Last night while moving slowly through Newtonville at just past 7, I saw a trio of young women huddled in the middle of Walnut Street trying to cross at the crosswalk. The cars kept moving through the crosswalk illegally. But I don’t believe those cars acted out of ignorance of the law nor disrespect for the pedestrians, because the pedestrians could barely be seen.
I hardly could see them myself, since they were dressed entirely in black and masked by the glare of headlights coming right at them.
For most of the winter months, our little hamlet spends the majority of its days coated in darkness. Yet, our streetlights cast an appalling lack of light on our streets.
Of course, this sounds like a small quibble when you’re talking about being out and about at 11pm on a weeknight, when the streets are relatively empty, but when you’re talking about darkness at 4pm or even 6pm, when Newton’s villages are filled with pedestrians (many of them students) this poses a huge challenge. Add to the fact that as New Englanders we tend to dress in dark clothing, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Not long ago I was moving slowly through Newtonville at about 4:30pm when I was pulled over by a police officer. Apparently there was a person in the crosswalk on the other side of the road who I never saw. Between the long black wool coat and the oncoming headlights, everything was in shadow. When I protested to the police officer saying that the lighting was bad, he pointed to the dim streetlamp above and said “well, it’s right under a streetlight.” Technically, he was correct, but the only light that fell on the crosswalk was a dim, yellowish glow that only illuminated a portion of the street. Not nearly enough for safety. He let me off with a warning.
Add to this the fact that many of the crosswalks on Walnut Street and Centre Street do not have a coordinating traffic light. So these dark-clad pedestrians are left to make themselves known in the dark by easing out onto the street and hoping they’re seen by oncoming drivers, even as those drivers are distracted by oncoming headlights, bends in the road and other things (phones, kids, radio, etc.).
The picture above was taken on a Friday night in Newtonville, a typical evening. C you see the pedestrians? Granted, those people are moving between crosswalks (another problem) but between the dark clothes and the glare of headlights, it’s tough to see. The other village centers, namely Newton Centre, Nonantum, Waban and Newton Corner, face the same problem. Newton Highlands seems to have a bit more illumination to my eye.
It’s not just pedestrians who are at risk. On Superbowl Sunday, as the Seahawks were watching the clock tick away before the confetti fell for their Superbowl victory, I never saw the crater on Washington Street that destroyed two of my tires. The streets, shrouded in shadow, left me no ability to see nuance in the road.
The problem is certainly fixable, though not unique. Other communities face similar issues, but a place like Cambridge seems to have solved it. Aside from the rare power failure, that city manages to illuminate its streets pretty effectively. Why can’t we do the same?