NELPAG Circular No. 23

NELPAG Circular No. 23                                    1999 March 31

New England Light Pollution Advisory Group (NELPAG)
Editor:     Daniel W. E. Green [M.S. 18; Harvard-Smithsonian Observatory;
               60 Garden Street; Cambridge, MA  02138]  (telephone 617-495-7440)
Secretary:  Eric Johansson     (telephone 508-667-0137)

     "Subscription" to this news/information Circular is available by sending
self-addressed, stamped (currently 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).
NELPAG Circulars are issued at irregular intervals, once every couple of months
on average, as news accumulutes.  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


     Yesterday a hearing was held at the State House in Boston regarding
the outdoor night-lighting bill that has been pending for some seven years
now.  As has been posted on our NELPAG website, though the bill (H.3418 =
H.4449 = H.5069 in 1997) passed favorably through two committees in 1997,
it was evidently not brought up in the House Ways and Means Committee
for discussion (which presumably was the last committee to pass before
a full House vote), and it died.  Rep. James Marzilli (D-Arlington)
has resubmitted the bill again, and in 1999 it is known in the Energy
Committee as H.3990.  Seven or eight people testified in favor of the
bill today, including NELPAG members Mario Motta and Dan Green.  Mario
spoke convincingly about the hazards presented to motorists as a result
of bad-glare (disability-glare) night lighting that comes from unshielded
fixtures, and he also talked about the aesthetics of good fully-shielded
lighting (and how such good lighting can raise property values and attract
people) and about how upward lighting is a tremendous waste of energy and
money.  He also gave examples of towns in Massachusetts in terms of
economics:  Peabody (population 45,000) spends $3 million per year on
streetlighting, a number that could be cut by 40-50 percent by using
full-cutoff fixtures and lower-wattage lights; Townsend voted recently
(according to a message from Mike Brown) to replace all their old
mercury-vapor 100-watt lights with full-cutoff HPS 50-watt fixtures, saving
$30/year per light.  As a physician, Mario spoke on behalf of older people
with cataracts, who suffer from glary lights at night because there is more
light scattered in their eyes, leading to potential accidents; because of
this, the AARP and the Massachusetts Medical Society have now given support
to the pending Massachusetts night-lighting legislation (and Mario presented
a letter to the legislature from the Mass Med Society on behalf of our
bill).  Mario also gave an example regarding aesthetics, where bright
car-dealership lights in Lynnfield, MA, have reduced property values of
nearby homes.  [Mario has been the biggest driving force in pushing the
anti-light-pollution bill through the legislature this year, and he is
to be complemented on his enthusiasm and hard work.  If the bill passes
this year, it will in large measure be due to his help.  -- Ed.]
     Dan talked about the history of the bill and about how the wording has
been changed to make lighting engineers happy, and answered questions from
the Committee about various problems, including a question from one Rep
who said that a town she represented wanted to install decorative "historical
period" lighting (to which Dan responded that lighting manufacturers have now
produced numerous such decorative lights that have internal baffles that make
the lights essentially full-cutoff, or at least semi-cutoff, fixtures).  Rep.
Marzilli gave some strong testimony in favor of the bill, and a man named
Todd Lee, representing the City of Boston and architects under a program
known as "Light Boston", expressed the City's support of the newly-revised
wording of this bill; he pointed out that good lighting attracts tourists
and enhances a town, whereas bad lighting drives people away!  (At least
three other individuals spoke also on our behalf, including a woman who said
that senior citizens like her mother very much would like the opportunity
to see the stars again, by way of improved shielded lighting practices, as
they were able to do so much more easily as a child.)  An executive committee
meeting will take place next Tuesday (April 6), at which time we hope that
the bill will be favorably reported to the Committee on Science and
Technology.  We have very good reason to hope for passage of this bill
this year, so please contact your state represenative and senator to
ask them to support and vote for this bill on your behalf.
     Contrary to some fears about the use of the term "Dark Sky" as
applied to our bill, in terms of possibly suggesting a pet idea of a
narrow-interest group, members of the Energy Committee stated that
they thought this informal name for the bill is a nice touch, and they
thought this bill is both a nice idea and a very different kind of
bill from the legislation that they deal with on a daily basis.
   --- Dan Green, Mario Motta

