years for high pressure sodium models. The city is splitting the $400 per bulb cost with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and hopes that New Jersey's Bureau of Public Utilities grants a $175 per bulb rebate.

'And it does brighten up the neighborhood,' Councilman Gilliam said.

Mayor Don Guardian last year singled out the Ducktown section for lighting improvements 'because of the amount of crime, and (because) it’s a little darker than the rest of Atlantic City,' the Press reported. Ducktown, the scheme's launchpad, is the city's 'Little Italy' tourist district of restaurants and bars, known historically for mobster activity but these days more as a place where tourists should look over their shoulders.

Atlantic City as a whole has a crime rate of 79 per thousand residents, one of the highest in the country, according to NeighborhoodScout.

Experts are divided on whether LED street lighting actually helps abate crime. One county in the UK recently found that crime dropped after it switched off streetlights, although other districts have found the opposite.

Atlantic City authorities believe that their move to LEDs is not just a roll of the dice, but is something closer to a sure bet.

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Photo: There are a lot dingy spots among the lights of Atlantic City. Authorities hope LEDs will brighten the picture. (Photo is from Ron Miguel via Wikimedia).