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Activists Look To Illuminate Lighting Issues

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 Jim Dougherty, conservation committee chair for the D.C. Sierra Club, considers the tunnel at Dupont Circle to be an example of excessive or wasted lighting.
Jim Dougherty
Jim Dougherty, conservation committee chair for the D.C. Sierra Club, considers the tunnel at Dupont Circle to be an example of excessive or wasted lighting.

In order for the District to have a bright future, Jim Dougherty says it's time to turn down the lights.

"Some lights are too bright," he says. "A lot of the lights light directly up or sideways."

Dougherty is with D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club. Every day, he bikes around the city, looking for light pollution.

"[In Dupont Circle] you can see people a block away, and I can tell you exactly what they're wearing because it's like daylight here at 11 o'clock at night," he says.

Dougherty says the bright lights waste electricity, confuse nocturnal animals and make it difficult for humans to sleep.

A few years ago, Council member Mary Cheh introduced a bill promoting what she called "smarter" lights. It didn't pass, but the city did agree to conduct a study, which is scheduled to be complete by October.

Still, Samantha Nolan, a member of the police chief's Citizens Advisory Council, says she's ready to fight for the lights in the name of public safety.

"I can look at a crime map and tell you where a street light is out just because dark places encourage crime, light places encourage crime," she says.

Dougherty says he agrees that some lights are neccessary.

"We're not trying to reduce public safety in the slightest," he says. "Where the lighting is right, we want it to stay the same. Our concern is where the lighting is too bright, and mostly where we're sending the light into the sky."

John Lisle is with D.C.'s Department of Transportation. He says there are a lot of competing interests to consider when installing lights.

"Preservation, environmentalism, as well as public safety, we have to balance all of that," he says. "And where we can do a better job reducing light pollution we're trying to do that."

DDOT is in the process of installing 1,000 energy efficient lights in city alleys. Dougherty says that's a start. But he says the city can and should do more. And until it does, he says he won't go quietly into the night.

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