     We congratulate the IDA on its 10th anniversary.  I'm pleased to have
been a part of this celebration by writing (with Dave Crawford and Kelly
Beatty) a "Focal Point" piece on light pollution for Sky and Telescope a
few months ago.  The staff of S&T has been wonderful in getting out the
word that light-pollution activism is important if astronomy is to survive
the next century.  Last year, a couple of S&T staff members asked me
for suggestions as to how they might best be able to help the cause, and I
suggested a full-page ad in which their normal advertisers would be asked
to pitch in financially for support of the IDA; the result was a nice ad
with more than two dozen sponsors on page 37 of the September 1998 issue of
the magazine --- from which $5500 was donated to the IDA (according to the
IDA Newsletter for June 1998, page 10).  I'm pleased at the success of
these two contributions of mine toward the IDA's tenth anniversary.  My
hope is that something truly wonderful will come of all this, in the way
of vastly increased astronomer support for the cause.  Also check out the
September S&T for their comprehensive coverage of the IDA anniversary.
And please also support the advertisers who paid for that ad!
     In November, it was great to see a cover-story by David Levy on the
perils of light pollution in the newspaper supplement PARADE.  I have
written to TIME magazine to suggest that they include something on light
pollution in their latest series of articles on the environment.
     Early in February, Jonathan McDowell (also of the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory) and I were interviewed by ABC Nightly News
for a story they were doing on the Russian Znamiya project, which was
intended to unfurl a large mirror to direct sunlight down onto a wide
area on the earth.  We of course spoke of the potential peril to astronomy,
and I posted information about this story on the NELPAG web site.
Thankfully, the experiment was a failure (the mirror did not unfurl
properly), but the Russians will surely try again.  Condemnations of this
project were issued by the IAU, the AAS, and the RAS.
     Joyce Harrington (e-mail of Hamilton, MA,
has asked if one or more people involved with NELPAG or IDA could show
up at the Ipswich (MA) River Festival on June 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Other environmental organizations that set up displays include Audubon,
Greenbelt, Ipswich River Watershed, etc.  Please contact Joyce if you
are interested, and NELPAG can help supply some materials.  It is good
to get involved with environmental groups (provided that they aren't too
radical!).  I recently gave an interview to an editor of National Parks
magazine, who was writing an article on good outdoor lighting in the
national parks.

     Many readers have probably heard about the new thermal night-imaging
system that General Motors is introducing into some of its Cadillac models.
The idea is that optics will throw a monochrome infrared picture showing
objects in and near the road for up to about 500 meters ahead of the
driver.  The potential here is immense, if the system can soon be brought
down in cost so that most cars can take advantage of this technology.
It, of course, allows much greater safety by permitting the driver to
see further at night than normal auto headlights will permit [news story,
in, e.g., NEW SCIENTIST 159(2150), 6].  And it immediately occurred to me
that it could have the potential for reducing headlight intensities (or
out-and-up directionalities/pointing), or at the least of preventing
headlights from being made brighter than they already are.  As was pointed
out at our November 1997 NELPAG meeting, Japanese astronomers have found
that car headlights make a huge contribution to the night-time sky glow.

