WASHINGTON - You may not give much thought about street lights until the sun goes down, but we all rely on them. However, one community activist said there are so many street lights not working around the nation's capital that it is putting a lot of us at risk.
"Technology and the wiring is 50 years or older, so what you are seeing is an increase in the breakdown of the street lights," said Terry Lynch, the executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations in Washington D.C. "They are breaking down more and more often."
Over the last month and a half, Lynch has been going for nighttime walks in areas affected by recent crimes that include fatal shootings and sexual assaults. He does not like what he is finding.
"In Georgetown, we had a series of five sexual assaults," Lynch said. "At four of the locations, there were street lights out on those very blocks."
He added, "This past week, tragically, a young man was shot I believe in the 2300 block of 11th Street. And sure enough, there were street lights out right there by Cardozo High School on 11th Street [and] 13th Street right where this gentleman died."
Armed with a pen, notebook and camera, Lynch estimates in the last six weeks that he has found and reported more than 100 street lights not working across the city. He said the problem is widespread on main roads and he has not even begun to look at side streets or alleys.
"Right now, [the city is] still relying on John and Jane Citizen to call it in," said Lynch. "Can you believe that? Here it is in 2016, they don't know what street lights are out. In this day and age, there is no excuse for street lights being out.
"They have technology available at the parking meter when you are there for five minutes too long, they get you ticketed right away. You're speeding too much - boom - they have the technology. They put it into the revenue generators like parking meters, ticket enforcement. They haven't done that with street lights. We are dealing with dated technology and it is a safety issue."
Lynch is calling on District government to address what he calls a major concern. He is recommending a 30-day citywide sweep to return all lights to working order and he thinks the city should start using modern technology that alerts them immediately when a light goes out so they can repair it within 48 hours.
The District Department of Transportation said it monitors 71,000 street lights monthly and tries to replace bulbs that go out within five days. It also relies on residents to tell them when the lights are out. DDOT said people can report a street light outage by calling 311.
DDOT is also doing a citywide system assessment right now and expect results in a few weeks.