Madison city officials will gather Wednesday to discuss a controversial measure to place 20-feet tall light posts along the Southwest Commuter Bike Path.

The disagreement over the lights centers on a concern over the brightness of the lights versus the added safety they would bring for nighttime bikers and walkers. The lights would run from the Beltline to Breese Terrace and cost the City of Madison around $200,000.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said there will be a public hearing on the proposed lighting Nov. 28, which will be held jointly by the Board of Public Works
and the Pedestrian Bicycle Motor Vehicle Commission. The project will
come before the City Council Dec. 11.

Ald. Mark Clear, District 19, is a major proponent of the lighting project. He said it is fairly standard to light bike paths, especially when they are heavily used.

“It needs lighting at night for safety and to encourage more people to use the path,” Clear said.

Most of the opposition comes from the neighborhoods surrounding the path that feel the lights will be intrusive in their backyards, disturb wildlife or that the lights are just not needed, Clear said.

“It’s Madison, everything has to be controversial,” Clear said.

Traffic engineers have studied many different ways to light the paths and the 20-foot tall light poles are the best way to provide light to all users of the path, Clear said.

He said this way is also cost effective because the conduit for electrical work is already in place, so the project will be able to use the existing conduit.

Clear said although he has not received much feedback from his constituents, who do not live adjacent to the path, this is a citywide issue because the path is a major transportation area.

Verveer said the proposed lighting is a hotly contested issue and members of the City Council have received dozens of comments both for and against the lighting.

“We have a very extensive network of bicycle paths in Madison for a community of our size,” Verveer said. “There is a disproportionately excellent network of bike paths throughout the city.”

He said the portion of the path, which runs through the downtown area to Lake Monona, is not part of the proposed lighting project.

Verveer said there are good arguments on both sides and he has not decided how he will vote when the project comes to the City Council.

Along with the people from neighboring homes who do not want the light spilling over to their property, people called “dark sky advocates” are also against the proposed lighting, Verveer said.

Dark sky advocates believe light pollution is a serious issue and want to cut off wasted light or light pollution that would go off into the sky, and make sure light does not obstruct the viewing of the sky, Verveer said.

The strongest proponents for the lights are the users of the path, mostly bicyclists, who are regular commuters throughout the year, Verveer said.

“It’s an issue that’s been debated for years,” Verveer said. “It’s seemingly coming to a conclusion.”