     I think that our biggest problem is rapidly becoming the situation with
residential lighting.  Many readers have probably become painfully aware
recently (as have I) with the fact that residential lighting is now
increasing with halogen and HID lamps such as metal-halide coming to
replace the once-universal incandescent lamp for porche and driveway-post
lighting.  And these extremely bright lamps are almost universally
unshielded!  When a neighbor put in such a light across the street,
illuminating our yard and making our bedroom bright at night, I kindly
asked if he could put a shield on it (even offering to pay for it myself).
He said that would be no problem, but where could he get such a shield?
     I then spent considerable time going to retail lighting stores in
the Boston area, which can be broken down into two basic types:  (1)
specialty lighting stores and (2) large retail "home-improvement" stores
such as Home Depot or Sears Roebuck.  None of them really had any cutoff
fixtures for porch or driveway lighting!  Not only that, but everybody
I talked to said that this was the first time that anybody had asked for
such home-lighting fixtures!  I went even further.  I found out from
Sears who their seller was, and called Sears' corporate headquarters in
Chicago last December to speak with one of their official buyers of lights
for Sears stores everywhere.  I learned again that this was supposedly
the first time that anybody had contacted Sears headquarters to ask that
such fixtures be placed in their stores; they were familiar with full-cutoff
lamps, but thought that they were only used for streetlights!  I was
promised that they would inquire at future meetings with their
representatives in the lighting industry, to see what Sears might be able
to put on their store shelves in terms of full-cutoff residential lighting.
     So that's a big step.  But again, if we don't actively pursue and
follow up this sort of issue, we're likely to lose the war on light
pollution, hands down.  I don't have the time to contact every company.
Every major lighting retailer and every major lighting manufacturer needs
to be contacted, over and over again, to let them know that there is
a sincere demand and desire for full-cutoff lighting for residential and
small-business use.  Oh, there are plenty of full cutoff fixtures available
for sale, but most of them are so expensive that only large businesses
(or governments) are likely to employ them for their outdoor lights.  We
absolutely MUST have full-cutoff lights made cheaply and widely available
in stores everywhere!  This won't happen without your help!
     A single bad residential or small-business light can be seen for miles.
Especially here in the east, where atmospheric humidity is much higher
than in the southwestern U.S., sky glow from a few lights carries over
incredible distances.  Somewhat like the war on drugs, if we don't
eliminate the unshielded light, we won't win the war on bad lights.
Once low-priced shielded lights are widely available, and once people
start seeing how aesthetically pleasing and even practical such full-cutoff
lights are (when compared with unshielded lights), the war will be won
because most people will want shielded lights.  But as anybody in the
trenches of light-pollution activism knows, the average person on the
street does not have any clue that one light can be better than another!
They have to be SHOWN in order to comprehend.
     Dave Crawford has asked me to spread the word about an important
international meeting on light pollution and radio interference:  IAU
Symposium 196 ("Preserving the Astronomical Sky") will be held July 12-16
at the United Nations facilities in Vienna, Austria.  All interested
individuals are invited to attend.  A most successful IAU Symposium on
this same topic was held in Washington, DC, some 11 years ago.  More
information is available at the IDA website:
     Paul Lutkevich, a professional lighting engineer who is actively
working with the IESNA to develop formal recommendations that encourage the
use of full-cutoff lighting practices (and who is also the Vice-Chair of
the IESNA Roadway Lighting Committee), recently forwarded some of the
language from the proposed IESNA RP-8 document entitled "American
National Standard Practice for Roadway Lighting".  Paul adds:  "This
document is currently in the ANSI (American National Standards Institute)
public review period right now.  If there are no unresolvable comments
received it will become an ANSI/IESNA recommended practice in a few months."
Here are some of the contents, from section 4:

