The Madison Common Council is considering steps to cut down on light pollution – and begin the process of labeling Madison as a Dark Sky city.
Last week, the council introduced two related items: one, a proposed ordinance that would mandate light shields. The other, a proposed resolution for the city to join the International Dark-Sky Association, or IDA, a group dedicated to fighting light pollution.
The proposed ordinance would require new shielding for all outdoor lights – both public and privately owned. This shielding, installed on the top of a lamp, keeps light from leaking into places it was not intended to light up.
Madison district 15 alder Grant Foster, who introduced the new ordinance with district 13 alder Tag Evers, says the idea came directly from Madison residents.
“I have had a number of residents come to me with concerns about bright lights, and after a number of times passing those complaints on and hearing that, within a number of those cases that they were within our ordinances, I spoke with alder Evers about working to see what we could do to reduce light pollution, specifically in the Wingra watershed area, and that’s when we found the Dark Sky Association,” Foster says.
Under the proposed ordinance, any exterior light brighter than 500 lumens, such as a garage spotlight, must have a cover installed to direct the light towards the ground. If a light does not have this cover, then the property owner would be fined at least $25 each day until the problem is fixed.
But Foster says that the purpose of the ordinance is more about educating the public than it is about catching people in the act.
“It will essentially all be complaint based, we aren’t encouraging people to go out and find light violations. If and when we get complaints from folks, we will have inspectors go out and we will have a different threshold for what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. So if someone goes out and they have a bright light that is not shielded, then they will give notice to the property owner and they can either install a shield or put a different light in,” Foster says
Lighting fixtures can cost anywhere from $50-200 per fixture to replace. Foster says that the city would not cover the costs to replace the lights.
The nonprofit International Dark-Sky Association, or IDA, was founded1988 with a goal to fight excessive use of artificial light, across the world. Ashley Wilson is the Director of Conservation with the IDA. She says that unshielded lights are a large contributor to light pollution, and help to create side glow, or the sphere of light pollution that you see around cities. Wilson says that directing that light downward through shielding, however, can help cut that unused light.
“The amount of light that is emitted across a horizontal plane contributes more to side glow than the amount of light that emits directly upward. So by shielding light below that 90 degree angle, we are further reducing the visibility of that luminous orb above our city, and we are beginning to retract that presence of side glow so we can restore that natural darkness,” Wilson says.
A related resolution introduced at last week’s Common Council meeting aims to set Madison on the path to join the I-D-A, and would allow the city to officially apply to become an International Dark Sky Community. When a city becomes a Dark Sky Community, they can then better communicate and plan with other cities to find new ways to fight light pollution.
Madison would then adopt the IDA’s Five Principles of Responsible Outdoor Lighting.
Those five principles are that lights should be useful, targeted only where needed, no brighter than necessary, used only when useful, and to use warmer color lights wherever possible.
If approved, Madison would be Wisconsin’s first official Dark Sky Community, though Newport State Park in Door County is considered a Dark Sky Area. Madison would also become the largest community in the world recognized as a Dark Sky Community.
Foster says that streets themselves will not be darker than they usually are, and that the light shields will just keep the light from lighted unwanted areas.
“The city has already been actively swapping out for LED on street lights, it won’t be like “oh it’s suddenly so dark now,” it’s really just about addressing lights that are more than what’s needed,” Foster says.
Both the ordinance, which mandates the light shields, and the resolution, to adopt the five principles, now head to the Building Code, Fire Code, Conveyance Code, and Licensing Appeals Board.
Photo courtesy: Nate Wegehaupt / WORT News Team