Communities seek to cut down on up-light
About 10 years ago, complaints from residents in Ithaca, N.Y., about light emanating from a new ball field led officials to consider creating an ordinance to control the city’s exterior lighting. Although the city found a way to fix the problem with the ball field lights, the push for a general ordinance has been bogged down in a search for information on how to write the regulations, says Bill Gray, superintendent of the Ithaca Board of Public Works. Now, two organizations are working together to create a model ordinance that could help other local governments control light pollution. “It’s the exact kind of thing we would go hunting for [when writing a new ordinance,]” Gray says.
City workers solved the problem at Ithaca’s ball field by replacing the lighting fixtures with lower cross beams and fitting visors over the lights. That kept the light shining on the field and did not disturb the view of residents living on a hillside above the field. However, when city officials began researching information for the general ordinance, Gray says they encountered too many variables, such as how to adjust the ordinance for the difference in ambient light that occurs between winter and summer. In winter, the snow on the ground creates strong ambient light, but without the snow, the light is inadequate. “[The problem was] being able to dial [the lighting level] up and dial it down,” Gray says. “We want to install [an ordinance] and walk away from it [without constant revision.]”
The Tucson, Ariz.-based International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) and the New York-based Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) have been working on a model lighting ordinance for years and plan to have a draft by early 2007, says Pete Strasser, IDA’s technical advisor. The purpose of the ordinance is to provide uniformity to existing local and state laws that control outdoor lighting.
Incorporated in 1988, IDA’s mission is to reduce the percentage of “up-light” that escapes into the sky, illuminating nothing. Strasser says taxpayers could save about $11 billion a year if current up-lighting was reduced. The organization also is concerned with the harm up-light causes to nocturnal wildlife and the possibility that excess nighttime light may reduce the human body’s production of melatonin, a chemical that helps to inhibit the spread of cancer.
Cities, however, typically are concerned with outdoor lights’ effects on residents and businesses. Tucson passed its Outdoor Lighting Code in 1971 to protect viewing conditions at nearby Kitt Peak Observatory.
The Tucson code divides the city into lighting areas with varying degrees of light restriction. The code defines the type of lights that can be used in each area and, in some cases, sets time limits for their use. Code violators face fines of between $50 and $1,000 per infraction.
In the late 1970s, the city and surrounding Pima County formed a joint committee to maintain the code. The committee updates the code periodically. Tucson’s Electrical Plans Examiner Linda Buczynski says the city has received requests for information from other jurisdictions that are working on lighting ordinances.
Different situations call for different types of lighting, so government departments should work closely with landscapers and lighting companies to plan the specific needs for lighting projects, Strasser says. For the same reason, IDA and IESNA are taking care to make the model ordinance as universal as possible, which is why it has taken so long to write the draft, he says. “A lot of people have to be pleased by this,” he says.