The falling of stars 

Is light pollution blotting out Whistler's spectacular night sky?

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY DAVID MCCOLM
   
 

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It was a small but important victory in the battle against light pollution, and if nothing else it will give other developers something to think about when building in the future.

Whistler is not unique when it comes to battles over light pollution, and there are countless recent examples of people pushing back against excessive lighting. For instance, there's a certain amount of anger in Vancouver among condo owners that look towards the upgraded BC Stadium with its glowing roof and massive outdoor television screens that flicker at all hours. An ad by Telus, with its signature white background and animals frolicking in the foreground, was compared in the media to having a spotlight beamed into your window. There are also new digital billboards and public art around the city that use lights, and that are attracting some negative attention.

The problem is that bylaws in Vancouver, like Whistler, aren't that explicit when it comes to light pollution. There's almost nothing about light pollution in the B.C. Building Code, leaving communities to deal with the problem through a hodgepodge of local bylaws that are generally vague and seldom enforced. Light pollution is recognized as a thing, it's just not specifically quantified or qualified in any reasonable way.

For example, Whistler's Official Community Plan specifies that within Whistler Village that "Illumination levels should be of sufficient intensity to provide security but not overpower the nightscape. Illumination should be low level and low glare."

The OCP also includes lighting as a consideration in rezoning applications, and makes non-binding recommendations for things like direct downward lighting with full cut-off and fully-shielded fixtures, and utilization of technology like shut-off controls, motion sensors and timers.

While that's the stated municipal policy, the reality is that the municipality doesn't always follow its own guidelines. For example, the decorative lights around the village are certainly not directed or shielded in any way and are not specifically required for safety. The "torch" lights on the Valley Trail in Cheakamus Crossing are not shielded at all. The new transit depot had unshielded lights; as well as upward lights on the hydrogen tank when it opened that were there purely to highlight the name of the company supplying the hydrogen fuel.

When it comes to the village, most people appreciate the effect of the lights and there's no question that they do create a nice ambiance for both locals and visitors. My daughter loves it, and skating at Whistler Olympic Plaza after dark is a magical experience. But the lights are plainly not there for reasons of safety, and do have an impact on the "nightscape."

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