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“Myself and a friend went for a walk last night. We’d normally go into the park but we can’t anymore,” says Green Party Councillor Darcy Lonergan.
The Phoenix Park is too dark to walk after 5 pm because of dim lighting along the main road, Lonergan says.
“We ended up just walking through Phibsborough town,” she says.
Social Democrats Councillor Cat O’Driscoll encountered a similar problem when she used to live on Mountjoy Street in the city centre.
“I should have been able to walk home most of the time,” says O’Driscoll. But “I would have paid for taxis instead”.
Councillors on the newly formed women’s committee are pushing for an increase and improvements in existing public lighting in order to make people feel safe.
Lonergan chairs Dublin City Council’s first cross-party women’s committee. “We’ve started researching into lighting in regards to safety issues and getting proper lighting around bus stops and around parks,” she says.
O’Driscoll says: “If we can put so much money into lighting up the city centre for Christmas then we can put money into lighting my way home so that I and many others feel safe.”
Can’t See In Front of Me
A 2015 study on sexual harassment against women and girls in public spaces in Dublin identified a lack of lighting and signage as key problems for women during day and night.
The study looked at the north side of the city from Heuston Station to Abbey Street.
“There are many badly lit laneways along the research site which women feel very uncomfortable walking past,” the report said.
The worst section of the research site, according to the report, was identified as the space around Benburb Street and Montpelier Hill, which was described as a “total disaster”.
The lighting along Chesterfield Avenue, the main road in Phoenix Park is low because of the gas bulbs in the street lights, Lonergan says.
“I wouldn’t necessarily be afraid of being attacked,” Lonergan says. But “I genuinely can’t see in front of me. I’m afraid I’m going to bump into someone”.
O’Driscoll says that she feels uncomfortable standing at poorly lit bus stops. “Someone could be coming very close to you before you can see them.”
The council currently maintains around 47,000 street lights, according to the 2021 draft budget.
In 2018, it looked after 46,200 street lights according to its draft budget for 2019. That’s an increase of 800 new street lamps since 2018.
The council has set standards when it comes to the provision of public lighting. For example, there are rules around how bright a light bulb must be.
“All new and replacement lighting sources throughout the Dublin City area shall be LED luminaires,” the council lighting standards say. O’Driscoll says she would like to introduce seasonal lighting.
“This might be lighting that comes on at 4 o’clock and then turns off at 8pm,” O’Driscoll says. “I’m not looking for us to contribute to light pollution.”
Lonergan says: “I’m not looking for more lighting, I’m looking for better lighting.”
There is plenty of lighting out there that doesn’t harm wildlife or isn’t as invasive as certain LED lights, she says.
The Office of Public Works (OPW), which looks after the Phoenix Park, could also provide additional lighting like what they had in the Phoenix Park in previous years, Lonergan says.
“They brought generators in because it was so dark that people couldn’t get from the car park into the zoo,” Lonergan says.
But this year this additional lighting is gone because of Covid-19, says Lonergan.
OPW Chief Park Superintendent Margaret Gormley told Lonergan at a Central Area Committee meeting on Tuesday that this additional lighting was currently under review.
“It was quite extensive in the light pollution that it provided,” Gormley said.
Gormley said at Tuesday’s meeting: “ There are no public lighting standards for parks in Ireland. Most parks in Ireland are closed at night. There’s not a policy to have public parks open at night.”
Between the Cracks
People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh has been trying to get better lighting installed along the Grand Canal between Dolphins Barn and Bluebell for six years, she says.
“On the north side of the canal that is the responsibility of Waterways Ireland. The council has already extended lighting along the south side of the canal,” she says.
There is not enough lighting in some areas along the canal and in other parts the public lighting is too dim, MacVeigh says.
“There seems to be some kind of blockage from Waterways Ireland in getting anything done between Portobello and Bluebell. Everything from getting crossing at the road, getting cycle lanes, getting lighting,” MacVeigh says.
A spokesperson for Waterways Ireland says that the agency manages 1,000km of inland waterways of which over 450km have towpaths.
“Due to their mainly rural nature and to the potential environmental impacts, public lighting is not a standard feature of the provision,” they said.
Waterways Ireland generally liaises with the local authority on issues around public lighting, the spokesperson said, by email. “[…] Any identified public lighting improvements are installed and maintained by the local authority.”
“The OPW has no plans to install additional lighting in the Phoenix Park,” Gormley said at the meeting.
“Artificial lighting is having a very negative impact on nocturnal pollinating species,” Gormley said.
Lonergan said that she was only looking for changes to lighting on Chesterfield Avenue. “It already has cars. It already has headlights so I don’t think the wildlife would be coming that far in.”
“I think we need to do a bit more work in convincing the OPW,” Lonergan said in an email on Thursday.