A Borough Council debate on adding more lights to the Highlands neighborhood wrapped Monday as it decided to pursue the lighting options already covered in the borough’s lighting policy.
The issue was raised May 4, when University Park Undergraduate Association Vice President Terry Ford explained to the council that for the past few years, the UPUA had received complaints from students that the downtown Highlands area is “excessively” dark at night and they don’t feel safe walking through those areas.
The UPUA, teamed with other student organizations, went on a walking tour of the neighborhood to identify trouble areas in November 2014, he said. He later toured the area with the Highlands Civic Association and borough staff.
The UPUA devised a list of six areas in the Highlands — including three alleyways — they believe to be dark and dangerous to students, he said, adding that the cost of lighting the six areas would total about $17,000.
“It’s not so much about cost or crime statistics,” he said on May 4, “but about making students feel more safe in the community.”
At the time, Borough Council directed staff to examine the borough’s lighting policy and provide some crime statistics for the borough and the troubled areas.
According to the National Citizen Survey, State College residents reported high feelings of safety in their neighborhood, safety in downtown and an overall feeling of safety. Seven personal injury or property crimes occurred in borough alleyways, Police Chief Tom King said — five in the Holmes-Foster neighborhood and two in the Highlands.
Council had also requested data on the efficacy of the streetlights installed along the 300-600 blocks of South Garner Street in 2004. According to data given to council, there were 171 incidents from July 1999 to June 2004. After the lights were installed, 189 incidents were reported from July 2004 to June 2009. Crimes against people, including rape, sexual assault, indecent assault and physical assault, also shifted from 10 from 1999 to 2004, to 12 from 2004 to 2009, to six from 2010 to 2015.
Half of council was in favor of the policy as it stands, which only addresses lighting along roads and sidewalks, while half was for revisiting the policy and possibly adding language concerning alleyways. Councilwoman Cathy Dauler said the policy the borough has is a good one and should stick with it, while Councilman Evan Myers said all members of the community, both residents and students, call for safety and if they are concerned about an issue, council should consider it.
Councilwoman Theresa Lafer was the most vocal in her opposition to the lights, echoing comments she made May 4.
“I’m frustrated that something as simple as lights comes around so often that people think they will fix things,” she said. “We are one of the three or four safest communities of our size in the country, and it’s not because of our lights.”
Myers warned against council coming down too hard on the students who proposed the project, saying harsh dialogue is not going to move the issue forward. Council President Jim Rosenberger called on Penn State leadership and student leaders to tackle the problem of a minority of students causing problems for the greater student body.
Borough Council agreed to examine the three proposed lights that are covered under borough policy — the mid-400 block of East Foster Avenue, the High Street/Holly Alley intersection, and the mid-600 block of Walnut street. Residents along those routes will be surveyed on if they would approve of an additional light being added to their area.