Lights Out, West Chester

Should the Borough consider a lighting ordinance?

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Satellite image of artificial night sky brightness (Light Pollution Science & Technology Institute)

Have you ever thought about night skies in the Borough? Maybe if you are an amateur astrologer you’ve assessed (or cursed) the lighting.  More likely you’ve noticed how dark the streets can seem when you’re walking home alone at night. Or how invasive your neighbor’s oversensitive motion-sensor floodlight is when it glares through your bedroom window.

Currently there isn’t much regulation in place concerning residential or business lightening requirements in West Chester either for the purpose of safety or light pollution. However, there is now a move to change that. A suggestion has been made to  add a lightening ordinance to the zoning code.

The proposal brought in part by the Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council aims to limit the effects of light pollution by better controlling the amount of light and glare resonating through West Chester’s night skies.

According to their website:

“Good outdoor lighting provides the right amount of light, not too little and not too much, while minimizing glare, light trespass and energy consumption.”

The problem with too much light

Too much light causes disruptions to wildlife, and your beauty rest, both which rely on night skies. It can also be a waste of energy.

Billboards and outdoor signs seem to be big offenders as is the continual lighting of businesses and parking lots well after they have closed.

According to POLC, a lightening ordinance needs to cover certain basic requirements including:

  • Illuminance levels and uniformities
  • Luminaire types and purpose
  • Light direction and shielding requirements
  • Means of controlling lighting
  • Curfew requirements
  • Pole protection
  • Mounting heights

Safety concerns

Counterarguments to lighting control measures often center around safety but the evidence is mixed as to the effectiveness of light in deterring crime. Increasing lighting in crime prone areas of New York City led to a significant reduction in crime, while efforts to reduce light pollution in the U.S. and Europe have generally been implemented without an increase in crime rate.

While, the relationship between light and crime is still being studied it is pretty indisputable that the presence of light makes us feel safer and should be considered in any lighting strategy.

Tips for effective and respectful outdoor house lighting

The ordinance, if passed or even considered, likely wouldn’t affect resident’s homes at least not beyond street level but even without regulation there are ways to be better guardians of the night sky. The Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council offers some easy suggestions to keep your property safe, energy costs down and enjoy the starry sky.

Tip 1: Light the path not the sky.

When selecting outdoor lighting make sure the light is aimed downward and look for fixtures that shield the bulb. This will keep the light directed on the pathway or entrance it was intended to light and not floating off into the atmosphere. Same goes for barn lights and flood lights.

Tip 2: Use motion sensors or timers to control light use.

Setting lights to turn off when they are not needed or only when they detect someone approaching not only keeps light from escaping it also saves on energy. Win. Win.

Tip 3: Use only as much light as needed.

Consider a lower wattage bulb. Can the same job be accomplished at a lower wattage?

Tip 4: Think warm.

If using LED lights look for bulbs in the warm light family. LED in the warm color spectrum more closely mimics traditional lamp light while, LED light in the cool spectrum more closely resembles daylight – probably not the best bet for an evening lighting scheme.

What are your thoughts? Any particular areas of the Borough you would consider light polluters? Any areas in need of more lights?

Plus, want to see what a dark sky can really look like? Check out PA’s first, and only, dark skies park.

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