Safer Nights, Happier Citizens: Why Cities Should Keep Lights on This Winter

Jean Luc Lambert - Schréder Urban Deco Business Segment Manager
Jean-Luc Lambert
Urban Deco Business Segment Manager

Across Europe, cities are adapting the way they use light as a response to soaring energy prices caused by the situation in Ukraine. Many cities are turning off lights on monuments, but some are going even further and turning off all street lighting at certain points of the night. 

At Schréder, we believe this is a bad idea - not just because we’re a lighting company - but because

  • with the right lighting, energy use is massively reduced so savings from switching off are minimal and
  • keeping the lights on makes cities safer and has tangible health benefits for citizens.

In this blog, we’ll explore the health and safety benefits of keeping cities lit this winter.

Safer Streets, Sustainable Lighting

People are much more likely to venture out on winter nights if they feel secure. That means clear visibility of obstacles, street furniture and other pedestrians, especially with residual concerns about keeping a safe distance from others in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

It also means making roads safe: up to two times more pedestrians are killed on the road during the winter months than between March and June. Dark lighting conditions make pedestrians less visible to other road users, resulting in more frequent and serious pedestrian crashes.

In the Brussels region of Belgium, a decision to reduce lighting hours for public streetlights was recently reversed after much criticism, including from Brussels mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt (Groen), who pointed out that darkness in the morning hours is more likely to result in accidents. The Cyclists' Union expressed satisfaction about the reversal this previous agreement to keep the lights off for longer, pointing out that cyclists are also at a greater risk of accidents with reduced visibility.

Smart LEDs and intelligent control systems have completely transformed lighting technology in recent years. Cities can customise light for pedestrian crossings, major traffic junctions and cycle paths. And light levels, intensity and timing can be adapted to cut energy use and maintenance costs - without turning things completely dark.

Crossing Roads, Creating Spaces

With a simple switch to LED lighting, pedestrian crossings can be safely lit with a fraction of the energy it used to take. Local authorities in Geneva, Switzerland decided to take swift action when a 2019 census showed that the lighting on 19% of the pedestrian crossings on cantonal roads did not respect the required levels. 

They updated these points with the AMPERA luminaire, fitted with specific optics for pedestrian crossings, and cool white LEDs to further improve visibility. These highly efficient LED luminaires looked great, complied with the city’s directives - and reduced energy costs by 60%

Geneva has improved safety on pedestrian crossings with LED lighting that has reduced energy costs by 60%

In the Polish capital of Warsaw, the authorities carried out a Road Safety Audit in 2016 which showed that the risk of an accident increased by 30% at night, especially in built-up areas where there is a higher traffic density. This was, in part, attributed to a lack of clear visibility of pedestrians, so they launched a plan to upgrade the lighting on the pedestrian crossings.

Since then, we have worked with them to upgrade 1,600 pedestrian crossings throughout the city. The new lighting has created a safer, more comfortable and accessible night-time environment for people, and the number of pedestrian road fatalities has also decreased. Indeed, such is the success of the project, the city of Warsaw is one of the 3 finalists for the 2022 EU Urban Road Safety Award

Smart systems can change the game, as well. Over the border in Heiningen, Germany, the council wanted a lighting solution which reflected the fact that most of the time, it’s a small town with little traffic. Occasionally, however, the main road is a diversion when there are problems on the motorway, leading to a surge in traffic volume. We installed a smart lighting solution along this main road to dim the light when it’s quiet, saving energy while still providing a safe throughway for citizens.

The town of Heiningen has reduced its energy costs by over 50% while improving safety for citizens

Safer Streets, For Everyone

People are not all equal in the face of night-time risks. Women, those from minority backgrounds, and people who work night shifts are more likely to say they feel unsafe walking on the streets. Only 49% of women in the UK reported feeling safe walking in the dark, compared to 73% of men, according to this recent report. And some 85% of women and 77% of men believe better-lit streets could help improve safety for women, according to this yougov poll.

This is a global phenomenon: The University of Georgia Student Industry Fellows Program (SIFP) looked into how to improve campus safety, with a survey of over 700 students and people who use the campus regularly. They found that 38% of women sometimes feel unsafe on campus, a figure in line with surveys carried out by cities on this subject. 
They found that while lighting was a priority, students were also keen to see SOS buttons and cameras integrated into campus security systems. Lighting is a huge factor in how safe pedestrians feel, but with smart cities, lighting infrastructure can contribute much more than visibility, offering a wealth of security and connectivity options. Smart cities know better, and do better. Look at Vienna, where women are involved in planning decisions by design.

Integrating Safety, Going Beyond Lighting

Queens Square is a pedestrianised shopping zone in Crawley, a London dormitory town near to Gatwick Airport. Ten SHUFFLE smart poles were installed throughout the square to illuminate its key features and make the space more attractive. The poles not only provide effective energy-efficient LED lighting, but also include high-definition CCTV cameras, WiFi connectivity and an anemometer. By combining these features in one, unified column, it showed safer streets can look great, as well as saving energy.

SHUFFLE poles awere fitted with CCTV to enhance safety and well-being on Crawley Square

Further north in the UK, Nottingham Trent University teaches over 40,000 students based at five sites. To improve security, they are currently installing 11 SHUFFLE modules across the campus, each of which is linked to a Zenitel Intercom with voice and video links. Controlled by Schréder EXEDRA, and integrated into the university’s existing system, SHUFFLE modules work with customers’ unique requirements: the Schréder STUDIO team also did some redesign to incorporate earthing tabs and backboards for them.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Running is a tremendously popular form of exercise worldwide: in the US alone, 60 million people like to put on their trainers and pound the pavement. Turning the lights off basically stops vast numbers of people, particularly women, from getting their favourite workout done in the winter months. Local authorities should consider the consequences of reducing light levels very carefully when it comes to the impact on citizens’ health.
This applies to sports clubs, as well. Some are staying shut this winter, or risk declaring insolvency, due to energy costs. Some football clubs in the UK are moving match times so they can play in daylight. It doesn’t have to be like this: updating lighting in sports stadiums and training facilities can lead to energy savings of over 50%.
A.S. Houtain-Milanello football club plays in the provincial league in Liège, Belgium. It’s the epitome of grassroots football, with 350 members, youth teams and two pitches. The club had installed the floodlights in 2015, which were coming to the end of their working life.

AS Houtain football club can stay open all winter thanks to smart sports lighting that has reduced its electricity bill by over 50%

The club opted to install new LED lighting, reducing energy consumption by more than 50%. They require no pre-heating, and are managed by the Schréder ITERRA control system, which allows players to adapt light levels via the app on their smartphone for training and matches, and children’s sessions, where the full pitch isn’t required. It all adds up, saves them money and allows them to keep going through the winter.

The energy crisis is hitting towns and cities hard, but turning the lights off is a knee-jerk reaction with potential long-term consequences for safety, urban life and citizens' health. Before going to the dark side, it could be worth investing in smart lighting, to keep people healthier and happier this winter.

About the writer
Since he joined the company as a mechanical engineer in 1988, Jean-Luc has developed a wide range of urban lighting luminaires, always striving to improve design and efficiency. 
He has travelled the world, bringing a hands-on mentality to deliver the perfect solution for customers worldwide. There’s not a lot he doesn’t know about lighting! 

Connect with Jean-Luc on LinkedIn