Rabbi David Seidenberg: We can avoid glare from new city streetlights

  • An example of new streetlights in use on Williams Street in Northampton. JAMES LOWENTHAL

Published: 10/2/2016 1:27:24 PM

The city of Northampton is poised to install all new streetlight fixtures this month. The new LED streetlights will save a lot of energy. But the light from LED bulbs is 100 times more intense than the lights we have now.

If you’ve ever been blinded while driving by LED headlights from an oncoming car, you know that it’s not just unsafe, it can be painful. That’s why the group Safelight Skylight Northampton is calling on the city to install glare shields on all the new LED streetlights, to protect us, our pedestrians, and our skies.

We need glare shields for these reasons:

Safety. Glare shields prevent night blindness, keeping pedestrians safer, both from cars and from crime.

Beauty. Glare shields protect our views of the stars and the Milky Way.

Health. Glare shields mean that fewer people will have their sleep patterns disrupted by super bright LED lights.

Life. Glare shields not only help us live better, they also help migrating birds and other animals that can be harmed by light pollution.

This is not just our opinion. The American Medical Association and the Illuminating Engineering Society both recommend glare shields and cite significant hazards from not using them.

And of course the International Dark Sky Association strongly advocates for them, and has lots of resources available for people interested in reading on this topic.

Imagine an issue where so many diverse groups of experts can come to consensus about something!

Now we need to convince the city.

If you write to the mayor, he will tell you that the AMA guidelines are being followed, because the

“color temperature” of the lights, which is the maximum allowable, is not over the limit. But the AMA report is clear about the need for glare shields.

That advice is not being followed by the mayor or by Chris Mason, the staff person for the Energy and Sustainability Committee.

Mason believes that more light spillage means brighter and safer streets. He’s not alone – there’s a whole lighting industry that hasn’t caught up with the science. But we believe in science, and in what our own eyes can see.

If you want to learn why a brighter street is not safer, visit darksky.org and search for “lighting crime safety.”

Or just go to Williams Street at night, where some of the fixtures are being tested, to get an eyeful of glare and see (or not) for yourself.

Unfortunately, what you won’t see when you go there is an example of a light fixture with a glare shield. That seems like a “no-brainer” that every City Council member and every citizen should insist on. The city even received several “cul-de-sac” shields for testing, which block glare in every direction.

But for reasons that don’t make sense to anyone I’ve spoken to, those shields were never installed or tested.

What about cost? Adding the glare shields will add about 7 percent to the cost of the lights. That amount will be more than made up for if one accident is prevented because drivers aren’t blinded by exposed LED lights. And if a life is spared, there’s no limit to what that’s worth.

There’s a colorful teaching from Jewish mysticism that says the reason people can speak is that we lift up our heads to see the stars. Right now on a clear night, if you block the streetlights from your view you can still faintly see the Milky Way, even from Prospect Street.

What happens to us when we can’t? We need starlight, and we need safe light. It’s time for the city to do the right thing and listen to the people who care most.

Rabbi David Seidenberg is a member of the group Safelight Skylight Northampton. For more information, email to safelight4northampton@gmail.com.


American Medical Association


Illuminating Engineering Society


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