Pennsylvania municipalities play an important role in fostering responsible outdoor lighting practices through ordinances, planning, code enforcement and Environmental Advisory Councils (EACs).
There are two primary ways of controlling lighting quality within a municipality, 1) Educating citizens and businesses, 2) Having and enforcing an effective lighting ordinance. The municipality’s role in education is elective and typically passive but their role in having and enforcing an effective lighting ordinance should be active. In this section you will find useful information on how to get a lighting ordinance started and passed, what the ordinance should contain, sample ordinances in place and working, the role of the planning commission, municipal engineer and code enforcement officer in ordinance enforcement and the role of other agencies such as EACs, historical commissions and parks and recreation boards in guarding against bad lighting.
(This is a partial listing. Please send email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you are aware of an ordinance that should be added to this list, or if a more recent version exists.)
Planning Commission or Planning Department
Municipal Engineers and Other Lighting Plan Reviewers
|Cutoff Classification||Percent Uplight Allowed|
|Full Cutoff/Fully Shielded||0%|
|NEMA Beam Type||Beam Spread Range (degrees)|
|1||10 - 18|
|2||18 - 29|
|3||29 - 46|
|4||46 - 70|
|5||70 - 100|
|6||100 - 130|
Environmental Advisory Councils
Parks and Recreation Boards
To light or not to light - The first question to be considered is whether or not to light open or conserved space or passive or active recreation facilities. Lighting such spaces has its obvious advantages, i.e., the ability to engage in recreational activities after the sun goes down and do so in a safe manner. But that reason needs to be carefully weighed against the potential consequences of such a decision. Consideration needs to be given up front to the broader potential consequences. What will be the impact of the lighting on the natural environment in and around the site? Will nesting habitat be destroyed and animal foraging habits adversely impacted by bright lighting and human activity way into the night? How will the artificial lighting impact the night sky? Will the stars disappear due to sky glow? Will neighboring properties be adversely impacted by light trespass, glare and human activity? Picture cheering crowds, loud pa systems, visitors’ cars blocking driveways, litter, hooliganism and graffiti, to name a few potential consequences. Is portable generator lighting being considered with its consequences of generator noise, diesel-fume smell and near-horizontal aiming of the floodlights? Is this a sound financial decision to purchase and install the lighting equipment? Will 70-foot high lighting towers be visible during the day, giving the appearance of a penitentiary? Who is to pay for the cost of electrical power for the lighting and the cost to maintain it, the users or the tax payers?
Environmental Issues - One of the roles of the Parks and Rec. board is to protect those lands under its care, whether open space or for active or passive recreation. Lighting has its costs, both tangible and abstract. The cost of the power to operate the lighting, the cost of the lighting equipment and its maintenance and the cost of the installation can be calculated readily. However, the cost from degradation of the environment, although not necessarily measured in dollars and cents, must also be considered. What will be the impacts of the lighting on owls, bats and night foraging animals? The board needs to think globally as well as locally. Light pollution and its ill effects on the environment don’t stop at municipal boundaries.
Security - Security lighting may be helpful to deter vandalism on public land, by allowing law enforcement to see into otherwise dark areas and to deter the use of public land for private purposes by such uninvited guests as vagrants or adventurous young people. If a municipally-owned open space or recreational facility becomes a hangout for trouble makers or trespassers during hours of darkness, providing lighting is often though of first as a viable solution. “Let’s light it up!” That may be a good idea if: a) there’s electrical power at or near the spot where the lighting is intended; b) there will be someone around to see what’s going on in the lighted area. Intruders can make quick work of security lighting by throwing rocks at it, shooting at it, knocking it over or otherwise disabling it. Lighting intended to increase security does not always work as anticipated. Instead of deterring trespass, it may actually attract congregation. The use of motion-sensor controlled lighting may the benefit of providing a startling effect and alerting neighbors or law enforcement to the fact that there is trespass taking place. A more appropriate and less expensive solution might include posting the area or facility with signage warning that the area is under surveillance. Following up with occasional visits by municipal representatives, citizens or law enforcement would be an important part of that solution. In conclusion, using lighting to enhance security can be a viable solution but unless done properly and coupled with physical surveillance, its benefits may be problematic and a waste of funds that could be better spent elsewhere.
Safety - If a facility is not lighted and is properly posted, one might conclude that the facility is “not open for business,” and that those who trespass are doing so at their own risk. Conversely, if the facility is lighted and therefore interpreted as open to the public, it will be prudent to be sure that the facility is lighted in such a manner that unsafe conditions like tripping hazards are well lighted and that the lighting has not created deep shadows in which a perpetrator could hide or otherwise conceal a hazard. To the extent that proper lighting can prevent accidents, it certainly should be considered as a solution. When there is to be activity during hours of darkness and uneven paths or steps are involved, assuming power is available; a few well placed low-voltage path lights could be helpful to illuminate the hazard. Solar path lights might be considered, keeping in mind that such lights could be easy targets for theft. Parking areas for large sporting events where there is likely to be the potential for considerable interaction between pedestrians and vehicles before and after the event, should be properly illuminated.
