NELPAG Circular No. 14

NELPAG Circular No. 14                                    1997 April 5

New England Light Pollution Advisory Group (NELPAG)
Editor:     Daniel W. E. Green [Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory;
               60 Garden Street; Cambridge, MA  02138]  (telephone 617-495-7440)
Secretary:  Eric Johansson     (telephone 508-667-0137)

     "Subscription" to this irregular news/information Circular is available by
sending self-addressed, stamped (32 cents in the U.S.A.) regular-sized
(9.5x4-inch) envelopes (SASE) to Dan Green at his postal address, or by
sending your e-mail address to NELPAG-REQUEST@HARVEE.BILLERICA.MA.US (Internet).
Contributed information for this Circular concerning outdoor lighting problems
in New England (or pertinent info from outside New England) are always welcome.
Please circulate this newsletter to all interested parties.  Look at our
World Wide Web site at URL


     It has been well over a year since I have issued one of these Circulars,
despite many queries as to why.  The answer is a lack of time, not a lack of
information to include!  Because there is so much good information that I
receive, I will try to get back on a track of issuing these Circulars several
times a year.  Individual NELPAG members, including your Editor, have been
actively involved in outdoor-lighting issues -- particularly Bob Wylie (dealing
with lighting engineers on a national and international level, and dealing
with local New England queries from the public and news media), Peter Talmage,
Mario Motta (in his local town of Lynnfield, MA, regarding a badly-lit large
auto dealership), and Bob Stefanik (as Director of the Oak Ridge Observatory,
in connection with increasing lighting problems in his vicinity).
     My work on light pollution has been extensive (and exhausting) in the
last couple of years --- whether passing out copies of the "Good Neighbor
Outdoor Lighting" pamphlet, sending out copies of NELPAG Circulars, updating
the NELPAG's Web pages, speaking with the news media, helping local citizens
around the U.S.A. and the world with information needed to address local
lighting concerns, advising on outdoor-lighting legislation pending in
several states, giving talks on light pollution to groups, etc.  The appearance
of two bright, naked-eye comets in the past year has provided good opportunity
to preach to the public extensively on the evils of bad outdoor night lighting.
But I am still appalled at how few astronomers (professional and amateur) are
involved in actively helping our cause!  There is absolutely NO EXCUSE
whatsoever for every astronomer to help the cause to battle bad outdoor lighting.
Most people will cease to see the stars in the 21st century if we do not change
the way that power-utility companies, developers, and the general public view
outdoor lighting.
     While fully-shielded (full-cutoff) lights are increasing rapidly on the
American landscape, new energy-efficient lights (with metal-halide, high-pressure
sodium, low-pressure sodium, fluorescent lamps) are fast replacing the older,
relatively wasteful incandescent and mercury-vapor outdoor lights --- but power
companies are seeking to maintain profit levels by replacing 200-watt mercury
lamps with 200-watt MH and HPS lamps, thereby increasing the light levels on
the ground and in the air by 2 to 8 times their former levels.  Almost all
roadway lighting is paid for by taxpayer money, either from city/town coffers
or via state or federal budgets.  A typical streetlight can cost $150-$200 per
year to light in electricity costs alone, translating into hundreds of thousands
of dollars for towns and millions of dollars per year for cities.  Changing
over to MH, LPS, or HPS lamps should accompany a cut of 40 to 60 percent in
streetlight costs, via the lowering of wattage on the new lamps.  The power
companies are trampling over the American taxpayer, and the public needs to
be educated to know what is happening!  Of course, the power companies stand
to lose billions of dollars per year in the U.S. alone, if truly efficient and
proper outdoor lighting were to be the rule.  But the taxpayers deserve to have
that money spent for better uses!
     In the past year and a half, I am happy to report that I have successfully
helped numerous groups design and pass local ordinances for better outdoor
lighting.  The town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, passed a rather extensive
outdoor-lighting ordinance in the past couple of months (to be discussed in the
next NELPAG Circular).  John Petrowicz has done remarkable work in getting the
town of Rowley, MA, to turn around its outdoor-lighting policies, and even to get
the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to place full-cutoff lights at all of
its new commuter-train stations (see his report below).  The town of Lexington,
MA, turned off around 40 percent of its lights in the fall of 1996 to save
$250,000 per year due to town budget woes (see my brief report below).  The
City of Cambridge, MA, has gone to full-cutoff lights on its streets in the
past few years, and the City of Boston apparently intends to follow suit.  The
towns of Northfield and Bernardston, MA, have continued with their 60- to
90-percent turnoff of roadway lights to save money, and each year now for
several years the police chiefs of each town report no increase in either crime
or traffic accidents as a result of turning the lights off.  This pattern has
been seen in numerous other towns and cities in Massachusetts that have turned
out lights, including Lexington.
     I have also been researching information on a variety of fronts, including
statistics of outdoor night lighting as a function of city and town in eastern
Massachusetts, as a function of lamp type, and as a function of time (year).
I am looking into the problem of the bright halogen auto headlights that have
replaced the much dimmer and less-dangerous (for oncoming traffic) lights of
decades past; the industry makes it difficult to get information on regulations
regarding the amount of light permitted to be cast into the eyes of oncoming
drivers, but surely this is an area that needs reform, and rapidly.  The
answer to bad auto headlights is not to drown all of our roadways in bright
light, but rather to turn the headlight beams away from oncoming traffic and
to impose night-time speed limits that are 10- to 20-mph slower than daytime
limits; better road painting and signage needs to be implemented before more
streetlighting is erected, as well.  Another area of research that I've been
pursuing, with not much success, is that of finding manufacturers for good,
full-cutoff porch and driveway lighting for home/residential use.  If you walk
into any home-improvement store or department/hardware store with such outdoor
light fixtures for sale, you will find that 99-100 percent of all such lights
are totally unshielded -- and thus very ineffective!  If any readers have
useful information on this, for making additions to the "Good Neighbor Outdoor
Lighting" pamphlet, please let me know.  Len Noyes (Central Maine Power Co.)
tells me that cobra streetlights are increasing in numbers to the tune of
4- to 6-percent annually right now, and floodlights are increasing at about
10 percent annually.  With the numbers so rapidly increasing, we need to make
sure that all outdoor lighting (whether roadway, parking-lot, security, or
residential) is both full-cutoff (and lit from above rather than below) AND
of minimum (not maximum) lumen-output.
     What Dave Crawford and I do is very much underappreciated by the
astronomical community, and this is very sad.  I have chided the American
Astronomical Society for not giving hundreds of thousands of dollars of support
every year to the light-pollution problem (particularly to Crawford's
International Dark-Sky Association).  Sky and Telescope and Astronomy magazines
should add $1 to the annual subscription costs of the magazines and give that
extra dollar to the IDA, because they stand to reap huge benefits from such
relatively meager support; likewise, the AAS and the International Astronomical
Union could implement dues that include $5 from every member to be given
directly to the IDA.  It's indeed sad to see where priorities are placed by
astronomers in this day and age of worsening skyglow!
     I could go on for pages, telling you about all of the people who have
reached me in their desperate searches for ways to get rid of bad lights that
shine in their bedroom windows, yards, or car windows --- or about the city,
town, and state planners eagerly seeking information to make aesthetic
improvements to the outdoor lighting in their locales.  But I'll stop here
and say that we have several new NELPAG members that are eager to exchange
ideas at an upcoming NELPAG meeting.  I will try to organize a meeting here
at Harvard Observatory sometime in late spring (possibly in early June).  More
details will be forthcoming via a NELPAG Circular.  And now for a fraction of
the tons of information useful for a Circular (more will be forthcoming in
upcoming issues)....    - D.W.E.G.

