Some neighborhoods get crime-fighting LED streetlights, but others must wait

Community leaders can ask for the new bright lighting, but there’s no timeline for rollout.

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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All Southwest Philadelphia resident Luzenia Lovett wants for her birthday is a set of new streetlights.

Lovett, who celebrated her 50th last Friday, is tired of poor lighting in her neighborhood. The lamps are dim and often flickering, she said, and one won’t turn on at all. Despite a handful of calls to 311, Lovett can’t seem to get any movement on repair.

As block captain of the 2100 block of South 60th Street, she wants to shed some new light on her community. Specifically, LED light.

In August, Lovett found out via an Inquirer story that Philly is replacing 100,000 of its regular streetlights with brighter LED bulbs. Ideally, the switch will reduce both the city’s carbon footprint and its electric bill.

Lovett wants in. She reached out to Billy Penn, asking how she might be able to make it happen, writing:

I would like to know if you have any info on how I can apply for this lighting. My area is infested with crime. The neighborhood in which I live would really benefit from this upgrade and is needed immediately.

For Lovett, we come bearing both good news and bad: You can apply for the LED lights — but there’s no guarantee you’ll ever actually get them.

Some ‘high crime’ areas already have new lights

In a city constantly rattled by gun violence, Lovett’s community is no exception. Southwest Philadelphia alone saw 13 homicides in 2017, the most recent year for which neighborhood-level data is available, up from seven murders the year before.

And this year to date, Southwest has recorded more than 1,000 instances of crime overall, according to Philly police records.

“There is a lot of crime in this neighborhood,” said Lovett, who also serves as a committeeperson for the 40th Ward, 9th Division. “I want to feel safe parking anywhere on my block, but that’s not always the case.”

The LED streetlights, currently being phased in by the Streets Department, might be part of the solution.

Although the primary goal of the modernization plan is to further the city’s environmental goals and benefit its pocketbook (in the long run), Philly officials say that the brilliant bulbs can also serve as a response to violent crime.

“We have installed the equivalent of 150-watt LEDs in some areas, Kensington and North Philly, high crime areas,” Richard Montanez, deputy Streets Department commissioner, told the Inquirer. “Both the police and the community have asked us to light it up more than just the 100-watt equivalent.”

As mother of a teenage son and grandmother to several young kids, Lovett takes safety seriously. The shadowy conditions intensify her fear she’ll become a victim in her own community.

“Being a woman, you don’t want to walk in the dark down the street,” she told Billy Penn. “I live in a high-crime neighborhood. I think we would really benefit from new lighting.”

Don’t expect a timeline

So can Lovett expect an upgrade? Maybe.

The Streets Department welcomes individual requests for the new lanterns, per spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco. Appeals for the shining bulbs can be submitted via email to csstreets@phila.gov — or you can go straight to your district councilperson.

But be warned: The city agency isn’t making any promises on the speed of its response time.

“The Streets Department cannot give a timeline of when they will be converted,” Cofrancisco wrote in an email. “As you can imagine, they have been getting several requests!”

Consider the can of worms opened. Lovett said she’s not planning on taking no for an answer.

“I’ll call whoever I need to call. What do I need to do? Should I start a petition?” Lovett asked eagerly. “I’m going to do whatever I need to do to fight to get this.”

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