Lake lights not safer
Opposition Coalition Ministers and candidates announced that, if elected, they would provide funds to pay for lights on the walking/running track around Lake Wendouree . This could be viewed by a sceptic as an overt public relations exercise to win votes in Ballarat at the forthcoming State election.
The announcement stressed the aim is to encourage fitness in our community as more people will use the track at night if lit as it will be deemed safer. This may intuitively seem to be correct but evidence from several studies and trials show that the opposite is correct. Lights make paths more dangerous as users are more vulnerable to criminal interference as they will be more visible.
Naturally, policies to encourage fitness in the community are to be applauded but this policy is certainly not the way to do it. It has been estimated that only 2,000 people ever use the footpath in the dark and then by no means every night. Are parents really going to run around the lake at night with children in prams? I doubt it. At that time, parents will be looking forward to a quiet rest and time for themselves with their offspring asleep in their beds. Nor will they be encouraging older children to use the track in the dark hours as it is likely to be dangerous.
I suspect there is no data to support an increased use of a lit track at night so the contention that this will increase fitness levels in the community is flawed. I am particularly concerned that an accurate measure of benefits from lights on the path has not been done. No evidence has been provided. In published peer reviewed studies overseas the conclusions were that, if anything, lights increase crime rates or at least have no effect. This is because potential criminals can more easily observe vulnerable victims because standing lights make users more visible.
Unintended consequences are rife. Wildlife, and that includes some endangered species such as the native water rat and its food, are adversely affected by the nights being lit. Their diurnal rhythms are disrupted by lights. Even trees are dependent for survival on an intrinsic diurnal rhythm which means they need several hours of darkness every 24 hours to flourish. The cost in environmental damage imposed on the conservation values of the lake might well be greater than the cost of the lights.
After the release of the last version of the Lake Wendouree Management Plan (2017), it was announced that a trial of lights would be made but there has never been any announcement of the experimental design, timetable, or results of the trial. It is surely unwise to announce that lights will be approved and funded to a massive $1.7 million, without the promised trial on the effect on lights on fauna and flora.
The community will be safer without lights and the environment protected. In supporting this project, the local community was, I would suggest, unaware of the evidence that lights do not protect them but will make them more vulnerable. There are better, safer ways to enhance fitness in the community.
Penelope Greenslade, Soldiers Hill.
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