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University of Minnesota Duluth senior Leif Halvorson uses a light meter to measure the amount of light in an area on East Fourth Street near 21st Avenue East as Rachel Dahl, also a senior, records the information in the background. The two were working in a group doing field work for their University of Minnesota Duluth urban ecology geography class. (Amanda Hansmeyer/Duluth News Tribune)

UMD students map Duluth's lighting levels

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DULUTH - Near the corner of North 19th Avenue East and East Fourth Street in Duluth might be a place where a buddy system is in order.

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University of Minnesota Duluth students with meters mapping light posts in the city's Endion neighborhood last week found that light intensity dropped below safe levels less than 20 feet from the post at that corner.

"This is one of the worst ones," said Leif Halvorson, who was in charge of the light meter.

A UMD urban ecology class is taking on the giant task of mapping each light post in the city to determine whether there is a correlation between poor lighting and crime -- and also to see where light pollution exists. The project will continue next year. The class plans to give its results to the city.

"Students are worried about some darker areas around campus; they've observed certain kinds of illegal activities in and around campus in dark spots," said Olaf Kuhlke, associate professor and chairman of the UMD geo-graphy department, who is teaching the class. "The goal is to make people aware of dark areas they can avoid."

Duluth police maps of street-crime locations will be used with the results. Kuhlke said less than 3 percent of crime happens when light intensity is above 20 lux on a light meter. A lux is a unit for measuring illumination. Level 10 is considered safe because faces are visible, but below five is considered unsafe, he said. Thursday night, students found that light dropped to five lux a short distance from a couple of Endion corners, while other areas were well within safe ranges.

"Under five is really problematic; it's when crime rapidly shoots up," Kuhlke said.

A lack of proper lighting along streets with sidewalks also can cause walkers to trip over branches and cracks, students said.

With better lighting, "people would be encouraged to walk more or bike," said Molly Ciaccio, a senior. "In the long run, it could be a lot more sustainable."

Ciaccio doesn't think of Duluth as a crime-ridden city. She delivers pizza for Domino's and said she never has felt unsafe.

Senior Tom Parent said some students still feel insecure around campus when using walking paths or parking lots that aren't well-lighted. He cited several student muggings in college-area neighborhoods within the past year.

"Thieves and muggers choose dark places to hide," he said. "Light is nighttime safety prevention."

Mayor Don Ness said Duluth police would be interested in analyzing the results. But he said it might be difficult to separate true correlations and anomalies.

"You can have a well-lighted area where there's lots of crime," he said. But he noted that the data could show patterns. He said he also was interested in seeing where street lighting could be made more modern and efficient.

Light posts on Duluth streets that appeared inefficient Thursday night may need replacement bulbs or cleaning, Ness said.

Kuhlke hopes the project will tell the city where it can reduce lighting, where lights can be shut off at certain times to save energy and where light posts could be added.

"Fear of darkness is a big issue, and it modifies people's behavior," he said.

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