(May 17, 2017) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2017 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.
(October 3, 2012) “Smart growth” emphasizes bike friendly communities, with bike lanes and mountain bike trails. As a cyclist, I am always, 100% in support of all efforts to increase bike and pedestrian friendliness.
However, “smart growth” enthusiasts, in some cases, also wish to establish “dark sky ordinances,” where dim, dark orange colored lights are placed at great distances from each other. In many cases, these lights are even turned off sometime between 9pm and Midnight, when people are still awake! And, these cities often ban neon signs, and other brightly colored signs and billboards, in an effort to establish dark skies, for stargazing and other purposes. New Zealand has the world’s largest dark sky reserve, approved by the International Dark Sky Association.
Some proponents of “dark skies” have developed long lists of common maladies that they attribute (usually with little or no evidence) to street lighting, that somehow manages to enter curtain covered bedrooms at night. Despite the invention of such curtains, along with the more sophisticated and trendy Venetian Blinds, and flourescent colored Blackout Curtains for apartment dwellers, they believe that providing dim street lights will “alleviate” these subjective health problems.
Indeed, I live in a neighborhood with a very strict “dark sky” ordinance. It makes no difference, lots of light still comes inside at night, so guess what? I gave Wallmart, a company that the “smart growth” proponents love to hate, a check for $60, for an attractive set of blackout curtains.
Here are dark sky lights in a parking lot. Note that they fail to provide lighting for more than three parking spaces! Most of this parking lot (not shown) does not receive any lighting, since the lights only project downwards –
No Overnight Parking and No Overnight Camping Signs
Furthermore, City Councils and other proponents of “dark skies” close public parks and mountain bike trails at night. They install “no overnight parking” and “no overnight camping” signs, in an effort to deter cyclists like me, who love to mountain bike under the stars (with adequate bike lights, of course).
And indeed, please be warned – in many cities it is illegal to park in city parks after dark. Your car will be towed, and you will be fined, arrested, jailed, and charged in court with a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Why? Some starry-eyed stargazer lobbied your City Council for his ordinance, so that he could look at his favorite constellations. Notice that, although I am very socially liberal, I’m not being politically correct, and using “she” or “they” lobbied the City Council. Why? Well, what woman in their right mind would want a dark skies ordinance, and risk getting raped?
Dark Sky Ordinances – The Most Dangerous “Smart Growth Principle” Receiving the Least Attention from Critics
Furthermore, the “smart growth” principle of a “roundabout” is particularly dangerous at night with insufficient lighting, especially for cyclists, wheelchairs, and pedestrians who are in the “blind spots” of vehicles. And, what is even more ironic is that many of these “roundabouts” are installed in Del Webb Retirement Communities, and some retired folks have horrible peripheral vision (or, this will inevitably develop after they move to such communities). The roundabouts in Del Webb-Somersett in Reno, for example, do not even have any overhead streetlights, and are lit by 10 foot tall “lamps” of about 60 watts each!
Here are daytime, and nightime, photos of roundabouts at Somersett –
Dark Sky Ordianances – Another Example of Exclusionary Zoning – College Students and The Elderly At Risk of Nightime Accidents
Again, dark sky ordinances, just like smart growth’s inevitable consequence of “exclusionary zoning,” are yet another “smart” growth principle that benefits the rich with their fancy telescopes, and discriminates against the poor and the college students, who cannot afford cars, and must walk or bicycle on dark, wet, and icy pavement, full of potholes due to budget cuts. And, these ordinances also discriminate against property owners with failing eyesight themselves, such as the elderly in Del Webb and other retirement communities (T. Lewis and others).
College students are especially vulnerable to dark sky ordinances, since they frequently do not own cars, especially with the rising costs of tuition and textbooks. On the West Coast, Pacific Storms and cloudy conditions cause the effective arrival of “civil twilight” as early as 4:30pm in Seattle, WA, and 5:00 in San Francisco, CA. However, many college classes, and on-campus activities, extend to beyond the dinner hour. Therefore, in dark sky cities, students have no choice but to walk or bike home on dark, wet, or icy sidewalks!
