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Local View: Superior Street project a chance to combat light pollution

t1.26.18 Bob King -- 013018.O.DNT.LIGHTSc -- This view from the Skywalk shows the current unshielded sodium vapor lamp lighting on Superior Street in downtown Duluth. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

Duluth is preparing to reconstruct Superior Street. Part of this reconstruction will, of course, include streetlights. This is a great opportunity to reduce downtown light pollution and showcase how outdoor municipal lighting can be safe, energy efficient, and let us see the night sky.

Cindy HakalaLight pollution occurs when outdoor lights shine where they are not needed and not wanted. The current lights on Superior Street are an excellent example of lights that point up into the sky, causing light pollution, rather than pointing toward the ground and lighting what we need to see: the streets and sidewalks. Light pollution makes it harder to see at night due to glare, wastes electricity, disrupts sleep, and dims the stars.

The city of Duluth has specified lights for the Superior Street reconstruction project that point down and have a "warm" color temperature. This is wonderful news!

However, we with the Starry Skies Lake Superior group think that the citizens should see examples of these lights before they are purchased and installed permanently. Several light-emitting diode, or LED, units in different color temperatures could be installed side by side so citizens could get an idea of what to expect. If they cannot be installed, they at least should be shown side by side at a public meeting. LED lights are much more intense than previous light sources.

It is hard to decide on an appropriate light when there are only technical specifications to go on and no visual experience of the light. Is a 2,700 kelvin light "warm" enough? We won't really know until we can see it in action.

With careful planning and due diligence, Superior Street can be a point of pride for Duluth and an example for the region of how public lighting can be done beautifully, safely, and with a minimum amount of light pollution. By using Superior Street as a demonstration project, Duluth can become a leader in the fight against light pollution, increasing our appeal to tourists and making our community safer, healthier, and more beautiful.

Cindy Hakala of Duluth is president of Starry Skies Lake Superior (starryskiesls.org), a chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association (darksky.org).

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