Rebecca Blair / Sun Senior Editor

After lights were installed on the slope, members of the community expressed concerns over environmental and safety issues.

September 8, 2016

New Libe Slope Lighting Triggers Environmental, Safety Concerns

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After years of precarious, late night trips up and down Libe Slope, a new solution may finally light the way.

At this Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting, two executive committee members, Mitchell McBride ’17 and Varun Devatha ’19, joined by Prof. M. Elizabeth Sanders, government, raised environmental concerns about the recent installation of lampposts along the path on Libe Slope.

The installation of lights — between Baker Flagpole and Willard Straight Hall — is the result of a collaborative initiative between the Student Assembly Infrastructure Fund Committee and the Infrastructure, Properties and Planning office, and was completed in the first week of September.

The SAIFC undertook the $30,000 project at the end of the spring semester of this past academic year, after receiving multiple proposals from students about installing lampposts on on the slope.

McBride, Devatha and Sanders proposed exchanging the bright white light bulbs of the new lampposts for sodium-vapor lamp bulbs, which they claim are more environmentally friendly and better for the eyes.

“I know that light pollution is not something that a lot of people pay attention to, but white, bright light is not safe,” Sanders said. “They can be blinding. They also create harsh shadows, which is not safe. It’s the same effect like driving on a bright highway and then going into a dark exit. By replacing them with softer, yellower lights, we can protect our eyes better and see better.”

According to Miranda Kasher ’19, SAIFC chair, the committee decided to fund the Libe Slope lighting project due to widespread concerns about safety on campus.

“Lighting on the slope is important for reasons such as physical safety, in terms of not falling down the slope…as well as perceived safety,” Kasher said. “We want to make sure that students feel safe wherever they are on campus. If you can’t feel safe on this campus, then I don’t think you can feel safe anywhere.”

McBride, Devatha and Sanders also argue that the additional bright lighting does not improve student’s well-being. Sanders said that white lights “have been scientifically proven to impair melatonin production,” in addition to being harmful to animals such as birds and insects and a light pollutant.

“It’s good for our bodies to have time in the dark. Our bodies produce melatonin at night. For the students living on West Campus, the presence of more lights might be disturbing when they’re trying to sleep,” Sanders said. “Studies have also shown that along brightly lit streets there’s a much higher rate of breast cancer. Birds also navigate by moonlight, and so the lights affect them negatively. It’s all very complicated and interrelated.”

During the duration of the S.A. committee meeting, several members proposed alternatives to the lampposts, including handrails, personal use of flashlights and motion-sensitive lighting, all of which take into consideration accessibility and environmental issues.

After several rounds of voting, the S.A. committee decided to pass McBride, Devatha and Sanders’ resolution.

Hanna Reichel ’18, representative of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning on the S.A. committee, said that the proposal gave the S.A. committee an opportunity to balance its interest in student safety and well-being with environmental and sustainability issues.

“This is actually an opportunity for us really think about what we’re doing and to set an example for other campuses and other institutional spaces on how we’re going to take all of this research and apply it to plans for lighting infrastructure that makes a difference,” Reichel said. “We have to invest in infrastructure as a campus, so why not that that opportunity to invest in better infrastructure?.”