Mayor's One-Stop Shopping

Thanks go to the mayor and city departments of South Bend, IN, who gathered in a gym with the public at the "Mayor's Night Out" on March 30, 2016. I met with several parties to discuss lighting issues and the need to keep new LED lighting installations restricted to 3000K or less. By blanketing multiple offices at once I could insure everyone received a common message which applies directly to diverse municipal functions.

I should have grabbed business cards from more people; my lack of note-taking and getting names is weak and evident. In brief...

Parks and Recreation The parks recently acted to improve management that includes the night, for which I congratulated the Parks and Recreation Department for responding favorably to public input. We collectively noted how the Elbel dialogue will likely benefit the users of all the city parks. I also provided details about why 3000K is the favored cutoff value for LED lights. As the parks make modifications and upgrades to lighting, they can be proactive in choosing better fixtures.

We also talked about existing programs and possible astronomy offerings at the city's Charles Black Recreation Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center. While they have extant after-school programs, their youths are generally below the age for participation in a local Skynet Junior Scholars initiative. However, when asked about upcoming observing events I said it's not too early to budget for and order some solar shades in anticipation of the 2017 Solar Eclipse, since protective eyewear will be in short supply as the August 2017 spectacle approaches.

Public Works Department

I don't have a photo of the department staff, but they received my comments and asked for the basis of my 3000K request. I appreciate inquiry from engineers. I noted the LED lighting industry has evolved from manufacturing blue-rich lights initially and is now marketing better streetlight options in longer wavelengths that impinge less on human health. I also encouraged them to follow three guidelines for future city lighting projects, including the West Side Corridors Plan, Light Up South Bend, and the Lamp Post Project. They suggested they seek to limit the light cast to the streets and sidewalks as they respond to residents' requests for lighting. I challenge whether that can't be done with full cutoff lights, as one person intimated.

One qualm with this conversation is that they are converting to mid-temperature LED fixtures as they swap out high-pressure sodium fixtures. Their reasoning, if I heard it correctly, is that the 4000K fixtures they install give a better color transition between the orange-ish sodium lights and the new LEDs. They don't want islands of new white lights overwhelming the orange legacy lights. Sitting at my desk now, I'm thinking the 3000K LED lights would be even better for that purpose, for 4000K is further toward the blue spectrum extreme than the "warmer" looking 3000K. I gotta follow up on this conversation. The bottom line is that the city does not have a Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) standard; i.e., it does not have a policy for LED color preference.

Police Department

As a community discusses outdoor lighting, I believe the police department needs to be involved as well. I asked them about their thoughts on lighting. They are advocates of lighting for multiple reasons--including seeing hazards on the sidewalk while in pursuit and reading signage at night--and generally favor more lighting. In the summer when the streetlights are ensconced in leafy trees, the shortcomings are exacerbated.

I countered with a request not to have a knee-jerk reaction with the blanket statement, "We need more lights." Rather, I believe police need better lighting. Streetlights with lots of glare hinder rather than help security. Confronted with an exposed light source, the human eye compensates, and as a consequence you create areas of greater shadows and less overall visibility.

Try this: During a full moon, go outdoors at night where there are no lights. Notice how incredibly well you can see your environs from the moon's mere 0.3 lux of illumination. Then go somewhere that has typical side road lighting like a cobra head streetlight with sag lens, which at 5 lux is about 15 times brighter than the moon (per Lux Light Level Chart). That lone high-glare light, however, will create areas of hindering darkness--great visibility directly under the light but dark zones away from the light. That light fixture doesn't help police work as it should.

Police officers and the public deserve better light at night, whether retrofitting existing fixtures or adding new ones. (Again, please don't just say we need more.) Municipalities need to install fully shielded lights. And if you're installing new lights, make sure the LED fixtures are below 3000K. (Can you see what I was trying to hammer home at each stop?)

We went on to talk about how the human circadian system is most sensitive to the same wavelength as blue-rich lights and the implications for the officers working midnight shift. At home the same guidelines apply. Look on the LED light's packaging to find temperature. Avoid the blues.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg

I thanked the mayor for hosting this opportunity to take my message to multiple relevant departments in one outing. Yes, I continued my pitch about fully shielded lights and 3000K LEDs, which he received thoughtfully with comments and Qs. Here I was limited to five minutes, which was sufficient. Now everybody knows.

Corporation Counsel and the Community Investment Department

Additional thanks go to these two groups for answering additional questions I had about sidewalk astronomy and a proposed public observing event atop Wayne St. Parking Garage. It seems the city requires a $5M insurance policy if I were to host an observing opportunity for the May 9 transit of Mercury on the upper deck of the garage. One quote I got to cover the insurance requirement was $2,255, so for now that event is on hold.

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