From darkness to lights

Columbia village leaders are seeking ways to better illuminate their neighborhoods

February 19, 2006|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

Bill Woodcock, chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board, believes that the community would benefit from additional lighting, especially near Oakland Mills Village Center and the pathway leading to the U.S. 29 footbridge that connects to Town Center.

"The overarching theme is that we want the lighting around the village center to be more attractive and give a perception of safety as well," Woodcock said. "We also talked about lighting the pathways because people would enjoy the pathways in the evening hours."

Heading those efforts will be village resident Paul Geraci, a Department of Defense employee who recently was appointed chairman of the Oakland Mills Safety Committee.

Geraci's committee is one of the groups responsible for the revitalization of Oakland Mills, a community that officials say is rebounding from its image as a location of drug-dealing and other crimes. Recent police statistics show that crime has dropped overall in the community.

Geraci said that in addition to the village center and pathways, the subtle nighttime lighting in some neighborhoods needs to be changed.

Remembering when he moved into Oakland Mills years ago, Geraci said, "I have to say it was charming."

But crime and other mischief occurring under the shroud of darkness have prompted him to want to make the neighborhood safer after sunset.

Next month, Geraci will distribute a questionnaire to Oakland Mills residents, asking for their help in identifying underlighted areas and the best way to improve the lighting.

"People often joke that every neighborhood in Columbia looks a lot alike, but, in the dark, it looks even more alike," Geraci said, mentioning the similar streets with blue street signs and homes decorated in earth tones.

Complaints about limited lighting in Columbia has echoed around the planned community since its birth in the 1960s. But there have been improvements through the years.

In 1968, the Rouse Co,, the developer of Columbia, added 30-feet- high, 250- to 400-watt street lights on main roadways such as Little Patuxent Parkway and Twin Rivers Road. Before that, the only light came from passing automobiles or the small, natural gas-powered lamps required in front of each residence.

The gas-powered lamps were quaint, but they became burdensome in the 1980s as rising gas prices forced many residents to turn them off. Some neighborhoods were left in the dark until residents had their gas lamps converted to electricity. And still today, many front-yard lamps in Columbia remain off.

Wilde Lake, Columbia's oldest village, is especially dim these days, said Bill Santos, vice chairman of the village board and a longtime resident.

"It's fairly dark because we have mature trees that block out sunlight, and the trees also block out the [street] lights," Santos said. "The lights are not shining as much because there is just more green in the village."

Wilde Lake officials recently asked the county to look into adding lighting.

Years ago, Long Reach officials asked the county for more lights on Tamar Drive, a major roadway that winds through the village.

"The lights were recognized to be no longer sufficient," said Sarah Uphouse, the village manager. "It was more of a safety issue for the people that wanted to cross the street, and there were instances of people being hit while crossing the street."

The installation of lights on Tamar Drive was done through the county street light improvement program. The program adds lights to locations meeting certain guidelines. A key qualification is that the location must be on an arterial road.

Mark DeLuca, chief of the Traffic Engineering Division of the county Department of Public Works, said the county has a list of requests from all areas of the county.

"Street lights are just provided for vehicles on the road, and typically this has been the policy of the Department of Public Works for years," DeLuca said. "We have been sensitive to light pollution, and, keeping with that policy, we light intersections, curves ... and other obstructions."

DeLuca said the department is sensitive to Columbia's history of lighting.

"In Columbia, you would have that walkway light, and that would come on from dusk to dawn, and that is an item of Columbia as much as the community mailboxes," he said. "Those ideas are part of Columbia, and that is the reason why we have adopted the attitude of not overlighting."

But DeLuca said the department understands that some neighborhoods have more traffic than decades ago when limited lighting was sufficient.

"In the older neighborhoods of Columbia, there may be some areas that, given today's standards, we may be able to add infill lighting," he said.

Infill lighting means adding lights between existing light poles.

DeLuca said other solutions would be to change wattage of the bulbs or shield the light to prevent stray illumination.

Geraci said he plans to work with the county and the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. The utility offers an outdoor light program that installs lights in communities for a fee. In 2002, a townhouse community in Harper's Choice used the program to add lights.

Linda Foy, a BGE spokeswoman, said neighborhoods can contact their community association to file a formal request.

Geraci said any additional light is a good thing for the revitalization efforts of Oakland Mills.

"If we are beautifying this village as a whole, let's shine more light on that, not just during the day," he said.

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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