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Lighting Ordinances: An Illuminating Trend

The prevalence of light pollution, obvious in this NASA image, is being recognized by more communities as a quality of life issue. In 2004, many municipalities instituted or took steps to enact responsible outdoor lighting ordinances.

The International Dark-Skies Association ( has apparently inspired light pollution efforts on the state level, e.g., VOLT, the Virginia Outdoor Lighting Taskforce ( VOLT avers it’s the “only organization specifically dedicated to improving outdoor lighting right here in Virginia.”

VOLT reports that Prince William County, Va., among other counties, has completed a final draft of proposed outdoor lighting standards that require “all outdoor lighting fixtures be designed, shielded, aimed, located and maintained to shield adjacent properties and to not produce glare onto adjacent properties or roadways.” It also would require parking lot light fixtures and light fixtures on buildings to be full cut-offs.

Flashing, revolving, or intermittent exterior lighting visible from any property line or street would be prohibited, as would high intensity light beams such as searchlights, lasers or strobe lights.

The average maintained lighting levels for nonresidential uses would not exceed: five foot-candles for parking lots; 10 foot-candles along fronts of buildings and along main drive aisles; and 30 foot-candles for high security areas. Lighting levels shall be reduced to a maximum of 10 foot-candles after the close of business; 50 foot-candles in the infield and 30 foot-candles in the outfield for recreational baseball/softball fields.

VOLT reports that seven Virginia counties have or are proposing lighting ordinances. As with many states, Virginia has a way to go--there are 135 counties in the state. This is just one example of many lighting ordinances being written by communities across the country. Diminution of light pollution is not just about human sensibilities. The Ravenel Bridge in South Carolina, connecting Charleston and Mount Pleasant over the Cooper River, was scheduled to receive 117,000 watts of lighting. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service objected, saying such bright lights would threaten sea turtles and migratory birds. Sea turtles hatchlings are said to sometimes mistake lights for the surf line. The bridge lighting has been dimmed to 37,000 watts, but even this subdued lighting affects stargazing.

The downlighting of 300 new lights in Las Cruces, New Mexico has reduced light pollution for stargazers and drivers. Motorists here no longer have the glare of the streetlights obscuring their view. By 2010, the entire city of Las Cruces will be using the new streetlights.

New outdoor lighting ordinances have been in the works for over a year in Smithfield, Utah to allow citizens to recapture the night sky in Cache Valley.

Responsible outdoor lighting is now defined by lighting ordinances in Woodbridge, Bethany, and Orange, Connecticut. In Woodbridge, the light source in commercial and residential properties shall not be visible beyond the boundaries of the lot, and hours of lighting may be limited.

In Bethany, the location, height, and arrangement of outside lighting is specified to avoid trespass and direct glare on any other lot and to avoid hazards to traffic. The source of the illumination must not be visible from off the property. The commission may require full cut-off fixtures. In Orange, “all exterior lights shall be designed, located, installed and directed to minimize objectionable light at the property lines and disability glare at any location on or off the property. Ornamental lighting shall be installed and located so as to minimize light trespass onto adjacent property.”

Lighting design is even capturing the attention in small communities. The Cape City Council of Missouri came forward to resolve what citizens believed would be intrusive lighting (among other issues) with the construction of 16 townhouses.

The trend toward smarter lighting is apparent in the design field. This year the Phoenix Group Corp. purchased Lighting Science Inc., a Las Vegas designer of light bulbs. Lighting Science expects to launch a “new generation of energy-efficient, low-cost LED light bulbs.” The company says the product uses “dramatically less energy and produce less light pollution than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs.”

Poor lighting design has a number of detrimental aspects:

  1. Light going up wastes energy. This is particularly prevalent in municipal lighting and most notably at power plants.
  2. Glare can temporarily blind drivers from seeing hazards and pedestrians. Lighting that intrudes onto residential properties and through windows is a privacy problem.
  3. So-called security lighting may actually decrease security. These unshielded lights create tremendous glare that obscure visibility.
  4. Stars? What are those? Uplighting hides nature's greatest spectacle.

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June 18, 2019, 8:38 am PDT

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