4.0.6	Glare and Sky-Glow Issues
     Roadway lighting systems are under increasing scrutiny from various
sectors of the public.  While the general public is not usually aware of
specific design requirements of roadway lighting systems, glare, sky-glow,
and other aesthetic elements are widely perceived and open to criticism.
The lighting designer should become familiar with these issues and be
prepared to design a lighting system that meets the needs of the
client/owner while also considering the effect of the lighting system on
the general aesthetic environment of the area.
     An increasing number of communities are adopting lighting ordinances meant
to reduce sky-glow (popularly termed light pollution).  This action should
put lighting designers on notice that this is a very important issue.
There are situations (building facades, landscapes, and central business
districts for example) in which lighting aimed upward may sometimes be
required.  Roadway lighting is not usually one of these situations.
Luminous flux above the horizontal does not benefit roadway lighting but
adds to glare and may be considered visual clutter.
     Luminous flux above the horizontal also adds to sky-glow.  Many people
consider sky-glow undesirable and even offensive.  This is an immensely
important issue with the astronomical community, professional and amateur,
and is particularly annoying when equally effective lighting systems can
be designed that reduce or eliminate direct up lighting.
     Unless it is essential to have luminous flux aimed above the horizontal,
as mentioned in the situations above, non-cutoff fixtures should not be
used for new roadway lighting.  Non-cutoff fixtures inappropriately used
may be considered a waste of energy.  Roadway lighting fixtures should at
least be semi-cutoff.  Sag glass cutoff and full cutoff should be strongly
considered.  When it is necessary to have luminous flux above the
horizontal, the designer should be diligent to keep the above horizontal
flux as low as practical to accomplish the intended effect.  This can be
done by using lower wattage fixtures, by shielding, or by fixture design.
     It is generally not good practice to add glare shields to existing roadway
lighting fixtures that are a part of a continuous lighting system.  The
addition of glare shields modifies the photometric distribution of the
fixture and may cause an acceptable lighting system to no longer meet
design standards.  Fixture photometrics are rarely measured with external
shields installed, hence, the designer will not know how a fixture with
glare shields will perform.  A qualified lighting designer should
investigate the result of adding glare shields  prior to their
installation.  It may be necessary to change the entire fixture rather
than alter the photometric performance of the existing fixtures.
     Knowledge of this subject and implementation of design techniques to
reduce or eliminate these problems will enhance the public=s perception of
the professionalism of lighting designers and will benefit clients through
a show of concern for their neighbors and the complete aesthetic
environment.   For further information on this subject, see CIE Technical
Report No. 126-1997 "Guidelines for Minimizing Sky Glow" and IESNA
Technical Memorandum No. ___.

     Paul Lutkevich further comments:  "As far as disability glare we have
addressed this problem by putting in a requirement for all calculation
methods to evaluate the veiling luminance ratio (glare) of the lighting
system and given limits for it.  Information is included in the Annex of
RP-8" (the text of which is being posted at the NELPAG web site).    -- D.G.

