Dark Skies, Safe Streets.

I’m a man of many passions.  I very much enjoy staying busy and having a finger in a lot of pies.  (I like pie.)

Some of my passions make complete sense.  I’m a geek.  I love technology, computers and gadgets.  I love throwing a network together and making things work.

Some of my passions take a moment to think about, but suddenly make sense.  I love astronomy, I love space exploration and I love astrophysics.  Yes, I’m a geek - I got it from my Dad and once my kids demonstrated the gene I jumped right back in with both feet.

Some of my passions take a little longer to explain.  I’m Blockwatch director - (Community Safety) for my neighbourhood.  Just as I love throwing a network together and getting all the pieces talking with each other, I have found a joy in building a community and having the members be excited about creating something a little better than the way things were the day before.

Winding up my neighbourhood Blockwatch program has been fascinating as the official Calgary Blockwatch program has wound down.  It has lead to some bumps along the way - eventually we’re going to have to choose a better name.  But the need for a safe neighbourhood hasn’t gone away.  The need for a good interaction with the Calgary Police hasn’t gone away.  We simply need to find better ways to engage, involve and excite each other.

And let me diverge just a moment to the police.  I am far from a “Law and Order” kind of guy.  But let me be completely clear, the officers I have worked with have been exceptional across the board.  It has very much affected my view of policing and I want to  carry that experience in a bucket and dump it on anyone who doubts we have great people policing in Calgary.

It was at one of our meetings at the District 4 office that we got discussing the light pollution guidelines that were adopted yesterday.  It’s not very often my passions collide so wonderfully.

One of the concerns stated was that city hall was bound and determined to turn off the lights in Calgary.  Perhaps a little gleefully, I jumped in and started correcting misconceptions.

Back in the 1980’s Calgary began to change our attitude towards lighting and light pollution.  We began installing sodium vapour lighting with shields that directed light downwards onto the streets.  The light was put where it was needed, not glaring up into the sky.  The difference was noticeable.  The skies turned from a whitish haze to a glowing orange.  When I went down to the US for a year I got to experience just how much better Calgary’s lighting was compared with other cities.  Calgary has very good coverage, and our attempts to direct the light down to the roadway meant less glare in the skies and more light on the streets themselves.  It was much better than one blaring bulb on a corner expected to provide light for the entire block.  I hope it’s changed for them, even so I’m confident Calgary’s example lead the way.

The very status of lighting that was being passionately supported actually came from the redesign of our streetlights 30 years ago.  It was accepted as a great status quo and something that shouldn’t be changed.

That is precisely why the new guidelines spearheaded by Brian Pincott are so valuable to Calgary going forward.  It is very much the next needed step for lighting in Calgary.

The guidelines do not target the light on the streets, it is specifically focussed on putting the light precisely where we want light to be.  It will retain well lit, safe streets.  It is aimed to keeping our neighbourhoods safe and navigable at night.  But it keeps the light down where it’s needed, not glaring everywhere.

Anyone can go out and notice the difference the sodium halide lights have made.  Go out tonight and look around the city.  Observe the orange glow and try to spot a white lamp amongst them.  The white will instantly catch your eye, it will likely be unshielded, and it is simply wasted energy putting light to where you’re standing instead of getting the light where it was intended.  The new guidelines are all about getting proper lighting and instead of spreading it everywhere focussing it properly.

The benefits usually get shrunken down to, “The astronomers love it.“  Yes, yes we do.  The wildlife appreciates it as well, as does any of us that sleep better without a light glaring through our bedroom windows. 

There are many more clear benefits that every citizen experiences.  The biggest is that more efficient lighting saves us a boat load of money.  Putting light in one direction and not 360 degrees of coverage inherently makes sense - it also means you can significantly reduce the power needed to light the streets.  Lower wattages also means more efficient bulbs at lower temperatures and that brings about longer bulb life with less need to replace them.  More savings, and more safety because there is less downtime when a bulb burns out!

This is truly a good thing.

One last thing to note, the photo Chris Hadfield took over Calgary at night has been mentioned many times over.  It’s so pretty but it’s so bright!  Oh dear, will we lose such beautiful views?

Probably not, to be honest.  What we will lose is the bright glare going directly to space.  The view we will keep is the reflected light bounced from the ground.  Nose Hill park will remain dark because there aren’t many lights at all up there.  It’s a little tough to spot the glare because there are clouds in the photo, but the white glare of concentrated, unfocused lights are really what we want to lose.  If you share my desire to someday go into space, our view will be very similar to Chris’s - perhaps a little clearer and without as much bright glare being a distraction.

Our city’s new regulations are nothing but good for our safety, our streets, our wildlife, ourselves and our pocket books.  This is a great move forward.