Protests mount against streetlight switch-offs, 'dangerous' LEDs The great British streetlight debate raged on this week as more municipalities darkened the streets to save money while residents – otherwise known as taxpayers who pony up for public services that they expect to receive – lashed out against it.

Angry and fearful locals criticized schemes in some towns to turn off streetlights from midnight until dawn. In other locations they railed against new energy saving LED lamps that illuminate only a narrow area compared to the broad rays of conventional yellow and orange hued sodium lamps. They protested that LEDs are leaving swaths of dangerous dark patches, such as in Hastings.

'Since the council has deemed it necessary to dim our street lighting to an absolute ridiculous low level the streets have now become a mugger’s/burglar’s/car thief’s paradise, you can hardly see your hand in front of your face,' wrote resident Gordon King in the Hastings & St. Leonards Observer. He continued:

'Before this happened the old orange lighting was perfect, as you could see everything clearly...I could look out of my bedroom window and could clearly see the whole of the close all of the cars parked in their driveways and you would be able to see any movements. But now look out and it’s almost pitch black. If anybody was lurking around trying to break into any of the cars then you would not see them.'

Mr. King was rallying with an earlier letter writer:

'Am I the only person to be appalled by the new “low energy” (or whatever they are supposed to be) street lights that have been installed around the town?' wrote Jane Smith in the same paper. 'I rarely set foot outside when it was dark apart from when I had to go to and from work because I considered the old street lighting in the side roads to be woefully inadequate. You can imagine, therefore, how horrified I was to discover that it was to be replaced by something worse.'

Ms. Smith is clearly not the only appalled one. In fact the same complaint has surfaced around Britain and the world. In the U.S., for instance, Detroit is currently facing a backlash against LED streetlights, as did Baltimore, where Councilman Robert Curran once noted in the Baltimore Brew that the light from new LED streetlamps failed to reach sidewalks. 

'LED lights may be okay for drivers,' Curran said. In what could be the movement's call to arms, Curran added, 'But where do people get mugged? Not in the middle of the street. They get mugged on sidewalks.'

The Hastings crowd might take some consolation in knowing that the town is at least keeping the lights on. In other parts of East Sussex, where Hastings is located, they're switching them off late at night, just as they are elsewhere around the U.K. Mobs are objecting.

In the Shropshire town of Oswestry, hundreds of upset people have signed a petition to turn the lights back on, the Shropshire Star reported. The story noted:

'A petition that has been set up by the Relight Oswestry campaign has now collected almost 600 signatures. Campaigners say part night lighting is putting people in danger, with people walking home in the dark after nights out in pubs and clubs. Councillors have said they haven’t seen any increase in crime since the switch over began in the north of the county.'

Perhaps the public will take note in the Borough of Wokingham, which this week became the latest British jurisdiction to switch off the lights in the wee hours. Wokingham joins a growing list of switch-offs that has included, among othesr, Chepstow, Essex, and Warwickshire, where the switch-off has been blamed for a pedestrian fatality. Areas that have switched to LEDs include the Borough of Wigan and Gloucestershire.

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Editor's Note: The lighting community will sound out on this issue at November's LuxLive2014 in London, where the lively sessions will include the great street lighting debate and many more.

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Photo: Two of the hundreds of protesters who want their late night street lights back in Oswestry. Image is from the Relight Oswestry Facebook site.