     As announced through the NELPAG e-mail exploder ("discussion group"),
Eric was forced to change the e-mail addresses for sending e-mail to the
group and to him for service.  If you wish to be added or deleted from the
group, send e-mail to NELPAG-REQUEST@HARVEE.BILLERICA.MA.US, and if you
wish to send e-mail to the group, send it to NELPAG@HARVEE.BILLERICA.MA.US.

     The IDA has an extensive page of useful links to lighting information,
as the Web has really grown in the past two years.  Check it out at URL

     From John Petrowicz (Rowley, MA):  "I purchased a book from the IESNA
titled *Illumination Engineering, from Edisons's Lamp to the Laser*, by Joseph
Murdoch (University of New Hampshire).  Excellent reference and textbook
dealing with lighting and the science of it.  A great book for anyone
interested in becoming more informed about lighting, the human eye, the
technical side of lighting, not the architectural/design stuff.  Reading
through this book makes me more knowledgeable and feel more confident when
I speak or are asked questions about lighting.  The book costs $55 plus
shipping, from IESNA.  Chapters cover:  1. Introduction to light and seeing;
2. Light calculations and measurements; 3. Radiant energy as waves; 4. Radiant
energy as particles; 5. Vision and Color; 6. Lamps; 7. Interior Light Design;
8. Interior Light Design Metrics; 9. Daylighting; 10. Optics and Control of
Light; and 11. Exterior Lighting.  The book is written as a class textbook
with plenty of examples, problems and answers.  I highly recommend it."

