By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — People using dark alleys to walk to downtown businesses will get lights to show them the way.
David Van Dam, aide to Mayor James Fiorentini, told city councilors this week that he will get back to them in three weeks with a plan and timetable for installing lights in the alleyways.
Van Dam’s comments came after councilors criticized the mayor’s office for failing to respond to their eight-month-old request that lighting and possibly video cameras be installed in the alleys for the safety and convenience of residents and visitors.
The idea is to make the much-traveled shortcuts leading from the edge of the business district to busy parts of downtown more appealing for pedestrians and less so for criminals.
“These paved alleys are shortcuts to Washington and Wingate Street, but they are not lit,” Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said. “There are people who want to use the alleys to get to the restaurants and lofts, but they aren’t comfortable walking through dark alleys at night.”
Daly O’Brien first proposed the idea back in May, suggesting the city try to partner with property owners to install solar or motion-activated lights on privately-owned buildings. At the time, other councilors said the city should also consider installing video cameras in the alleys for the safety of pedestrians.
But since then, the mayor has yet to give the council an official response on whether he is going to make it happen.
“Between the parking fees and the meals tax, we should have enough money to do something,” Daly O’Brien said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “In eight months, we’ve done nothing and the mayor has not told us what he’s going to do or not do. It shouldn’t be that complicated. The mayor has had more than enough time on this.”
Councilor Michael McGonagle, who owns a business downtown on Merrimack Street, said he has heard talk of lighting the alleys for many years.
“Why can’t the city partner with a couple building owners and get this done?” McGonagle asked. “I’m tired of hearing about it and I’d like an answer. And if the mayor says no, then we’ll find a way to do it.”
“It’s a safety issue, and not just because someone could trip in a dark alley,” Councilor William Macek said. “It’s also a way to avoid crimes than can take place in dark alleys.”
Van Dam said Fiorentini supports the idea, but needed time to find the money to make it happen. At Tuesday’s meeting, Van Dam told councilors he would “take on the project” and get back to them.
“Let me get pricing (for the lights) and I’ll come back in three weeks,” he said.
In an interview last summer, Fiorentini said he supports putting lights and video cameras in the alleys, but that he didn’t think the city would be able to afford it anytime soon.
“Probably not this summer,” Fiorentini said last August. “But it’s a good goal. Maybe it’s something we can use some of the parking revenue for.”
In August, the city began charging for parking on streets and in lots near the new parking garage, in part to encourage more motorists to use the facility, where people pay to park. The city has already received a $100,000 payment from the company running the paid parking program. A portion of that money is supposed to be used to make downtown cleaner and safer.
Most of the alleys where Daly O’Brien wants lights are within a two-block radius of the parking garage, but she said the city should also consider installing lights in the alley that leads from the public parking lot behind The Tap restaurant to Washington Street.
Councilor Colin LePage said the city should also look into the possibility of installing lighting along the new rail trail hiking and biking area, opposite the downtown on the Bradford side of the Merrimack River.