…continuedHow I Beat Light Pollution in My Hometown
The Branford Planning and Zoning Commission scheduled a public hearing on the proposed law, and I was invited to give a presentation. I showed slides of poor and good lighting that I had photographed around town. Slides of blinding floodlights (common in Branford) drew audible gasps from the audience. And there were smiles and nods at slides of good, well-shielded lighting.
My message was simply that we need to use outdoor light more responsibly. Responsible lighting means better nighttime visibility, less intrusive light, and less overdone, energy-wasteful installations. Most people really want to do the right thing, and in the case of light pollution, most just don’t realize the negative impacts of their actions.
I concluded with a very convincing clip-on lamp demonstration. This simple hardware-store light illustrated the difference between a shielded and an unshielded fixture and the loss of visibility from glare. When I aimed the unshielded light at the audience in the darkened room, it made people wince and turn away. They couldn’t even see me standing behind it. When I turned the light to its shielded position, the dazzling glare vanished, and there I stood in plain, well-lit view.
The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the regulations without contest, and they became effective on June 1, 1997. They continue to benefit residents and businesses in town by promoting better nighttime visibility, energy efficiency, and preservation of the natural night.
Branford has continued to grow rapidly. A steady stream of applications for new developments and site improvements has been flowing into the Planning and Zoning Commission. All have been required to comply with the lighting law, and Branford has ever more regulation-compliant sites. Many of these serve as models of energy-efficient, noninvasive commercial lighting. Even originally skeptical business owners are coming to appreciate the energy cost savings.
And the night sky? It has actually improved since 1997 despite the town’s growth. The change is especially dramatic compared to what would have happened if the regulations had not been in place.
By continuing to give a little support to the Planning and Zoning folks, I have helped enormously to keep their enthusiasm alive and things running smoothly. Of course, without a hometown watchdog, there would be no one spotting those occasional illegal lights. This ongoing involvement has taken little of my time yet has been educational and truly rewarding.
To get the message out, I have gone on to speak and promote light-pollution awareness far beyond my local community. Since the Branford law passed, I have been asked to make similar presentations to other communities, planning and zoning associations, envi-ronmental organizations, and even the Connecticut state legislature. As other communities adopt laws, I stay in touch for any assistance they may later need.
If I could do it, so can you. Compared to other community issues, light pollution is easy, because everybody wins. The public gets better-looking surroundings, lighting owners save energy, and we stargazers get a better sky. The biggest thing standing in the way of change is simply a lack of awareness. So one person can make real change happen — armed with some IDA information, an awareness-raising presentation, and a little persistence.
Oh . . . and don’t forget the clip-on lamp.
Bob Crelin is the author of There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars, designed to introduce children (and adults) to the effects of light pollution. It's available for $17.95 from Sky Publishing.
Key Points of Branford's Lighting Law
- Promotes full-cutoff (fully shielded) fixtures for most uses. These direct all light below horizontal, not sideways or up.
- Discourages floodlighting and unshielded wallpacks.
- Disallows uplighting of buildings and signs.
- Nonessential lighting must be off after business hours.
- New site-lighting plans must follow guidelines in Recommended Practice (RP) booklets published by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), notably Lighting for Exterior Environments (RP-33-99) and Lighting for Parking Facilities (RP-20-98) Go to www.iesna.org/shop and search under product ID for "RP," or phone 212-248-5000, ext. 112.
Includes illustrations of acceptable and unacceptable fixtures to help clarify what types are allowed. The handout is shown above; you can get a full-size copy from our website. You can also see Branford's complete regulations on the town's website (scroll to section 31.5.5).