     The "I'd Rather See Starlight than Streetlights" bumper sticker is
still available from the Astronomical League for $2 each; add $1 shipping
on orders up to $5, and 15 percent on orders over $5.  Make check payable
to "Astronomical League Sales" and send to P.O. Box 572, West Burlington,
IA  52655, U.S.A..

     Via the NELPAG e-mail exploder, or discussion group, Robert Lewis of
Maryland proposed an interesting idea, which I'll modify a bit here:  Local
groups trying to fight light pollution could come up with a list of the 10
worst outdoor lighting examples, and then distribute that to the local press
for public exposure.  Of course, one should also compile a list of the 10
best outdoor lighting sites and include that in the press release, so that
people can get an idea of what really bad lighting is and what really good
lighting is.  For example, one might find that a shopping center has
full-cutoff light boxes in their parking lots and very little glare from other
sources, allowing it to be placed on the 10-best-lit list, whereas a car
dealership may be way overlit with lights that spill a large fraction of
light into surrounding streets and neighborhoods, thereby placing it on the
worst-10 list.  Let us know if you try this angle, and how effective it is.
  --- D.W.E.G.

     Due to time constraints, I'll plan on giving a more detailed discussion
of the developments in Lexington, where 60 test lights were installed by Boston
Edison in 1995-1996 for town residents to vote on.  The consensus seems to be
that the Town of Lexington will opt for full-cutoff lights with fluorescent
lamps.  But another interesting twist occurred last May, when it was realized
that there was a $180,000 budget shortfall in the town budget.  The Director
of Public Works, George Woodbury, told the Town Meeting (which was considering
cuts to schools and fire services, among other things) that he could save the
required money by turning off every other street light.  It turns out that
Lexington has some 3600 streetlights for its 28,000 residents, costing about
$150/light/year in electricity costs, for a total of $520,000 annually to the
town taxpayers.  Boston Edison threw in a nasty wrench by charging $35/light
to turn them off (obviously angered at the lost income!), amounting to more
than $100,000 for the total turn-off.  In addition, Lexington is trying to buy
its lights from Boston Edison, which the power company is fighting.  It is
really a shame, the manner in which these powerful utility companies put their
interests over those of their customers, and taxpayers everywhere need to unite
to avoid these outdoor lighting cost abuses.  Woodbury told me that he has
contacted numerous other Massachusetts cities and towns (including Reading,
Yarmouth, and Falmouth) that have turned off lights to successfully reduce
municipal operating budgets.  The general pattern is that some very vocal
complaints are made in the several months immediately after lights are turned
out, but thereafter, citizens adapt to the lower lighting levels and the
complaints cease.  Almost everything I see points to the fact that our world
is way overlit, and that the only real adverse impact on reducing outdoor
lighting levels and quantities is that of reducing the profits of utility
companies (and possibly some lighting manufacturers).  But everybody else
wins, so this whole concept of turning lights off is really a no-brainer.
     Bernie Volz (a NELPAG member) notes:  "the Town of Orange, MA, turned
off ALL their street lights several years ago (because of budget issues),
[and] they too had a lot of people complain.  Their solution [was basically]:
if YOU want a streetlight lit, YOU can pay for it to be.  Needless to say,
they had few takers.  By the way, a personal observation ... one problem on my
street (which has no streetlights) is that people leave their outside lights
on.  These are often much worse than streetlights since they tend to shine
out instead of down.  So, it can be a mixed blessing.  Perhaps this has
nothing to do with streetlights and happens on other streets too; it may just
be more noticeable."  This emphasizes what I said earlier (see "From the Editor",
above) about the need for decent full-cutoff residential lighting!  --- D.W.E.G.

     Update to a story covered in past issues:  Clark Johnson of Heath, MA, is
a journalist who has been keeping tabs on an interesting situation concerning
two northwestern-Massachusetts towns that decided to turn off street lighting
about four years ago to save money in the local town budgets, thereby keeping
money alive for use in schools, fire departments, and police departments.  Each
year since then, the town residents of Bernardston (where all but a dozen or so
critical intersection lights were turned off) and Northfield (where two-thirds
of the street lights were turned off, from more than 300 to about 120 lights
now) have questioned the selectmen on the town boards about the wiseness of this
policy, but each time the police chiefs of the towns have stated that there is
no observed increase in crime or accidents resulting from this lighting policy.

