Page 2 of 2   <      

Brightness Outside, Darkened Moods Inside

But when they appear in a leafy neighborhood, the light shines on the treetops rather than on the sidewalk or parked cars. When neighbors want something they consider a little more charming or safe, the cobra lights are often replaced with the Washington globes.

A glance across the city shows that residents often take matters into their own hands. Wherever the Washington globes sit atop their $5,000 lampposts near homes, inevitably there are rows of the lights with half the globe spray-painted to block the illumination. Along P Street NW near Logan Circle, on dozens of blocks in Georgetown and in Penn Quarter, the quaint lights have been vandalized by insomniacs with paint cans in hand. Or, in the case of one Georgetown orb, strips of duct tape.

City engineers are working to find a solution, including adding an internal shade to the lights. In rare cases, DDOT has spray-painted the globes themselves, LeBlanc said. But that has not stopped the upending of lives.

"I have one of these bright lights across the street from my bedroom, and since it was installed last fall, I have had insomnia problems," said Virginia Jarrett, who has lived in her Chevy Chase neighborhood for about 60 years. "When I take my dogs out at night, I sit on my front steps and it's like daylight. The light gives me a headache. It was never like this, in all my years here."

A larger, more global issue is at play, said Richard Berg, a retired astronomer who has endured bright lights in his Chevy Chase neighborhood for years. In his back yard is a homemade observatory, complete with retractable roof. The light pollution that comes from the orbs that splash light in every direction is his biggest distraction.

"I'm dismayed by the wasteful amount of energy that's used to illuminate the sky, the sides of buildings and the second-floor windows in this residential neighborhood," Berg said. "I believe that Washington, D.C., could get by adequately with half the number of streetlights that exist today, especially if they were properly shielded."

There's even a group, the International Dark-Sky Association, that helps cities fight light pollution with its list of approved, shielded streetlights.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) is working on a measure to reduce the city's light pollution by, for example, mandating the types of lights that can be installed and restricting the hours the lights can be on. It was spurred by her memories of skies in places including Africa, where millions of stars glow brilliantly, stars that are perpetually outshined by the burning, bright bulbs of Washington.


<       2

© 2008 The Washington Post Company