Street lights have been paving the way for pedestrians in some form since the fourth century. They’ve changed drastically over the years, as you’d expect, today switching to highly efficient LED street lights that are set to save councils millions of pounds per year.
They’re an integral part of life nowadays. We’re all wary of going down dark alleys at night and many drivers are extra cautious on unlit roads. With most cities now supporting LED, we decided to take an in-depth look into street light usage across the UK, to see how they affect public safety and uncover which are the best-lit cities.
A Brief History of Street Lighting in the UK
Street lighting may have been first ordered in London back in 1417. According to reports, the Mayor of London at the time, Sir Henry Barton, passed a law that every home should have a lantern hanging outside during winter evenings.
By the early 1800s the first gas lights were in place in London, along Pall Mall. Preston became the first city outside of the capital to to enjoy gas lighting from 1825 and by 1878 electric began to take over.
The Thames Embankment received the first arc lamps, with Newcastle claiming the first street to be lit by incandescent light bulbs and subsequently was the first city in the world to be fully lit.
Today, street lights are in place nationwide using either high-intensity discharge or high-pressure sodium lamps, although there is a major movement towards switching to LED lighting.
Britain By Light
Tens of thousands of street lights now line the roads and avenues of Britain in order to guide travellers safely and add security to an area.
In order to learn how effective they are, we studied the nation’s street lights and crime rates within an area in a bid to see where, if any, the correlations lay.
The Number of Street Lights in Cities
|District||Population||No. of Street Lights||Street Lights per Square km||People per Street Light|
Bradford is among the best-lit areas in the country, with an estimated 932 street lights per square kilometre, equating to one for every 8.8 people. The city spends around £3.7million per year on lighting, and is expected to have its lighting fully replaced within the next five years.
Work began on that back in 2016, with the council having already erected over 3,000 new energy efficient street lights.
Over the Pennines it’s a different story with Manchester’s lighting covering every square kilometre with just 89 lamp posts.
The city of Hull has one of the best number of street lights compared with population, equating to one light for every 7.2 people. The London Borough of Ealing in West London had the largest from the study at 4.7 street lights per person.
How Has This Affected Public Safety?
It goes without saying that when in a fully-lit area we feel a little safer. In fact, research undertaken by the University of Granada, Spain, found that people feel even safer with white light from LED lighting, compared to the yellow tints of the old sodium lamps.
But do well-lit areas really see lower crime rates? We took a look at the number of crimes reported for burglary, theft from the person and anti-social behaviour offences across 2017.
|District||Population||People per Street Light||Muggings (2017)||People per Each Mugging|
There does seem to be a correlation between the number of muggings and the number of street lights per person in an area.
Bromley in Kent has a population of just over 12 per street light, with muggings affecting just one person in every 2,999. Residents of Stoke, Swansea and Bradford also have a lower chance of falling victim to theft from their person, while the likes of Manchester and Liverpool, who have a larger number of people per street light, have the highest chance of being mugged.
Birmingham was one anomaly recognised within the full results. Despite having just one street light for every 25.7 people, the chance of being mugged was at only one in 1,358.3 people.
Elsewhere, the London Borough of Barnet continued the trend with one streetlight for every 13.7 people and a one in 2,608.8 chance of being mugged.
The statistics do suggest that the better lit the area, the less chance of being the victim of mugging. The anomalies within the data tend to be major cities such as Birmingham, and also Leeds, which had a lower number of muggings than the people per street light ratio would suggest.
|District||Population||People per Street Light||Burglaries||People per No. of Burglaries|
The statistics on burglary show a much more mixed bag, suggesting that well-lit areas don’t necessarily have a large bearing on burglary.
In fact, Manchester, which has one of the highest rates of mugging, has one of the lowest chances of suffering burglary. The same applied to Leeds which also has a high number of people to street lights.
Interestingly, Ealing, which has a people per street light of just 4.7, suffered from 2,259 burglaries in 2017. That worked out at a burglary for every 50.4 people. It can be argued that this would be most dictated by other factors including the age of an area’s population or the affluence of a region.
|District||Population||People per Street Light||ASBO Offences||People Per ASBO Offences|
Like with burglary, anti-social behaviour also isn’t limited to darkened areas, with both Manchester and Leeds having an anti-social behaviour order per 179.7 and 158.3 people respectively.
Ealing again had a high number of ASBO offences, with one for every 12.8 people, while despite Birmingham having one the largest number of people per street light, the Second City is among the cities to have the lowest number of anti-social behaviour crimes compared to its population.
As mentioned earlier in the text, we as a nation feel safer when the street is well-lit, and the results do back up the reasons as to why.
The only crime studied that is clearly affected by the number of lights on the street is theft from a person, a crime that would put someone through a serious ordeal.
While burglary and anti-social behaviour are not directly related to the number of street lights (although it would be interesting to delve into the latter more) there is a clear trend in the correlation between muggings and street lights.
As LED lighting begins to brighten streets even more, making people feel even safer, it’ll be interesting to see how these figures change in the coming years, and whether good lighting can continue to bring down crime rates in cities.