     State Rep. Jim Marzilli (Arlington) re-introduced the outdoor
night-lighting bill at the State House in Boston in December.  I was informed
by his aide, Ellen Schneider (, that it carries
the House Bill number H.3418 for FY 1997, and that it is up for review this
week.  I have not been able to confirm a date, as it was postponed from April
1 due to our big snowstorm this past week.  What is certain is that EVERY
concerned Massachusetts resident should contact his or her State Senator AND
Representative to urge them to become a co-sponsor of this bill, so that we can
get it out of the Energy Committe and to the floor for a vote.  --- D.W.E.G.

     Nov. 1994-1995:  MBTA Train Stations at Rowley and Newburyport
Once learning of a proposed train station construction project to be located
within a mile of my home/observatory, I contacted the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay
Transportation Authority) general manager and project manager, explaining the
need for the station to utilize full cut-off fixtures.  I explained the design
benefits in installing HPS full cut-offs with data supplied from NELPAG and IDA
along with my own research.  I also explained my educational and scientific
uses of the observatory and its function in the community.  Response from the
general manager was his acceptance and understanding of the issue and committed
to me and the town that the train stations would utilize full-cutoff lighting
fixtures for both train stations.  Lessons learned:  1. Read your local paper
and keep an eye on 'legal notices' about development, public hearings, etc.
2. Find out who's in charge of the project.  3. Get to know your local town
officials.  4. Write 'to the point', informative, non-technical letters about
positive aspects of your recommendation or proposal.
     Feb. 1995-1996:  Growth Management Forum (Lighting Bylaw).
From a newspaper article notice, I attended a Saturday morning town
growth management forum that was addressing town-growth issues; land use,
services, water, schools, etc.  I raised the issue of lighting as a continuing
growth issue as development increased.  Many residents agreed and didn't want
our town developing into a lighted strip mall like so many towns have along
the major routes US-1 and I-95.  Once the organizers asked for volunteers to
help, I quickly stepped forward to address the lighting issue, even though it
was not their primary concern at the time.  I then moved out and drafted a
lighting bylaw base upon NELPAG and IDA data and review comments from Mr.
Robert Wylie of IESNA and NELPAG.  Then I presented the proposal to the
Selectmen and Planning Board officials at a public hearing.  I also drafted a
non-binding referendum question for our May 1996 town meeting and gave a quick
15-minute talk about the issue at town meeting.  Before the meeting, I handed
out over 200 pamphlets to area residents, educating them on the issue.  The
two area newspapers contacted me for information and interviews, which gave me
more exposure.  As an additional educational display, I drove around town
several nights taking photos of good and bad lighting, and created a 3x4-foot
poster display board with the photos mounted and labeled.  This I had on
display at the public library and town hall.  This was great exposure.  It
reached many residents and explained about glare lighting, light trespass,
and over illumination.  I had 'take-away' hand-outs at each display.  Through
this effort several things occurred:  First, the 'catch-all' bylaw was too much
for town officials to accept at this time, even though town-meeting vote
resulted in a 60%-in-favor and 40%-against referendum-question vote.  Second,
the Planning Board did invite me to draft a simplified 'lighting language
specification' for the "Rowley Planning Handbook".  This booklet is the
document that developers must follow in drafting plans for building in town.
It's not as strong as a bylaw, but it's a start.  The Planning Board feels
comfortable with this approach and will support it at the May 1997 town
meeting.  Once this passes in the spring, I hope to again try to encourage the
officials that a bylaw is needed to address existing fixtures which can be
grandfathered but must be converted  to full-cutoffs through maintenance and
update actions.  Lessons learned:  1. Do not propose a bylaw with everything
in it.  All kinds of lighting, types, hours, illumination levels, etc.  This
may be OK for Arizona, but not a small New England town.  2. Draft a simple
bylaw requiring full cut-offs for fixtures over 2000 lumens and don't include
private residents' lighting.  This will surely kill any effort.  3. If no
bylaw is passable, look towards town rule books, or electrical codes, etc.
4. TAKE SMALL STEPS.  5.  Be prepared for things to move very slowly.  Town
government is a night-time, part-time effort.
     July 1996:  Replacing existing Town fixtures with full-cutoffs.
On a parallel front, I took action against existing town-controlled streetlight
fixtures that were producing extensive driver glare, light trespass, and sky
glow by working with the Selectmen who control the municipal power and light
manager/dept.  I requested that 12 cobra-head lamp fixtures be replaced with
