Fitchburg hopes to shed light on safety

By Anna Burgess, aburgess@sentinelandenterprise.com

UPDATED:   07/06/2015 11:11:12 AM EDT

FITCHBURG -- Some residents say they don't feel safe on the city's streets at night, but officials hope the installation of LED streetlights this summer make them feel much more at ease.

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the community project ReImagine North of Main, 92 percent of residents in the area north of Main Street feel safe walking the streets in their neighborhood during the day. But only 51 percent of these residents said they feel safe on the streets at night.

About 5,000 residents live in the area defined as "North of Main," and though only about 200 people were surveyed, organizers believe they have an accurate sample.

Project Manager Tom Skwierawski said the contrast between how people feel on the street during the day and how they feel at night says a lot.

"That was one of many statistics over the past two years that we thought was really interesting," Skwierawski said. "It spoke to this very interesting thing in the community where people feel pretty good about their neighborhood, but at times unsafe in it."

Resident Jeanne Klimowicz said she walks on Mechanic Street frequently at night and feels safe. But there are also streets in downtown Fitchburg and near the Intermodal Transportation Center, Klimowicz said, where she wouldn't want to walk after hours.

Resident DJ Loc, who was on Main Street Thursday afternoon with his son, John, said he believes the streets are unsafe both day and night.

"They need to get rid of all the drug dealers, get rid of all the heroin users," he said, adding that he wished his son wouldn't walk alone on the city streets. "They need to clean this place up."

Tricia Park, a postal delivery worker who lives on Marshall Street, said she wouldn't feel unsafe walking on her street at night, but only because she knows everyone in the neighborhood.

"I don't walk around at night, put it that way," she said. "I don't. My kids don't play outside."

The good news, however, is that the streets are about to become much less dark at night. This month and next, streetlights in Fitchburg are scheduled to be turned on with new LED lights, some of them after being off for years.

"People did mention the streetlights quite a bit (as a reason they feel less safe)," Skwierawski said. "A lot of people feeling unsafe really does come from areas that aren't well lit or lots that are vacant. We're hopeful that the streetlights will help, and I think when the city installs the new lights, people are going to be really satisfied with the results."

Klimowicz said she wishes it hadn't taken so long for the city to turn the lights back on, but she does think turning them back on will help people's perceptions of Fitchburg.

"I think they'll make a difference," she said. "And the lights they're putting in will pick up a lot more than regular lights, so I think that's going to be an advantage."

Park said she hopes when the streetlights are relit, the neighborhood is more welcoming at night.

Skwierawski said he's excited about the streetlight installation, so Reimagine North of Main can continue "focusing on the positives" of the area.

"I think that positive momentum is really a lot stronger than one statistic might be able to tell us," he said.

Read more:http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_28439109/fitchburg-hopes-shed-light-safety#ixzz4B64eeMHC