Pittsburgh – Friend of the Night Sky?

This seems unlikely, but a new dawn is breaking in the big city. Or should I say a new night is breaking? Can you believe, the city of Pittsburgh is going night sky friendly, no, really, they are committing to it!

Our little community of Canyon Lake is facing light pollution challenges coming from the small and large cities around us. Those cities surely face light pollution challenges, partly due to their uncanny growth rates. Look at New Braunfels. There are at least 3 new very large developments on their way. While New Braunfels has outdoor lighting ordinances in place and NBU is committed to preserving the night sky, light pollution continues to worsen. Maybe it’s a communication thing. Maybe it’s a resource thing. I don’t know but I fully expect these new neighborhoods to increase sky glow, blotting out more stars.

Comal County Friends of the Night Sky has a motto:  One Light at a Time.  We celebrate each small step in the right direction, but the prospect of thousands of new homes with requisite lighting infrastructure is daunting. Makes me wonder if it’s a waste of time. How does a city manage to turn the light pollution problem around?

How did a big old city like Pittsburgh take the light pollution cure? For established cities this it means a huge financial commitment! It also means a lot of research, and decisions to fix what’s wrong in the face of likely significant push-back. It means a bunch of communication and education to help push backers see the night.

Pittsburgh is doing it! Here’s how.

In September 2021, the city of Pittsburgh’s City Council voted for, and its mayor passed ordinances to reduce the occurrence of light pollution within city limits. They decided on these measures to make their community a better and safer place to live. Consulting with Diane Turnshek, astronomer and special faculty, and Stephen Quick, architect and urban designer, both at Carnegie Mellon University, they are following International Dark Sky Association guidelines.  Pittsburgh’s ordinances focus on city owned properties and utilities.  To begin, the city will replace 35,000 streetlights with fully shielded, 2700K LED lights. If you wonder what that means, fully shielded stops glare and directs the light where it is pointed, and 2700K is a very soft and warm light. Warm light does not get scattered nearly as much as cold (5000K) light, so it has far less tendency to foul the dark, where it’s not pointing.  All parks and city property/buildings will be retrofitted with better lighting. The same goes for all new lighting.

This is a great start and while Pittsburgh’s ordinances do not specifically cover residential or business properties, the city is actively involved in getting them to use better outdoor lighting.


What’s in the Sky?

For you early risers, Venus and Mars continue to grace the eastern sky before sunrise. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse Mercury in the mix.