Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Yet More Streetlight Nonsense


Just yesterday I was complaining about the lack of stupid scaremongering articles in the S&E of late. I even said I wanted "something about scary loud noises caused by kids exploding soda bottles, or about unlit streetlamps coming to life and killing everyone."

Obviously, Jeff McMenemy is a devoted reader, because today he delivers another steaming pile of stupid about streetlights. To wit: Editorial: No fiscally bright side to turning off streetlights.

Having had several months to refine his arguments down into a light paste, let's see if he does any better with the scary "Unlit streetlights will doom us all!" rhetoric.

It doesn't start off very well:
Leominster Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella made it clear before he recently released his fiscal 2010 budget that he would not cut core city services, and we applauded the mayor for producing a budget that didn't call for any layoffs in the middle of a recession, although it did include a 2.5 percent tax hike.

That's why we were disappointed to learn that his budget does call for turning off about 200 of the city's 3,000 streetlights, in a move that would save about $20,000, according to Department of Public Works Director Patrick LaPointe, who talked about the plan during a budget hearing Monday.
Hilariously, McMenemy has just falsified his own title. Saving twenty grand is definitely a "fiscally bright side to turning off streetlights."

Following this poor start, the editorial includes quotes from Leominster city officials talking about how they're going to be careful about which lights are included in the less than 7% of the city's streetlights that they're considering shutting off. Which is reasonable, but I'm more interested in the arguments against turning them off at all.

Like this:
Turning off streetlights is a bad idea for many reasons. First, it makes the city less safe, both from a crime standpoint and just for kids playing at night or residents walking, jogging or bicycling.
Well, that's an interesting argument by assertion. Too bad it's not supported by facts. The evidence itself is inconclusive at best, which may be why the FBI doesn't list lighting under its review of variables affecting crime.

Two can play this game! I assert that leaving 93% of Leominster's streetlights on constitutes an attractive nuisance for invasion by space aliens. If they were to turn off all the streetlights, then the alien invaders would have more difficulty finding the town from their hiding place in the troposphere.

In other words, turn off all the streetlights or get ready for a lot of anal probes.

You've been warned!
When lights are turned off near homes, the value of the homes can also drop.
Can they?

I don't actually know, but probably. Lots of things can happen. That doesn't mean they do, and some quick searching didn't lead me to any evidence that turning off street lights makes home values drop. Admittedly, such evidence would be almost impossible to collect. Home values are affected by a lot of things, and I'm betting that an unlit street light is pretty unimportant in the bigger picture. But who knows?

It's probably not going out too far on a limb to assume that McMenemy didn't even bother with this sort of quick search, so we have another argument by assertion. There are few people whose fact-free assertions you should trust less than McMenemy's, so I guess this one fails too.

Perhaps another?
And even in great neighborhoods, fewer streetlights can encourage more property crimes, even if it's just car break-ins.
Okay, yeah, every one of these claims is an argument by assertion.

This one is a throwback to the first crappy argument. Less streetlights equals more crime. This assertion is still not supported by the evidence, so let's move on.
And turning off streetlights sends the clear message to residents and businesses that the city is in trouble, which Leominster is not.
No it doesn't. Most people wouldn't even notice this small number of streetlights being off. Futhermore, only a lunatic jumps from "the city shut off a few street lights to save money" to "OMG Leominster is DOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED!!!"

If streetlights and crime are as tightly connected as McMenemy seems to believe, then we should be able to eliminate crime just by adding ridiculous numbers of streetlights so that everything is lit up. After all, it's not like crimes ever occur during the day.

Oh, wait. The FBI disagrees.
# Offenses for which time of occurrence was known showed that 57.4 percent of burglaries took place during the day and 42.6 percent at night.

# Offenses for which time of occurrence was known showed that more residential burglaries (63.6 percent) occurred during the daytime while 56.4 percent of nonresidential burglaries occurred during nighttime hours.

Dang. I guess we'd better start keeping street lights on all day.