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Northwestern City Evaluates Dark Skies Initiative

Northwestern City Evaluates Dark Skies Initiative

The City of Port Townsend, Washington,  is evaluating a dark skies initiative beginning with public streetlights.

Over the past few years, a number of tests have been performed with the use of LED streetlights compared to traditional high pressure sodium lights. LED lights offer the opportunity to use dark sky compliant fixtures while saving energy and overall operations and maintenance costs.

What are Dark Skies?
Dark Sky doesn’t mean darkness. Put simply, the dark sky movement is a campaign designed to reduce light pollution. This reduces the effects of electric light on the environment, improves the health of both wildlife and people, cuts down on energy use, and increases the number of stars visible at night. Controlling light pollution with City streetlights is one small element of dark sky effort. Light pollution also originates from private property lights. Dark skies rely on both public and private efforts to control light pollution.

Why now?
Port Townsend engineering staff has been working since 2017 on ways to be more energy efficient and cut costs where it is practical on streetlights. More recently, this effort is beginning with the replacement of existing high pressure sodium lights with dark sky compliant and energy efficient LED lights. The City received a $177,460 grant from the Transportation Improvement Board to replace lights in cooperation with the Jefferson County PUD, which owns and operates the lights on behalf of the City. Furthermore, as part of the process of replacing lights, input is being sought on the public’s desire for lighting levels in residential areas.

What is the City’s Process?
The public has already provided some feedback concerning streetlights and their impacts on the quality of life. Many value sets must be balanced concerning public lighting. Step one is the City’s effort to replace the lights. As part of the replacement, the City is considering the following:

  • Should the City remove some of the lights in residential areas? Note, lighting on arterial streets will not be eliminated and may be enhanced over time as part of street improvement projects. Lighting and high pedestrian crossing locations will not be removed.
  • What is the appropriate spacing for lights in residential areas? Is 500 feet or every other block adequate spacing?
  • How does lighting impact those with disabilities including impaired vision?
  • What are the impacts on safety? Based on years of lighting practice, the perception is that lighting increases public safety. This may not be the case.
  • Should lights be dimmed to 50% of historical lighting levels?
  • What are the appropriate lighting levels and spacing for new residential subdivisions?

The City anticipates adopting a new street lighting policy based on public feedback in July of this year. More information can be found on the City of Port Townsend website.

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