Furthermore, despite what the dark sky advocates claim, I have seen no evidence of “increased stargazing” in cities with dark skies. In others words, when people are walking at night, they’re in a hurry to get somewhere, i.e. they’re going home, to the bar and grill, to the corner grocery store, etc. In fact, most cities have so much air pollution – especially with nightime air inversions – that stars are not even visible – even if there was a dark skies ordinance. And, nobody looks at the stars, since they’re watching out for criminals. And, if they’re really into science, the hell with the city and its college students – they’ll just drive their SUV to the nearest mountaintop and take out their telescope. Indeed, wouldn’t these proponents of dark sky ordinances in Tucson also drive out of town to Mt. Lemmon to see the stars?
My Forthcoming National Campaign to Make Dark Sky Ordinances Illegal
Since dark skies present significant public safety hazards for cars, cyclists, pedestrians, the disabled, epileptics, and many other groups, I plan to start a campaign to make dark sky ordinances illegal through federal law. While this may step on the rights of left wing local City Councils, it’s actually no different than protecting public safety, by requiring seat belts, auto insurance, and securing our borders.
Clearly, bright lights are required for safety at night. Removing or dimming streetlights takes us back to the 19th century, when crime and other problems made it unsafe to venture out at night. Therefore, bright streetlights are required to deter crime.
The interests of the minority, the dark sky lobbyists, should not influence City Councils and urban planners, to implement radical programs that will increase crime and accident rates. Congress should enact legislation to ban the local implementation of dark sky ordinances.
As for “no overnight parking,” and “no overnight camping,” those are issues that only affect those who use parks at night. This issue is not nearly as much of a public safety issue as dark skies, and should be left to local City Councils, and how they wish to allocate their local police resources in patrolling parks at night.
Besides Roundabouts, Other Forms of Traffic Calming Very Dangerous with Dark Skies –
These “bulb outs” in Reno will present an accident, since there is only one dim streetlight at this intersection north of the University of the Nevada. Someday, a skateboarder or cyclist will come down the hill at night (it gets dark at only 430pm in the winter!), not see the bulb outs, and split their head open on the boulders.
The City of Reno planning department has become “Calnifornicized,” implementing numerous “smart growth” principles, although that’s another story. Most of these ideas, such as downtown “smart growth” condos next to gambling and prostitution, are not appreciate by the socially conservative residents, who move farther out to distant suburbs in NW Reno and Spanish Springs, away from the dangerous downtown and University area.
The International Dark Sky Association of Tucson; Terror on Reno’s McCarran Boulevard, and Overnight Parking in Reno
I exchanged one email with the “International Dark Sky Association” in Tuscon. I told them about the bike lanes in Reno along an 8 mile stretch of the much maligned, undivided, 60mph McCarran Boulvard – between the SAFE apartments in NW Reno, where students live, and the UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA. Just like 90% of suburban streets in Reno, this route has ABSOLUTELY NO STREETLIGHTS, except at intersections. They were not interested in this, and claimed that “bike lights provide sufficient light in these types of scenarios.”
I photographed all of McCarran Boulevard, and will place the photos here, to show how difficult Reno’s dark skies are for its cyclists, pedestrians, and disabled residents, since 90% of residential streets only have streetlights at intersections. Here’s an exceptionally long stretch of McCarran, looking east towards the University of Nevada, with a wide bike lane, yet no streetlights –
McCarran Boulevard is a 6 lane boulevard that extends around the entire city of Reno. It has no center driver, the speed limit is about 50mph, and it has a 10 foot wide bike lane, with NO streetlights except at stop-light intersections with other 6 lane boulevards (which are about 300 yards apart).
Only crazy people would bicycle ANY Stretch of McCarran boulevard in Reno at night. Yet for university students, they have no choice but to act like a crazy person and bike the dark, dangerous eight mile stretch between the University and the “relatively” safe and nice apartments in NW Reno. If you’re a UNR student without a car, please comment in the comment section.
And, one would think that The City of Reno would install streetlights on the boulevard for the widening project, currently in progress. Nope! Here’s a section in Southeast Reno, recently paved, about to be painted, with no streetlights, EXCEPT at this intersection –
The Fallacy of “No Overnight Parking” – Why This Policy Makes Your Park Less Safe
In addition, parks in Washoe County, Nevada (Reno, Sparks, Verdi, etc.) close at 9pm in the summer, 7pm in the fall, and 5pm in the winter. On several occasions, I “tested” the system and stayed in my vehicle until 830pm, and even up until 10pm at the Leadership Parkway entrance to the mountain bike trails on Peavine Peak (by the University of Nevada). Nobody came by to mountain bike at night, so, obviously those that enjoy mountain biking at night (as I do), are in Reno’s competitor of Bend, Oregon (see below for reasons why).
