Lighting cycle paths sensitively

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 104.

Should the busway cycleway be lit by solar cat’s eyes (left) or white LEDs (right), as used at Cambridge Leisure Park?
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent

There has been more talk recently about lighting the unlit sections of the busway cycleway. It is pretty appalling that such a key cycle route was not lit in the first place, but we are where we are. Full-height lighting would cause light pollution along the many rural sections of the route. There is certainly a need for balance here and a need to recognise the sensitivity or otherwise of the surrounding landscape, be it urban or more rural.

Solar cat’s-eye lighting is being discussed by some councillors. However, this type of lighting doesn’t actually light up a path. It demarcates the edge of the path by use of powerful white LEDs, but nothing more. In fact it can often dazzle people, reducing night vision. That said, this can sometimes be useful or better than an unlit path – though members of the campaign are 50:50 in terms of liking or disliking it. Nor are LEDs a substitute for white lines, possibly using reflective paint, which would be much cheaper.

One alternative, which I have strongly advocated to anyone who has asked, is the kind of ground-based lighting found at Cambridge Leisure Park. It is powered lighting which means that it does need cables fitted, but crucially it only lights the path and not the surrounding area, so is more suitable for rural areas.

The standard objection to actual lights that are not high up is that they become subject to vandalism. However, this argument is fallacious given that these lights at Cambridge Leisure Park have been in place for over five years now, in a busy area, and yet seem to be very robust. In rural areas the light levels could be lower, saving energy. Perhaps an innovator could improve the concept further by making them detect an approaching cyclist (by infrared or sound perhaps?) and perhaps making an LED version that would probably last the night if solar-powered with such detection.

What do you think?

Martin Lucas-Smith