HAVERHILL — City councilors who want to see downtown alleys illuminated for the safety of pedestrians might eventually get their wish, but apparently not anytime soon.
David Van Dam, Mayor James Fiorentini’s aide, said the administration supports the concept, but that there’s a lot of work to do before any alleys are fitted with lights.
“The buildings on which the lights would be installed are privately owned,” Van Dam said. “So we have to find a private building owner who wants to partner with us and then get an easement. It’s a longer process. The logistics aren’t quick or easy.”
Van Dam’s comments come two weeks after councilors criticized the mayor for already taking too long to respond to their now 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. Councilors have said the alleys should be lit, especially since the city enacted paid parking on downtown’s primary streets and began encouraging people to park further from the city center where parking is free.
“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.’’
Van Dam said the city is looking at several alleys on or near Granite, Wingate and Washington streets as possibilities for lights. He said the administration has yet to broach the matter with any building owners in the area, however.
Van Dam is scheduled to brief the council on his research of the project at tonight’s meeting at 7 p.m. at City Hall. He said he has discussed the idea with public works officials and electricians and that he believes it would not be an overly expensive project to light at least few main alleys.
“The city would likely buy and install the lights, and the building owner would pay for the electricity, which we don’t think would be that expensive,” Van Dam said. “The next step is to talk to the city solicitor about obtaining the easements.”
An easement is a legal agreement that would allow the city to access private property, for instance to install or maintain lighting and electrical wires on a building. Solar lights have been discarded as a possibilities, Van Dam said, because most of the alleys don’t receive enough sunshine during daylight hours to power the devices.
Councilors have said the city should use some of the money that’s been generated by the paid parking program to pay for the lights.
“Between the parking fees and the meals tax, we should have enough money to do something,” Daly O’Brien said at last month’s council meeting. “In eight months, we’ve done nothing ... 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.
“I’m tired of hearing about it and I’d like an answer,” McGonagle said. “And if the mayor says no, then we’ll find a way to do it.”
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.