As for “no overnight parking,” restrictions in public parks, this is inappropriate and dangerous. Many cities close their parks and dusk, and then make it a Misdemeanor to be in a park after dark. That is dangerous, since female hikers / cyclists who arrive to the parking lot “late,” (when it is already dark!), will find NOBODY parked in the parking lot after dark, since MOST people arrived back to their cars ON TIME!
Therefore, since NOBODY is parked there after dark (and, these cities usually refuse to provide street lighting in the parking lots for their parks, including Reno), then rapists KNOW that most people will leave on time, and will “hang out” in the dark parks, and attack.
In parks near the Truckee River in Reno, Nevada, I disobeyed the “overnight parking” rule several times, sat in my car, and watched female runners arrive an hour past sunset, returning to their cars alone. I WAS THE ONLY car present, since everyone else had left before dusk. Fortunately, the female runners had large dogs and flashlights. However, with the crime rate as high as it is in Reno, the City should not only install lights in the parking lots, but also close the gates to its parks at dusk.
Therefore, “no overnight parking” is based on faulty logic, unless the Police actually lock every gate! Again, otherwise, since MOST people will get back to their cars by dusk, then rapists will hang out in their cars, and wait for the female hikers to arrive after dark and attack them. Therefore, by not enforcing “no overnight parking” with locked gates, then the rape rate will increase – especially in dark sky cities such as Reno.
Indeed, in the past year in the bucolic dark sky town of Ashland, Oregon (a dark sky city, where the Shakespeare festival is), there has been one murder, two rapes, and one stabbing in the past year or so, in dark areas near bike paths. The bike path could have lights, however, the dark sky lobby is in bed with the Ashland City Council, as is the case in hundreds of American cities.
Therefore, my advice to females – arrive well before dark, and better yet, run with your friends and a dog due to the high crime rate in these cities and their parks. (The Dog Ban in certain parks in both Reno and Ashland will be addressed elsewhere. Do these smart growth folks ever give up banning things?)
Fortunately, bike friendly Portland has resisted the lobbyists, and has lights on its bike path that’s parallel to I-205. Sidewalks in Boulder were very brightly lit at night. Here is what Bend, Oregon sent me about mountain biking at night –
FROM: Steve Jorgensen, Planning Manager, Bend, Oregon
TO: Tom Lane
The Disabled in Dark Sky Communities
More importantly, what are the effects of dark sky ordinances on pedestrians, cyclists, college students, and the disabled who cannot drive private cars?
Proponents of dark skies never address these vulnerable individuals, when they scream loudly at City Council meetings for dark skies. Again, as with much of the “smart growth” movement, the advocates of the “smart growth principles” – in this case, the starry-eyed stargazers, do not seem to care about the rights of the poor and minorities.
The casualties of these smart growth reformers are the single mother of three trying to pay a mortgage payment with two jobs, the unemployed construction worker, and in this case, the individual in a wheelchair who must travel home from their University at 5pm in the middle of winter, over icy, dark pavement.
I will continue to explore this topic and expand this post. Since I live in a dark sky city, the fall and winter depress me horribly. If I am caught mountain biking after 4:15pm when it’s dark, how long will I be in jail?
Cities with Dark Sky Ordinances and/or Cities who have Failed to Install Adequate Street Lights
I have tried on many occasions, without success, to search City web sites for information on cities who have dark sky ordinances. Therefore, the following list is based on my own travels in the Western US –
For any city listed with “dark skies,” it’s unknown if this is due to a formal ordinance, or, incompetence in installing adequate streetlights. (Both, of course, are valid for any dark sky city, since the failure to provide public safety during nightime hours represents gross incompetence, given that City leaders have placed the desires of lobbyists and stargazers ahead of those who cannot afford cars.)
South Lake Tahoe – DARK SKIES
Thousand Oaks, California – THE DARKEST OF ANY PLACE ANYWHERE !
Palm Springs – DARK SKIES (SECOND PLACE TO THOUSAND OAKS !)
