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Will NYC Ever See the Stars Again?

street lamp illumination

The glow of outdoor lighting that has followed urban growth has overwhelmed our view of the stars.  This light pollution does not provide any useful light, wastes significant amounts of energy, harms surrounding ecosystems and contributes to carbon dioxide emissions.

The problems of this light pollution can be mitigated by using outdoor lighting that is efficient and designed to illuminate the ground and not the night sky.  It is probably impossible to create a fully dark sky here in NYC, but we can help the situation by simply installing lighting only when and where needed and by always directing it down towards the ground. Billboards can be lit from the top down rather than by shining a light on them from the bottom up.  Parking lots and ball parks can use fully shielded fixtures that shine the light on the playing field rather then the sky above.

A bill was recently introduced in the New York City Council that would require the Department of Transportation to use the flat-lens cobrahead street lighting fixture instead of the drop-lens now being used.  The effect of the flat lens is to direct more light directly onto the street and sidewalk and minimize the amount of light that would escape into the night sky.  DOT objected to being “mandated” to adopt specific fixtures and is now experimenting with a LED type streetlight that will use a flat lens.

Many cities across the US are now promoting effective outdoor lighting ordinances such as the one described above.  This movement of creating dark skies is gaining momentum around the world because of the substantial benefits to wildlife and human health.  Careless use of outdoor lighting damages the night time environment in many ways for everyone.  Careful and considered use of lighting at night would unblanket the stars in all but the largest cities.

MAS has organized a tour Night & Light in the City to examine the effects of different kinds of street lighting in New York next Thursday, March 5, with noted lighting designer Howard Brandston whose commissions include the Statue of Liberty and Battery Park City.