Passive Recreation - Such venues may include walking and equestrian trails, visitor parking, picnic areas and pavilions. The illumination of passive recreation areas is not recommended unless perhaps the venue is in a high-crime area or throngs of people assemble during hours of darkness. Lighting passive recreation areas has as much potential for attracting undesirable elements as law-abiding citizens. People tend to congregate around lighting.
If there is a compelling reason to light a passive recreation area or facility regardless of the potential consequences, keep the lighting quantity to a minimum and shielded so as to have a minimum impact on the surrounding environment. There should be little or no justification for all-night lighting. Lighting within a pavilion or bandstand should be full-cutoff fixtures and on only when needed. Walking paths are best lighted with solar path lights, when there is adequate sun during the day or low voltage path lighting.
Active Recreation - For lighting purposes, active-recreation facilities fall into 2 categories, aerial sports, where the underside of the ball or other projectile must be illuminated so it can be viewed by spectators and players as it travels through the air; and ground-level sports. Examples of the aerial sports are baseball, football, badminton, volleyball, soccer, squash, tennis, jai alai, basketball, golf driving and skeet and trap shooting ranges and lacrosse. Examples of ground-level sports, where players and spectators do not need to look upward, are swimming (except for high-diving), horseshoes, quoits, croquet, archery and field hockey.
Ground Level Sports - If it has been decided to install lighting for ground-level recreational activities, in the interest of protecting the environment the night sky and adjacent properties, select low-mounted (15’ – 20’) fixtures that direct all their light straight downward (full cutoff). Avoid the temptation to use floodlights, whose glare is more visible from off site and project a significant portion of their light output above the horizontal.
Aerial Sports - The lighting of aerial sports is in a separate realm given the fact that the up-light needed to illuminate the face of the ball will be much more difficult to control. Although there have been successful installations of full-cutoff lighting for such applications, for whatever reason, they have not proven to be widely accepted. The almost universally accepted source is the floodlight. In the world of floodlights for sports there are general purpose floods and specialized floods intended for maximum light utilization and minimum glare and light trespass. General purpose floods direct some light down onto the field but also project a disproportionate amount of light off the field into spectators’ eyes and onto neighboring properties. A new generation of sports-lighting floods with computer-designed segmented reflectors and deep baffles are available that restrict the light output to just the playing field, to the greatest possible extent, and effectively shield direct viewing of the light source from offsite and spectators eyes. Such equipment is more expensive than the general purpose floods, and while initial cost will be higher, overall energy savings and maintenance costs may prove them to be more economically viable in the long run. From an environmental, sky-glow, glare control and light trespass point of view, their superiority will be unquestionable.
Curfews - And finally, nothing improves invasive sports lighting better than shutting it off when it isn’t needed. When allowing a recreational facility to be lighted, establish ground rules up front as to when the lighting is to be extinguished. For active recreational sports, setting a 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. curfew, regardless of extra innings, playoffs or overtimes, will preclude games going on until all hours of the night. The establishment of penalties for non-compliance will also be appropriate. This needs to be negotiated during the acceptance process, not after the fact. The sports league or other agency or group will be more willing to abide by such a restriction during negotiations than after. It will of course be essential that a suitable but greatly reduced level of light be provided for safe exiting of spectators and performing maintenance function.
Responibility - In some jurisdictions Parks and Rec. Boards make their own decisions with respect to exterior lighting, rather than going through the subdivision and land development review process. When that is the case, they may or may not follow the dictates of the municipality’s lighting ordinance. Further, some municipalities subscribe to the notion that their lighting ordinance is intended to dictate to developers but not apply to municipally owned and operated facilities. In reality, assuming that the ordinance requires good lighting, the principles of good lighting should be followed regardless of the ownership of the facility or potential monetary savings from providing bad lighting. Glare, excessive and poorly aimed and unshielded lighting and light trespass have no place anywhere in the municipality. The principles of good lighting and lighting-ordinance content are detailed elsewhere in this Municipal Section.
Conclusion - Before deciding to provide lighting for municipal conservation and recreational facilities under your jurisdiction, consider the real need and the potential consequences. If the decision is to light, do it right, do not over light, select equipment that puts the light where it belongs and only allow it to be on when it is needed.
Outdoor Lighting Workshops for Municipal OfficialsThe POLC has conducted outdoor lighting workshops for municipal officials in the following Pennsylvania counties. A new series of lighting workshops for code officials has been launched. If you would like to organize one in your area, please let us know.
|Code Enforcement Officers Workshop, Montgomery County, March, 2013||Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) Conference, April, 2014|
|Central Chester County Code Officials Workshop, December, 2011||Code Enforcement Officers Workshop in Northern Chester County, November, 2012|
|Pennsylvania Association of Zoning Officials (PAAZO) Bucks County, March, 2011||Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) Conference, April, 2011|
|Dauphin County, March, 2010||Chester County, December, 2010|
|* Lancaster County, April, 2009||* Southern Chester County, May, 2009|
|* Lehigh County, May, 2008||* Potter County, June, 2008|
|* Chester County, October, 2007||* Berks County, April, 2008|
|* Montgomery County, March, 2006||* Bucks County, March, 2007|
|* Delaware County, August, 2001||* Berks County, March, 2002|