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James Lowenthal: City has better streetlight choices


Saturday, June 11, 2016
There are better choices available to city

In a May 24 story, “Streetlights revamp a bright idea in Northampton,” the Gazette implies that Northampton must choose between quality of life on the one hand, and safety and energy savings on the other.

That is a false choice. In fact, the LED lights the city plans to install waste energy because they are poorly shielded and too bright. More importantly, the choices of light fixtures favored by the city do not enhance safety, they compromise it.

Glare is the culprit. If the light is shining in your eyes, you can’t see what you want to see, or anything else. That is dangerous for drivers and pedestrians, especially the elderly.

There is no good reason to choose lights that cause glare. Once we eliminate glare, then lower-wattage lights can be used, providing maximal energy savings while illuminating our city with a softer, more pleasant glow, rather than harsh, blinding hot spots of over-bright light.

Yes, the city sought public input on their proposed choices of LED lights. But the choices presented were far too limited. None has sufficient shielding, none has a warmer color than 3000K, and most were unnecessarily bright.

Better choices are available, both from the National Grid’s approved list and elsewhere, and have been installed successfully in numerous towns including in Massachusetts.

Those will save the city money and energy, protect public health and wildlife, and cut glare and light pollution — which stands to get as much as six times worse if the lights are installed as planned. Goodbye, stars and Milky Way, fireflies and migrating birds. Hello, sleepless nights.

The city says it will install shielding after the fact for lights “deemed to be a nuisance.” Most or all of the lights planned will be a nuisance, as confirmed by our petition to the mayor, signed by nearly 100 residents including two college deans, two leaders of religious institutions, lighting experts and other community leaders.

Far better to get it right the first time than pay to fix the mistake afterwards. This is not “decision paralysis,” this is simply making the right decision now.

James Lowenthal

Northampton