An Evaluation of Citywide Street Lighting Upgrades on Gun Violence

Research Team

Project Overview

The Philadelphia Energy Authority is engaging in one of the most ambitious public infrastructure projects in the United States by upgrading the entire light network of the city with energy-efficient “smart” LED lighting by the end of 2025. The project will replace the current network of more than 130,000 dim yellow bulbs with smart LED lighting that is brighter, provides better lighting coverage, and cuts down on the length of street light outages by automatically notifying city planners when a light is out. The staggered rollout of street lighting is being done with an explicit focus on public safety, allowing the University of Pennsylvania’s Crime and Justice Policy Lab to conduct a quasi-experimental study of the impact of this upgrade on gun violence in Philadelphia. Quantitative analyses are complemented by qualitative assessments of the implementation, in partnership with the Urban Affairs Coalition, to understand how street lighting upgrades affect feelings of safety and social cohesion. This study will be conducted in two phases. Phase 1 focuses on the gun violence outcomes and community input related to the early lighting upgrades. Phase 2 will assess the impact citywide of lighting upgrades on gun violence outcomes.

The evaluation has four specific aims:

  1. To test if whether enhanced “smart” street lighting leads to reductions in gun violence outcomes in the short and longer-term;
  2. To test whether street lighting effects on gun violence outcomes are mediated by changes in pedestrian and vehicle traffic;
  3. To assess whether community members and key stakeholders feel that the enhanced street lights have changed the social dynamics of their neighborhoods; and
  4. To determine the cost-effectiveness of enhanced street lighting relative to the costs per instance of gun violence.

This study will add to our knowledge connecting street lighting to violence reduction, and has policy implications for other cities that are looking for place-based investments that can help curb the epidemic levels of gun violence impacting neighborhoods across the US.