     If you haven't checked out the NELPAG web site recently, have a look!
It is updated regularly with lots of new information and links to good
sources of proper outdoor lighting, containing lots of stuff that does not
appear in these Circulars!  One such item is a draft of the lengthy outdoor
legislation put together by a group of amateur astronomers (apparently) from
Manchester, NH, including Peter Bealo (e-mail; this
group may host a NELPAG meeting in Manchester in the near future, and we'll
send notices around when we get a time and place picked out.
     Regarding the New Hampshire activities (which have been plentiful
in recent months, as detailed at their World Wide Web site,, Mike Stebbins (e-mail wrote me the following last October:  "New Hampshire
Citizens for Responsible Lighting evolved out of the New Hampshire
Astronomical Society, and the founders of the group feel that it would be
more successful as a local group since NELPAG and IDA have made little
in-roads here. . . .  We are looking to write legislation and have some of
the existing laws enforced.  We have to have a timely situation, since the
local cities and towns are having a push to add more lighting, some of
which has been installed."  They currently claim some 80 volunteer members.
Also connected with the Manchester group is Mike Pelletier (e-mail, who wrote the following to me
last Sept. 15:  "The group Intown Manchester is a business/city group of
people that promote downtown Manchester.  They are now considering putting
up many lights downtown for publicity, security and the like.  They also want
to have the tall mill towers lighted so people can see them from miles
around."  Pelletier and friends have arranged meetings with these people,
and we hope to report some of their results soon.  Stebbins added today
that their pending state legislation (which can be accessed from the NELPAG
web site) will be sent to a study committee this summer.  Meanwhile, the
NH group has gotten the Manchester Planning Board to set up a sub-committee
for studying outdoor-lighting issues, and a final presentation with
recommendations for action is scheduled for April 22.  Another contact with
this group in NH is Steve Forbes (e-mail  We all wish
them well in their efforts, and hope that NELPAGers both in and outside
NH will help them in their cause.
     I have been informed by Bill Abbott that the Plymouth (MA) lighting
ordinance (mentioned in previous NELPAG Circulars) has been successful and
that they are now planning to extend additional restrictions on outdoor
lighting into the bylaws of Plymouth.  Mario Motta has given me a copy of
a proposed outdoor-lighting bylaw for the town of Lynnfield, MA, which is
being provided to the Lynnfield Planning Board.
     Early last November, numerous individuals alerted me to an article
that appeared in the Providence Journal (and at its associated website)
entitled "Let there be light:  City envisions sparkling streets" and
subtitled "A program is being launched to offer businesses incentives to
illuminate their buildings".  The article started out:  "If city officials
and a group of business leaders have their way, the 'City of Light' --
otherwise known as Paris -- could eventually have competition from a more
brightly lit Providence.  Think spotlights, floodlights, lights in trees,
bright lights, dim lights, accent lights. In short, think of downtown at
night highlighted in ways that transform it from routine city skyline into
architectural delight.  That was the image Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. and
other civic leaders painted yesterday as they unveiled recommendations in a
study called 'Illuminate Providence'.  The $26,000 study, put together by
the Providence Foundation and several members of the city's corporate
community [including the newspaper promoting the story!], calls for the
adoption of new guidelines that would encourage lighting in downtown and
impose uniform standards for brightening the city.  The new regulations
would encourage downtown businesses to light up building facades, parking
lots, noteworthy architectural details, parks, storefronts and even the
city's skyscrapers."  The mayor added that there are "buildings that stand
silent and dark, with glorious details hidden by a nocturnal blanket, are
lost until dawn.  It doesn't have to be that way.  The city can assist and
give [tax] incentives, but this is a private sector project."  I could see
why people were alarmed!  The tax incentives were intended to offset the
expected high electricity cost, which the article says range from $3000
for a small building to "as much as $25,000" for large structures!
     My answer was to write a letter to the editor of the Providence Journal,
which was also forwarded to the mayor.  Here is a copy of my letter:

To the Editor, Providence Journal:

     I have heard through the Boston Globe and the Internet (including your
own web site) about the "Illuminate Providence" proposal, and I'd like to
shed a different type of light on this glaring idea.  Many, many people in
the world -- including many in the Providence area -- enjoy the night-time
environment without artificial lights permeating everywhere.  Have you so
quickly forgotten those wondrous sights that we were able to see in the
last couple of years -- naked-eye comets known as Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp?
Or how romantic a stroll under the stars can be?  Surely our children deserve
to see stars at night from their homes, just as they can see trees and
birds in the daytime.  But our ever-increasing use of outdoor lights in
urban and rural areas alike is stealing away the natural wonders of the
night, and this is an incalculable loss to our civilization.  It is becoming
harder and harder to escape from manmade controls and effects in our daily
(and nightly) lives, and this effectively gives us less independence.
     It is a myth that more light reduces crime.  In fact, I can cite
cities and towns across the United States that have actually turned off
lights (to reduce crime or to save taxpayer money for other purposes),
where police officials report that pre-existing crime rates either
plummeted or remained unchanged.  Other police officials note that glary
security lights can promote crime and be potentially dangerous to police
officers, as criminals can actually hide in the shadows and be invisible
because of the glary light pointing out in all directions.  And a recent
survey published in USA Today placed dogs, alarms, moving to a safer area,
and having someone at home all as deterrents that were ranked above
lighting by prison inmates convicted of property crimes.
     Having said that, I note that there are good uses for thoughtful
outdoor lighting, such as around important street intersections.  But
we have been too thoughtless by permitting lights to be erected that
are unshielded, permitting their glary light to stream out dangerously
into the eyes of motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists, and to invade
bedroom windows at night or the yards of amateur astronomers, young
and old.  Bad, glary lighting can and does cause accidents and promote
crime.  Thoughtful, full-cutoff lighting (where light is not emitted above a
horizontal plane cutting through the bottom of the lamp) is becoming very
popular around the country and the world as an aesthetically-pleasing
and energy-efficient way of illuminating some of our environment at
night.  Buildings and monuments can be nicely enhanced by low-lumen,
fully-shielded lighting that is recessed and/or shines downward and not
outward or skyward.  But lighting up buildings, monuments, flags,
and bridges just for the sake of lighting them up is more likely to
create ugly sights than aesthetically-pleasing sights unless careful
thought is employed in advance.
     Most taxpayers do not realize that most streetlighting is
paid for from their taxes, that usually there is no legal requirement
mandating specific streetlights, that most outdoor lighting is highly
inefficient (much of it even dangerous), and that towns and cities pay
large monthly and annual bills to keep streets lit at night.  My current
home town in Massachusetts has a population of around 27,000 but an
annual streetlighting bill in excess of $500,000 for electricity alone!
Single cities like Boston spend tens of millions of dollars every year on
electricity alone to light their streetlights, and I suspect that Providence
spends many millions each year for the same purpose.  An increase to lighting
public buildings, monuments, and bridges is likely to incur large continuing
annual costs in electricity to keep the lighting glaring.  And promoting
more energy usage and more night-time glare with the reward of tax
incentives for businesses does not appear to be sound policy.
     I suggest that the City of Providence sit back and think for a while
longer about its outdoor night lighting.  It might be better to do something
completely different, like implement an extensive outdoor-lighting ordinance
that mandates:  that all outdoor lighting above a certain lumen threshold
(a minimum of 1000-2000 lumens is often used in such ordinances in other
cities and towns) be fully shielded; that lower-lumen light bulbs be used
to make light less glary; that all sign lighting be recessed, shielded, and
mounting at the top, pointing only downward and only on the sign; that
closed businesses turn off all signage and parking-lot lighting after a
certain hour (like midnight); that floodlights be banned unless they are
fully shielded so that their light is not emitted above the horizontal; and
that non-security lights around other public edifices be turned off after a
certain hour.
    With the new energy-efficient sodium, metal-halide, and fluorescent lamps
now available, one can generally get the same amount of light on the ground
simply by shielding a lamp that uses half (or even a third) of the electricity
of older or existing unshielded lamps; these new lamps put out several times
more light (lumens) per watt than did older incandescent and mercury-vapor
lamps, but power-utility companies are loathe to tell the taxpayer that
they are so efficient, and they often replace 200-watt mercury-vapor lamps
with 200-watt metal-halide or HPS lamps, resulting in 2 to 8 times more
light on the ground!  A 35-watt HPS or metal-halide lamp is quite bright
and is generally sufficient light for most streetlight applications.
     A good general rule is that if one can see an outdoor
light bulb from 50-100 yards away, it is a bad light.  Outdoor lights simply
are not effective when one gets a certain distance away, so an unshielded
light bulb above 1000 lumens becomes nothing but a glary eyesore when you
have moved a few tens of feet away from it (where its light is no longer
strong enough to be useful).
     Just putting up a lot of glary, bright lights is more likely to backfire
on a city like Providence than to create huge benefits.  Converting all the
existing streetlights to full-cutoff and encouraging businesses to change all
their lighting to full-cutoff will greatly enhance the aesthetic beauty of
the city.  Give tax benefits to businesses that make their places look
attractive.  It is possible to have an aethestically-pleasing night-time
environment in any city that includes the ability to see hundreds of stars
and even the Milky Way from that same city!  Artificial lights alone don't
make the night-time environment appealing in any way at all --- any good
lighting engineer will note this fact.  But once you see a nicely, not-overly
lit area in which the source of the lighting in invisible, you quickly
realize that a city or town (or business or neighborhood) can be made a much
nicer place to live in or to visit.  Then you begin to wonder why everybody
doesn't put more thought into night-time lighting!

Respectfully yours,
Daniel W. E. Green
on behalf of the New England Light Pollution Advisory Group
(a volunteer group with members in all New England states)


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 $30.00 per year; send check to International Dark-Sky
Association, 3225 N. First Ave., Tucson, AZ  85719 (NOTE new address!).