Alberta Transportation plans on using the standard guidelines on lighting for provincial highways for the Calgary Southwest Ring Road. Alberta Transportation claims that these standard guidelines (that were created in 2003) for lighting do lower some of the light pollution compared to past lighting solutions by using low temperature LEDs and they also minimize blue light, but they still fall well short of best practices.
The lighting proposed will cause a dramatic level of spillage (light pollution) that has a massive impact on the area surrounding it. This light pollution does nothing for making the roads safer, offer a better lighting solution for drivers, or even cost less to implement and maintain, it does however create several problems for the area.
It has long been known that non-directional lighting causes spillage and glare for the users of the roadway. This glare has a significant impact on drivers by making eyes feel more strained and causing mental and physical fatigue. This fatigue creates a breakdown in the reaction time of drivers and thereby creates a more dangerous roadway.
The proposed lighting is not as cost effective as better alternatives in highway lighting like those suggested by the Illuminating Engineering Society, the International Dark Sky Association and the Intelligent Road and Street Lighting in Europe research paper.
Implementation of a poor choice at a higher cost has long-term ramifications for all citizens. Using best practices now at the inception of the Calgary Southwest Ring Road lighting is far cheaper than having to re-implement later, and offers up cost savings over time in electrical use, saving the province and thereby the taxpayer even more money.
There are other factors to look at though, beyond upfront cash costs.
By polluting the night sky, the wildlife will be impacted by a change to the basic circadian rhythm, in rates of predation, altering foraging habits, changing mating abilities, reduction of safe migration paths and pushing some species from the natural habitat altogether. This migration of species from natural habitat could entail pushing predators and problem species farther into the city, impacting the safety and well-being of pets, children and property.
The suggested lighting by the Alberta Government also seems to go against the Municipal District of Foothills Number 31 Council adoption of the Dark Sky Bylaws adopted in 2011. Although the Alberta Government can supersede bylaws imposed by the Municipal District it is outlandish that the implementation of the proposed lighting would go against the community adopted ordinance on light pollution without at least a public consultation on the issue.
There are also two established non-profits that will be highly impacted by the choices made. The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area and the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, located on the outskirts of Calgary on Highway 22X are both currently in a designated Dark Sky location, and are both a part of the International Dark Sky Association. These Dark Sky designations at both non-profit organizations are currently under threat from the poor lighting choice suggested by Alberta Transportation and the Alberta Government.
Without the dark sky, the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory will lose the ability to discern objects in the night sky, impacting the educational facility and rendering down its abilities and the financial investments made in it over the years.
The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area is one of only five Habitat Conservation Areas designated under Alberta’s Wildlife Act, one of five Dark Sky Preserves and the first to be designated as a Nocturnal Preserve. This Nocturnal Preserve designation is one of only two in Canada and the only one in Alberta.
It should be noted that much work and financial investment has been made to establish the Nocturnal Preserve and Dark Sky designation at both locations and the Dark Sky designation may be lost for both areas if the planned lighting for the Calgary Southwest Ring Road goes ahead without modification.
Having the Alberta Government and Alberta Transportation being a cause of educational facilities and the conservation preserves losing their effectiveness after all of the investments made over the years when it could be avoided for a cheaper and better choice seems highly counter-intuitive and wasteful. Our governing decision-makers have the opportunity to be leaders in conservation of the night sky, offering a better and safer roadway and communities, ensuring natural habitat for wildlife and saving money with a rework of the lighting suggested for the Southwest Ring Road.