Dark Sky Dangers: Are Tucson streets safe at night? - Tucson News Now

LED Lighting Project

Dark Sky Dangers: Are Tucson streets safe at night?

(Source: Grand Canyon National Park / Wikipedia) (Source: Grand Canyon National Park / Wikipedia)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Arizona observatories lead global astronomy research and many push to "Keep Tucson Dark."

But as our city grows, unlit streets may be putting everyone in danger.

In 2016, 93 percent of Tucson's violent assaults took place after dark, while about half of Pima County's car versus pedestrian crashes happened overnight as well. 

How does your life change when the lights go out? 

"It's scarier because there's dark places and you just don't know,"  Dennis Caldwell said.

Caldwell lives in El Cortez Heights in midtown. 

"Just having dark skies makes what we do a lot easier," Flandrau Science Center and Kitt Peak Planetarium operator Lucas Snyder said. 

For decades, dark skies have shaped our local society and space science brings about $250 million every year into the Arizona economy. 

Kitt Peak National Observatory. (Source: James Jones / Wikipedia)

Dangerously Dark?

As Tucson expands, astronomy advocates claim more light control is crucial. 

"The light in Tucson isn't limited to the immediate environment of Tucson," said John Barentine, project manager for the International Dark Sky Association. "There's also an impact to Mount Graham, which is in Cochise County."

"You go into a lot of residential areas in Tucson and you find no street lighting," he said. "I think that's something city residents have become comfortable with."

However, some southern Arizonans see danger in a darker desert. Dennis Caldwell told KOLD News 13 less lighting in his midtown neighborhood can lead to more crime. 

"Lighting is a big part of preventing crime," Caldwell said. "Drive-by shootings, drug deals, all those sorts of things."

Christopher O'Rourke, who lives along Avra Valley Road in Pima County, said he wants brighter lights on his block. 

"Many times I've come close to crashing because of these unlit intersections," O'Rourke said. 

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik said while city and county leaders work to lessen light spill, safety is still a top concern. 

"We took safety into consideration," he said. "There's nothing unsafe about what we have in place."

The 2012 Tucson and Pima County Outdoor Light Ordinance puts a cap on artificial light use. It also dictates lamp direction away from the sky and requires shield caps over bulbs, to further control lamp output. 

In February 2015, the mayor and Tucson City Council approved a streetlight switch to LED bulbs. 

The project, which is now underway, reduces virtual sky glow by 20 percent. Engineers said the bulbs boost nighttime safety, as drivers can see animals or people in the roads sooner. 

Tucson is one of many cities across the country making the change.

"It's really given the opportunity for this community to participate together on something that can be quite controversial," LED Project Manager Jessie Sanders said.

Tucson Department of Transportation will replace bulbs in approximately 18,400 street lamps. You can check the progress of the project HERE.

Sanders said the project will pay for itself with energy savings, as it will reduce energy consumption by 70 percent. This is set to save the city around $180,000 a month in electricity costs. 

Pima County Department of Transportation said while some of their lamps are already LED, they're planning for a full LED switch-over in the next few years.

Beautiful skies like this are a huge draw in Arizona, but keeping them dark could be putting everyone in danger. (Source: Bob Wick / Bureau of Land Management)

Sacrificing For Safety?

No city or county plans are in place for any additional neighborhood lighting projects, which has some unhappy around town. 

Caldwell said his neighbors applied for neighborhood reinvestment years ago. This gave them more street lighting, paid for by their own property tax hikes. 

"It was a financial burden for them to pay that amount," he said. "But they saw the value in having the streets lit up."

Tucson residents can also work with TEP for additional street lighting with their "Dusk to Dawn" construction program. This pays for light installation and use with an energy bill raise. 

You can apply HERE or call 520-918-8300. 

Trico Electric offers a similar "Outdoor Lighting Tariff," which provides customers with additional outdoor lighting in exchange for an $18-20 monthly bill increase. For more information, call 520-744-2924. 

To apply for lighting through Pima County's Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, go HERE. To apply for lighting through a Community Development Block Grant, click HERE.

Caldwell said although safety has improved since then, a lack of light still leaves dangerous shadow spots on streets and around the neighborhood Mansfield Park. 

"The dark places are where people are hiding and doing things they shouldn't be doing," Caldwell said.

This makes others worry whether we're sacrificing safety for a clear connection to the stars. 

"I would really encourage them to understand the safety issues in midtown," Caldwell said.

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