LED streetlights and ‘Dark Skies’ considered

Posted 5/26/21

The city of Port Townsend has been toying with the not-so-bright idea of darkening some local streetlights as part of a “Dark Skies” initiative.

But while stargazers are pleased at the …

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LED streetlights and ‘Dark Skies’ considered

Posted

The city of Port Townsend has been toying with the not-so-bright idea of darkening some local streetlights as part of a “Dark Skies” initiative.

But while stargazers are pleased at the prospect of less light pollution, some residents in town have raised safety concerns with fewer street lights.

Public Works Director Steve King briefed members of the Port Townsend City Council during a recent workshop on the city’s efforts to reduce lighting costs.

“We have just over a $900,000 street operations budget, and out of that budget $145,000 goes to street lighting,” King said during a May 10 city council workshop.

“Those are fees that we pay Jefferson [Public Utility District] to operate about 480 lights in town — actually its closer to 600 lights if you count all the downtown and Rainier lights,” he added.

King said as part of the 2021 budgeting process, the city proposed cutting its street lighting budget by about one-third.

By updating its street lights with LED fixtures and the removal of certain lights, King explained, that goal was met.

The switch to LED would save the city about 150,000 kilowatt hours each year.

“Every kilowatt we save here in Port Townsend helps the world by reducing the amount of energy produced by fossil fuels,” he said.

A city ordinance adopted in October of 2020 asked the Public Works Department to make considerations for lighting impacts to light pollution as part of a “Dark Sky Initiative.” The initiative suggested that the results of these considerations could be the removal of certain streetlights where appropriate.

“From a dark sky goal, converting to LED lights — we’ll do it in a manner that reduces light pollution. But should we reduce the number of lights? That’s our primary policy question,” King explained.

In its cost-saving endeavor to swap out its old high-pressure sodium lights with LEDs, Port Townsend received grant funding to the tune of $177,460.

The project was selected for funding May 4 through the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board’s Relight Washington grant program. Slated for conversion are 480 street lights in Port Townsend.    

According to the grant application, the conversion would save the city $4,281 per month.

Currently the city pays a flat-rate to the public utility district of between $17.25 and $19.50 per month for each each street light — depending on the wattage of the fixture.

LEDs would cost the city $9.81 apiece per month.

In a public comment shared at the workshop, one resident noted that the cost savings only pencil out if the city reduces unnecessary light after installing the LED fixtures.

“The conversion of our city streetlights to LED will be a smart move financially if the total amount of unnecessary light is reduced,” wrote Margaret Lee ahead of the May 10 workshop. “Often when communities realize such a price reduction, they tend to use more light than necessary because it costs so much less.”

“With this conversion and, hopefully, a city-wide lighting ordinance, our town will maintain and enhance enjoyment of the nighttime sky,” Lee added.

Prior to a separate Transportation Committee meeting May 19 — where the matter of streetlights in Port Townsend was set to be discussed — another resident pointed out the potential impacts to pedestrians who have no other mode of transportation than walking.

“People who rarely walk, bike or take transit are less aware of how a street system can enable or inhibit these fundamental modes of transportation,” Barney Burke wrote. “They often describe Port Townsend as a great town for walking and biking despite never riding a bike or walking farther than two or three blocks at a time.”

Burke suggested that the removal of lights only really serves to benefit a few residents hoping for clear night skies.

“Now we have a renewed call for the reduction of street lighting so star-gazers can get a better view of the night sky from their back yards,” he continued. “What about people trying to exercise their right to walk on one of our potholed public streets in the dark? Seems kind of like cutting down Peter’s trees to give Paul a view.”

“No one is asking for Dodger Stadium lighting,” Burke’s letter continues. “Pedestrians just need to see where they’re stepping, and drivers need to be able to see them. The darker the street, the less likely people will use it at night.”

Following the public comment, King noted to the committee members that the city was not proposing the removal of any streetlights along arterial streets.

The director added that as the city moves forward, it will be in talks with representatives from the group Disability Awareness Starts Here to have them weigh in on how light reductions might impact street accessibility within the realm of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Comments

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Brian McKittrick

People who want to see stars in the night sky need to move to the south west. Anyone who has been living in Port Townsend for more than a month, already knows that we miss most celestial events due to clouds.

In the meantime, for the sake of all those who walk, ride, use wheelchairs and various other prosthetic devices as they travel our sidewalks and streets, please do not cut down on the lighting in our city. It's bad enough at night, already.

In fact, as I recall, our newly retired police chief once blamed a person who got hit by a truck while walking in a marked crosswalk, for wearing dark clothing. How many more victims will be blamed for how they were dressed, instead of how many lights were taken down?

As for me and my family, we will continue to make use of lights around the outside of our home at night for our own safety. If our neighbors are buying telescopes and demanding the whole city shut down lights so they can see the sky better, they can pack up and move. This city has lost its mind.

Wednesday, May 26
MARILYN BERRY

Agree with the removal of the street lights. Save a lot of money. My neighborhood does not have them. The main drags/arterial streets would keep their lights. Even partial removal or removal in selected areas would save a lot of money.

Thursday, May 27