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Houses on Mill St. are lit by a street lamp on Tuesday, Feb 15, 2022.

Athens community members push for increased city lighting, but some experts say it could result in harmful light pollution

A movement from Athens community members to increase street lighting in the city has been ongoing, and Athens Service Safety Director Andy Stone said it is a constant “push and pull” for lawmakers to accommodate community members’ public safety concerns.

There has to be a balance between citizens’ desires for better lighting and also being cautious of the rise of light pollution from the street lights, Stone said. 

Athens City Council President Chris Knisely said Council’s priority is community members’ safety. Knisely said the Joint Police Advisory Council allows for apprehensive citizens to schedule tours to show where they desire for street lights to be added. 

While the city has already taken measures to try to keep the night sky clear, some professors say there could be further steps to reduce the light pollution issue, according to a previous Post report. 

Tom O’Grady, an assistant astronomy professor, said around 20 years ago, the city passed an ordinance to avoid light pollution. However, the ordinance has done the opposite in many cases. 

Joseph Shields, an astronomy and physics professor and the vice president for research and creative activity, said the light pollution ordinance requires light fixtures that give off light above a certain level face downward. That helps prevent skyglow, which would have blocked out stars and increased wasted energy. 

“Both the city of Athens and Ohio University repeatedly disregard and violate the City’s light ordinance,” O’Grady said in an email. “They use far too many lights for small areas.”

O’Grady also said increased lighting can lead to an increase in crime, as criminals may not need flashlights — which would draw attention to them — to facilitate their crimes.

One of the most crime-ridden areas in Athens is the Walmart on East State Street, due to theft-related crimes, Stone said. Though Walmart is located in an extremely well-lit area, he said, that does not prevent crimes from taking place. 

“I think we are mostly looking for a ‘sense’ of security which the presence of light may give off,” O’Grady said in an email. 

It is important to use light where it is necessary, as well as the correct amount, Shields said. A poorly designed light fixture could result in glares and contrast, which may make it harder for •citizens to see their environment and surroundings.

However, a challenge that Council faces is the owners of American Electric Power, or AEP, Stone said. AEP owns the majority of the city, so they typically have the final say in what light fixtures they want to see. 

A long-term challenge the city faces is American Electric Power, or AEP, Stone said, as the company rents certain types of streetlights in the city. 

The lights AEP owns are older, higher pressure sodium and wattage lights with a bulb underneath. Rather than projecting light toward the ground, those lights project light from side-to-side, Stone said. The lights also use a large amount of energy, Stone said. 

Stone said he has been advocating for AEP to switch the older light fixtures to LED and to cut-off lights. However, it is a substantial investment for AEP. 

Stone also said the city is considering purchasing the lights from AEP and replacing them with LED and “downcast” lights, though that is a “long-term effort." 

Matthew Shumar, program coordinator for Ohio’s bird conservation initiative, said it is possible to increase the lighting for safety while simultaneously minimizing ecological impacts.

Light pollution issues affect insects, migratory birds and human health, and if fixtures continue to point upward, those issues would continue to increase. 

A switch to LED bulbs would help keep carbon footprints low, Shumar said. Even more, those lights would be more energy- and cost-efficient versus older lights previously used, according to a previous Post report.

“Light pollution is a hidden threat to our society in many ways. Better night lighting is a need. More lights are a problem,” O’Grady said in an email. 


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