(Pikes Peak at night. Copyright Dr. Travis Rector)

Surprise. Colorado Springs has once again become the focus of a largely negative national media maelstrom surrounding this article by Michael Booth in the Denver Post, which has made a number of rounds on the internet now. Of course, not all of the information in the article is entirely accurate. For example, the City of Colorado Springs never asked people to bring their mowers to the parks as the article insinuates, though grass will be mowed less often.

That said, there’s no denying that the recession has hit Colorado Springs hard and that the city had to contend with deeper-than-average revenue shortfalls because the general fund is so heavily dependent on sales tax revenue. Aside from widely lamentable cuts to public transportation, recreation, culture and safety, there’s been a disproportionate amount of hand-wringing about dimmed street lights. For those of you dismayed about the darkened streets (approximately one-third of the city streetlights have been turned off in an attempt to save $1.2 million—more info HERE), you may find some of the following information on the matter enlightening:

…in Galileo’s time people assumed that the Milky Way must be some kind of continuous substance. It truly resembled a streak of spilled liquid—our word “galaxy” comes from the Greek for milk—and it was so bright that it cast shadows on the ground (as did Jupiter and Venus). Today, by contrast, most Americans are unable to see the Milky Way in the sky above the place where they live, and those who can see it are sometimes baffled by its name. The stars have not become dimmer; rather, the Earth has become vastly brighter, so that celestial objects are harder to see. Air pollution has made the atmosphere less transparent and more reflective, and high levels of terrestrial illumination have washed out the stars overhead—a phenomenon called “sky glow.”

That’s a quote from an excellent article by David Owen at The New Yorker, and there’s another great piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg with lovely pictures HERE at National Geographic. We hope you’ll read both as you consider how a dimmer night time in Colorado Springs will affect you personally.

Here are a few more quotes for thought from The New Yorker piece:

Tucson gives individual neighborhoods the right to choose whether they want street lights (and to pay for them if they do). Most of the newer, more affluent residential areas, and a number of commercial blocks, have elected to do without.

Calgary, Alberta, recently cut its electricity expenditures by more than two million dollars a year, by switching to full-cutoff, reduced-wattage street lights.

In the early seventies, the public-school system in San Antonio, Texas, began leaving many of its school buildings, parking lots, and other property dark at night and found that the no-lights policy not only reduced energy costs but also dramatically cut vandalism.

The twenty-four-hour day/night cycle, which is also known as the circadian clock, influences physiological processes in virtually all living things. Pervasive artificial illumination has existed for such a brief period that not even the species that invented it has had time to adapt, biologically or otherwise.

-A few years later, [Richard Stevens, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center, in Farmington] persuaded the authors of the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the largest and most rigorous investigations of women’s medical issues ever undertaken, to add questions about nighttime employment, and the study subsequently revealed a strong association between working the night shift and an increased risk of breast cancer. Eva Schernhammer, of the Harvard Medical School, and Karl Schulmeister, an Austrian physicist, analyzed the work-shift data from the Nurses’ Study several years ago, and wrote, “We hypothesize that the potential primary culprit for this observed association is the lack of melatonin, a cancer-protective agent whose production is severely diminished in people exposed to light at night.”

And from the National Geographic article:

In the south Atlantic the glow from a single fishing fleet—squid fishermen luring their prey with metal halide lamps—can be seen from space, burning brighter, in fact, than Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro.

Of all the pollutions we face, light pollution is perhaps the most easily remedied. Simple changes in lighting design and installation yield immediate changes in the amount of light spilled into the atmosphere and, often, immediate energy savings.

For even more information about the benefits of dark skies, including studies about street lights and safety, the way light pollution affects wildlife and information about how you can further reduce light pollution WITHOUT getting rid of your safety lighting, visit www.darksky.org.

While none of us look forward to losing services to which we’ve grown accustomed, perhaps our eyes will adjust to the dimmer economic conditions and we will view this and other changes in ways that we couldn’t have foreseen. And perhaps we’ll see more stars, too.

If you want more info on the progress of streetlight deactivation or how you can adopt a streetlight to keep it on, go HERE.

We’d love to hear your perspectives or experiences in the comments below. Thanks!


10 Responses to The Unintended Upside of Dark Streets?

  1. Claire Garcia says:

    As a 50-something with poor eyesight, I’m not convinced that dark streets, especially downtown, are a good thing. The argument about breast cancer and streetlights is specious, as the report focused on people working shifts~ spending several hours indoors under artificial light.

  2. Debra Greer says:

    well it’s pretty romantic to talk about star visibility, comforting, even in the midst of planet pollution that interferes with our bodies and our enjoyments. HOWEVER, there are many neighborhoods in this City that are suffering from the lack of night time street lighting. Whie vandalism in dark parking lots at public facilities is apparently reduced, in the neighborhoods, it is human safety that is reduced. No one is unloading groceries in the dark at an unlit public school. No one is selling drugs (we hope) at a darkened school. No one is stumbling around to find their dropped keys, no one is able to see the victim fall when some chump rolls them under the car and runs away with their purse.

  3. Carol Cromie says:

    The loss of our night vision is a tragic one. The gleaming of the stars and moon helps to put poetry in our lives for countless generations, and we as a society give it up for safety. I prefer to see the stars, and believe me, if I could afford to live in the country, I would not have any streetlights.

  4. Nancy Wilsted says:

    Maybe we could have light only when we need it. We’re pleased with our motion sensitive lights, and the surprise element deters criminals more effectively than a street light could. Also, on my key chain I carry one of those amazing LED flashlights which is barely larger than a key and provides bright, clear light. Cell phones work, too!

  5. Marina Eckler says:

    It’s counter intuitive but you are at a disadvantage when you leave a lit building and walk out to a brightly lit area at night, because all around you are comparatively very dark shadows for a potential attacker to hide in. Your eyes are not adjusted to the dark unlike someone already outside. Dimmer parking lots are safer in that way because your eyes will adjust faster and you still have enough light to navigate.

    Thanks for writing about this! At night you can see the lights of Colorado Springs 150 miles away.

  6. Liz Arnold says:

    In Santa Fe, all of the street lights are a soft yellow color and are pointed down rather than up so that the residents of desert can see the stars at night. It’s actually possible to be on the edge of that city and still see the stars without being blinded by the harsh sharpness of white street lights. Of course in OUR city, that would not only mean keeping street lights on, but we would have to redo all of them!! 🙂 We know THAT isn’t going to happen, but it is an interesting discussion to look at the up side of less light in the city. Thanks for the thought provoking statistics and dialog. Change starts with a thought or idea.

  7. Barbara C says:

    I hope that Colorado College will take a hard look at this. They have SO MANY lights, at so many different heights, on Cascade Avenue that it is literally blinding to drive through at night. I find the students even harder to see with the current excessive lighting and glare shining into driver’s eyes.

  8. Diann Webb says:

    Thanks for doing this article. I wrote many letters, posted many comments about the Dark Sky organization to our city. We missed a wonderful opportunity (course, we could still do it!) to turn around the negativity surrounding the turning off of streetlights and instead, turning our city into a Dark Sky City. Flagstaff is another wonderful example of what a city can do with the proper lighting ordinances.

  9. CWG says:

    The majority of people are more interested in their convenience than in the problems caused by polution in whatever form it might be. I, for one, am more for headlights than not being able to show my kids what the night sky should look like.

  10. Noel Black says:

    CWG, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that you dim or turn off your headlights.


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