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Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

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Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby jjoyce » Mon Dec 05, 2011 3:48 pm

It's hard for me to keep up with the Bikies listserv, but it's worth checking out a few times a month. Sometimes the conversations can get a little, how to say... Madisony. It's fun.

Some interesting chatter last week about how dark it gets on the SW path brought up the idea of installing lights. There's immediate concern for the neighboring houses (a justifiable NIMBY stance) and a common sense point that bicyclists should be outfitted with lights.

But anyone who has ridden in a really dark place at night knows that even with a decent bike light, you can find yourself right on top of a walker in dark clothes with little warning. I've ridden home on the SW path in the dark without any lights and my Spidey senses were tingling the whole way.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby Kenneth Burns » Mon Dec 05, 2011 4:35 pm

I ride home on the Southwest Path most weeknights. I use a decent but not supernova-bright headlight and don't have problems seeing people. My main concern is cyclists who use the flash setting on their headlight. Encountering flashing headlights isn't a problem in lit areas, but they're obnoxious in the almost total darkness of the Southwest Path at night.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby kurt_w » Mon Dec 05, 2011 5:05 pm

I used to commute in to work on the Southwest Bike Path. I loved riding along in the pre-dawn darkness at 5:30 am.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby ArturoBandini » Mon Dec 05, 2011 5:53 pm

I ride the SW path frequently, night and day. I have one of the supernova lights. I also have nearly run into pedestrians who were not equipped with blinkies or reflective gear. This is because I usually turn my light toward the ground if I see oncoming lights or reflectors on the path, because it can be pretty bright for oncoming traffic. There is one guy (white suspension fork) that has given me the finger several times when we passed in the dark - he rides with no lights/reflectors at all and I don't see him until that white bird emerges from the darkness - I guess my headlight ruins his night vision.

If I lived on that stretch of Gregory St that parallels the path, I would prefer that the path be lighted - it would be better to see the people passing by than to worry about creepers peering down into your living room from a vantage point of complete darkness. Also - kids/teens late at night under the unlit Spooner St bridge - that is unnerving. I'm glad to be on a bike zooming past instead of a pedestrian with no headlight.

The SW path during a winter full moon is kinda nice - no lights or leaves to ruin the view of the stars.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby fennel » Mon Dec 05, 2011 7:05 pm

ArturoBandini wrote:There is one guy (white suspension fork) that has given me the finger several times when we passed in the dark - he rides with no lights/reflectors at all and I don't see him ...
That's just the invisible hand of the marketplace made visible.

I think the fewer streetlights the better. There's already plenty of light pollution in Madison. I admit the situation in Madison is better than many of the places I've lived – it's still possible to see a good bit of the dark sky, depending on where you live.

But there's nothing like the infinitely accelerating, stock-still fullness of a dark sky to readjust your perspective.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby RecallSkinnyJeans » Mon Dec 05, 2011 8:58 pm

I agree, there is enough light pollution in this city already. I've never had a problem dealing with clueless people who walk around in black after dark on the recreational path. Skilled riders expect them and look out for them. Problem solved.

Priorities first. Redesign the N Shore/recreational path/John Nolan intersection first. Worry about lights on the SW section later.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby Meade » Tue Dec 06, 2011 8:43 am

Word from my alderman is that $25,000 is budgeted for installation of the lights. The debate now is over not if but what type of lights (LED, horizontality...) will be installed.

I suppose it isn't too late to block the installation, if enough people were to tell Council nay, but that doesn't seem to be happening.

As I understand it, the reasons for installing lights along that section of the bike path fall into the categories of Safety and what seems to be known as Gender Balancing. These reasons overlap:

1. There is a perceived need to increase bike commuting by females. Female riders are at greater risk from attackers. Lit up areas discourage attackers. Therefore, lighting up that section of the path will lead to more female riders.

