Calls for warmer street lighting

By Rhonda Dredge

A new study has found that bright lights in the city can actually be disconcerting, making people feel unsafe as if the lighting is trying to cover up danger. 

This was one of the findings of a forum on safety for women last month, hosted by independent lobby group National Council of Women (NCW).

The NCW meets monthly at Ross House in Flinders Lane and posts its gritty results on the street. 

Experts on women’s safety spoke at the forum, including Hoa Yang, a design consultant with Arup Lighting in the Docklands, who talked about the new human-centred approach to lighting. 

“The current Australian lighting standards for pedestrians are based on pre-LED technology and are in need of a re-think,” Ms Yang said.

“The standards revolve around the amount of light falling on a surface, and do not consider the perception of brightness and experience of the larger urban context by its users.”

NCW has uploaded the message into a window display at Ross House, which will be up for a month.

“We’re concerned about the safety of women and girls generally at night,” NCW secretary Pam Hammond said. “We’re an advocacy group. We don’t have the power to physically change anything. I like the fact that we can look at big issues and can put resolutions to state parliament.”

Ms Hammond said she was surprised to learn that glary lights feel unsafe. “We have a role to monitor lighting,” she said. 

The study, which was conducted with Monash University, analysed lighting measurements across 80 different sites in the City of Melbourne; the largest sample of night time analysis done globally.

Lights that are visible from the air are ones that shine up rather than down, wasting their wattage rather than directing it into making places feel safer.

People in the CBD are particularly sensitive to lighting. After the recent murder in Celestial Avenue, CitiPower received complaints that the lights weren’t working. One café worker said the lane had been dark for two weeks. 

Ms Yang said that new and retro-fitted lighting opportunities were happening all around the world, presenting an opportunity for city design to use light to curate positive experiences.

“The tendency in designing for public spaces is to choose a worst-case scenario by stakeholders to de-risk, too often resulting in poor lit outcomes,” she said.

“This design approach often leads to over lighting spaces resulting in negative experiences of the space due to glare, also contributing to light pollution and excess energy consumption.” 

“Safe perceptions of spaces correlate generally with a higher level of colour rendering, suggesting that distinguishing shapes and colours more accurately make people perceive spaces as safer.”

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