Palm Desert – DARK SKIES
Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree – DARK SKIES
San Luis Obispo – DARK SKIES
Mill Valley, Marin County – VERY BRIGHT AT NIGHT
Ashland – DARK SKIES
Portland, Oregon I-205 Bike Trail – VERY BRIGHT AT NIGHT
Seattle – BRIGHT AT NIGHT
Snoqualmie Ridge – DARK SKIES (photos featured of this “Smart Growth” development elsewhere on this web site)
Boulder – BRIGHT AT NIGHT
Glenwood Springs – DARK SKIES
Santa Fe – DARK SKIES
Rio Rancho – DARK SKIES
Reno – DARK SKIES
Verdi-Mogul – DARK SKIES
Sparks – DARK SKIES
Flagstaff – DARK SKIES
Sedona – DARK SKIES
Cave Creek and Carefree – DARK SKIES
Carefree Highway from Wickenburg to North Scottsdale – VERY LIMITED STREETLIGHTS, VERY DANGEROUS 65mph
Scottsdale – DARK SKIES
Apache Junction – DARK SKIES
Senior Citizens in Palm Springs and Palm Desert
What’s the car accident rate in Palm Springs and Palm Desert, in the Coachella Valley in Southern California. Both cities have severe dark skies. How do senior citizens deal with this. How about AIDS patients, can they develop peripheral neuropathy of the optic nerve? Photos –
The History of Dark Skies
Of course, before the streetlight, dark skies were prevalent everywhere. Historian Dr. Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech has written the authoritative 480 page history of the dark sky era, entitled, “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.”
I have not read his book, and do not know his position on dark sky ordinances. I have no idea if he is disliked by the smart growth gurus. However, I do know that I am a very unpopular figure, since my number one goal on most of my web pages is to advocate for public safety and affordable housing. Unfortunately, dark skies are another tool used by proponents of “smart growth” to get their foot in the door with City Councils. Dark skies can lead to the implementation of dozens of smart growth principles, most of which will decrease public safety, and limit the supply of affordable housing.
I think that a consideration of Dr. Ekirch’s recent NY Times editorial should be read by every proponent of dark skies and smart growth. Indeed, dark skies increases crime, and makes attending family centered activities unsafe. Therefore, as I state in my basic thesis, smart growth does not promote family values; click here to read: “Smart Growth is Anti-Family, Anti-Green, and Anti-Fiscal Responsibility.”
Dr. Ekirch’s NY Times Editorial:
“Financial costs and public safety, however, are not the only issues. Without the benefit of street lighting, towns and cities, after sunset, will be diminished as communities. Families will be more apt to “cocoon” at home, rather than visit friends or attend sporting and cultural events. And, too, our appreciation for night itself will suffer. Evenings can be best enjoyed if they remain inviting and safe, whether for neighborhood gatherings, walking Fido or gazing at the heavens — all with less chance of losing your wallet or stumbling into a ditch.”
No Overnight Parking – Signs Indicate Dislike of Families in RV’s
“No Overnight Parking” signs are especially common in the Reno – Lake Tahoe area. The local officials are clearly afraid of what an innocent family of four might do in their RV. From my collection of photos, this one from the City of South Lake Tahoe is my favorite. As these signs indicate, not only can a family of four not park their RV overnight, but they also can’t park during the day, or even for a community event, where their kids might make some new friends while vacationing:
Mayberry Park, along the Truckee River in Reno, is only open until sunset. According to the Washoe County web site, “dusk” is defined as 9pm in the summer; 7pm in the fall; and 5pm in the winter ! For readers in Reno reading this, what do you do if you get off work at 5pm and want to take the dog for a walk? Do you “take a chance,” or risk getting your car towed and yourself arrested for overnight parking?
Even the Forest Service, near Eagar and Alpine, Arizona, bans Overnight Camping and Overnight Parking, in a very remote area with no facilities. I was astonished to see this sign, and had to drive into the more Libertarian state of New Mexico, to find legal overnight camping in the national forest, not requiring any permits –
Concluding Remarks and Disclaimer
We cannot prove that all instances of dark skies in the various cities and counties in this section are due to specific dark sky ordinances and/or dark sky lobbyists. However, what we can prove is that bicycle friendly communities must have adequate lighting, to facilitate safe bike commuting. Since the sun sets between 4:15 and 4:45, Pacific Standard Time, and most workplaces and schools extend to 5pm or beyond, then dark skies are incompatible with those who walk, bike, ride the bus, or use their wheelchairs on public streets. Risks of rape, robbery, slipping on ice, and tripping in potholes could cost a City millions of dollars if they were sued over implementation of a dark sky ordinance. Obviously, dark skies are the most dangerous and unreported “smart growth principle.”