2. Individual headlights are not adequate for seeing obstacles along the path - small darting animals, debris, fallen tree branches, etc. - create in most people the "tingling Spidey senses" experience mentioned by Jason in the first comment here. Remove that uncomfortable experience, and more people would commute by bike, especially during the dark months.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby DCB » Tue Dec 06, 2011 11:20 am

Meade wrote:Word from my alderman is that $25,000 is budgeted for installation of the lights. The debate now is over not if but what type of lights (LED, horizontality...) will be installed.

I suppose it isn't too late to block the installation, if enough people were to tell Council nay, but that doesn't seem to be happening.

Why block it? $25K seems pretty cheap for the safety benefits you outlined above.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby Meade » Tue Dec 06, 2011 11:48 am

DCB wrote:Why block it? $25K seems pretty cheap for the safety benefits you outlined above.


The comments before mine seem to indicate there is a concern about light pollution.

It might also be asked : Why that particular section of the path? When it comes to muggings and attacks, that seems to be a relatively safe part of Madison. To reduce muggings in the city, could $25K be spent more effectively?
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby Meade » Sun Dec 18, 2011 4:13 pm

$25,000 is what our alderman, Shiva, told our neighborhood association was budgeted for the the lights. Turns out it's more like $300,000. http://host.madison.com/ct/business/biz_beat/biz-beat-lights-planned-for-southwest-bike-path-draw-complaints/article_cafc3dba-26a0-11e1-83ab-0019bb2963f4.html
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby fennel » Sun Dec 18, 2011 7:18 pm

I'm not so sure streetligts improve safety. Do criminals have better night vision than law-abiding citizens? Do criminals eat more carrots?
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby snoqueen » Sun Dec 18, 2011 7:42 pm

Lots of recent innovations and some new science in landscape architecture are available with regard to lighting. First off, nobody wants to cast light where it isn't wanted because to do so is a waste of resources. So any light that spills over into neighboring yards or into the sky is undesirable not only to the neighbors, but to the intent of the project.

Lighting has been found to be needed most where people will be walking (or biking) -- at their feet. You want to know your path is safe. That's instinctual, so lighting at the lowest possible level above ground does the most good. Lighting the trees overhead and the neighbors' yards does no good at all. Fixtures have evolved too -- just sticking a big bright light at the top of a pole is obsolete. Sometimes smaller but better-distributed lights do the job far better.

Research on the ideal brightness and even color of lighting has narrowed down those options as well. Some previously popular options, like those bright pink lights seen in parking ramps, have actually been found to be worse than nothing. They cast dark shadows where danger can lurk and the human eye doesn't pick it up well enough to protect a person walking to their car. Different kinds of light scatter differently, in other words -- sometimes in a helpful way, sometimes not.

So give the lighting project a chance before you ridicule the idea or reject it out of hand. The designers may come up with options that please nearly everyone and measurably increase safety and comfort even for people whose night vision is not perfect.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby ArturoBandini » Sun Dec 18, 2011 8:13 pm

fennel wrote:I'm not so sure streetligts improve safety. Do criminals have better night vision than law-abiding citizens? Do criminals eat more carrots?
I'd say that most people's day vision (or better put, vision in well-lit conditions) is better than their night vision though. Whether streetlights improve safety though is probably a complicated issue and depends on the location.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby fennel » Sun Dec 18, 2011 8:27 pm

If the City really does take the considered approach that Sno mentions, I could well imagine it might be for the better. But I wish they'd first apply that approach to existing streetlights. I have a Calvin-and-Hobbes-ish Eye of Zorgon across the street from me. It gives the impression that I'm living at the perimeter of a Cold War era Air force base.
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Re: Lights on the Southwest Bike Path

Postby DCB » Sun Dec 18, 2011 9:04 pm

fennel wrote:I'm not so sure streetligts improve safety. Do criminals have better night vision than law-abiding citizens? Do criminals eat more carrots?

The safety issue is mainly making sure that bicyclists don't run into people and dogs. Maybe in an ideal world every vehicle would provide sufficient lighting on its own; let me know when they turn off the streetlights on the beltline.

Lighting probably does reduce some crime, though - not because criminals can see better, but because they rely on the element of surprise.
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