full-cutoffs and convinced the Selectmen that this action was required by
conducting a 'night walk' with them down this main street in Rowley.   Once I
pointed out my observations, they agreed and directed the manager to replace
the fixtures.  Nine were changed over to full-cutoffs and three cobras were
retained for intersection lighting.  I'm working to replace the three remaining
cobras through more education and installation options.  This exercise has
resulted in the lighting manager planning on replacing the remaining town
fixtures to full-cutoff through maintenance actions over time.  He has just
finished relamping the Rowley section of State Route 133.   Lessons learned:
1.  Work through town officials (selectmen, power dept.) to address concerns
with existing and future town owned fixtures.  2. Schedule and invite officials
to a 'night walk' around town areas to educate them as to good and bad
lighting.  3. Don't over-power officials technically.  They feel lacking in
knowledge about the subject and feel challenged (threatened) as to their jobs
and expertise.  4. Address issues of driving glare, light trespass, energy
conservation, illumination levels. 5.  You don't need a bylaw to correct
existing municipal lighting issues.  6. Get residents to write to officials about
specific problem fixtures.
     August 1996:  Replacing Library HPS Parking Lot Flood Lamps.
Through my local town efforts and successes, I convinced a resident abutter to
the town library to complain to the Selectmen and Library Trustees about the
library's parking lot cobra head lamps and the over illumination, light trespass
and 'all night' illumination schedule.  Since the library had allowed me to
display my lighting photo poster, they knew the issue at hand and requested the
Rowley lighting manager to change the two fixtures to full cut-off fixtures.
Now, light trespass is greatly reduce, excessive sky glow is gone, and the town
is not wasting money lighting an adjacent wooded area from over, misdirected
lighting.  Lessons learned:  1. Work with organizations that own/occupy
buildings concerning their lighting.  2. Enlist support of other residents.
You don't want to be the only 'nut' in town concerned about lighting.  3.
Address individual cases one by one.  Don't try to fix everything in one
letter or complaint.
     December 1996:  Center School Building Revitalization Program.
Since I have become the local 'lighting expert' in various official's
eyes, I have now been requested to recommend how to light the Center
School in Rowley.  In the past I pointed out to the Selectmen how ridiculously
overlit the boarded-up school was.  I heard it was because of past vandalism,
but boarding up the windows stopped that not the added "ball park" lighting
which came first.  So I'll be soon working with the revitalization committee
again recommending full cut-off fixtures.  This will eliminate the HPS flood
lamps and will reduce the light trespass, glare and sky glow occurring due to
the obvious misuse of illumination for security reasons.  This building is
currently lit like a national monument as well as the neighborhood that abuts it.
Lessons learned:  1. Getting known through personal involvement gets residents
and officials to value your knowledge and guidance.  2. Writing letters to
appropriate officials (rather than a phone call) creates a record for future
reference on projects.
     In closing, this is what's been happening in Rowley.  I believe the
keys to addressing the light pollution issue are:  1. Get involved.  2. Write
polite letters to the appropriate parties.  3. Enlist support.  4. Create
a photo display and put it where people can see it.  5. Pass handouts out about
lighting . 6. Pay attention to your local paper reading development articles,
'legal meeting notices', and attend the meetings or write a letter addressing
lighting.  7. Something I'm just starting: give lectures on proper lighting
with photos and displays.  8. Don't be pushy and be prepared for a slow
process of improvement.  9. Speak at town meetings on the issue as an
'infomercial', get a show of hands as to 'is this an issue?'  10. Work
astronomy through public school system, Scouts, etc., getting support from
educators and parents.  11. Tell residents with problem light fixtures to
contact the power/light department, or Selectmen and request a fix.  12. Be
happy with what ever successes you get.  You will not convert everyone or
every fixture.  13. Don't even think about controlling residents private home
fixtures if you need voter support.  This will back-fire.  Private home lighting
is not the main issue.  Address a home problem on a personal visit, request
turning of fixture  only when your observing.  Most neighbors are very
understanding and don't realize your even out their.  Invite them or their
children over and then they become an ally.
  --- John Petrowicz [e-mail]


The NELPAG supports the International Dark-Sky Association and recommends
that all individuals/groups who are interested in the problems of light
pollution and obtrusive lighting should subscribe to the IDA Newsletter
(IDA membership costs $20.00 per year; send check to
International Dark-Sky Association, 3545 N. Stewart, Tucson, AZ  85716).