LED streetlights – dark skies enjoyed in some QB neighbourhoods

DECEMBER 2, 2021 – The introduction of industrial-strength LED lighting to Qualicum Beach residential streets remains a persistent burr under the community’s collective saddle, but there are signs that a resolution of this intractable stand-off between residents and Town management just might be possible.

“The decision to install these lights was made entirely without public consultation and, as Councillor Filmer has pointed out, without even consulting Council.

Councillor Teunis Westbroek

Members of Qualicum Beach Council continue to express concerns about the conduct of Bob Weir, the Town’s Director of Engineering, for his arbitrary installation of unshielded 4,000K (Kelvin) streetlights on QB’s residential streets. Residents continue to appeal to the Town to remove, reduce and/or shield from view what many people feel are unnecessarily bright, harsh and intrusive LED streetlights. Meanwhile John Wood, Eaglecrest Residents’ Association president weighs in at Council with fulsome praise for Weir and in complete support of these LED streetlights but fails to disclose an important factor that renders his opinions on this matter at least moot, if not suspect. Let’s have a closer look at the latest chapter in this saga.

At the regular Qualicum Beach Council meeting on October 6, 2021, Councillor Teunis Westbroek netted out the controversial LED streetlight situation succinctly.

“We have known for almost 10 months that many residents are very unhappy with the way the Town decided to replace the streetlights near their home with LED lights which are illuminating not only their properties but, to a degree, inside their homes — which they find unacceptable, and I would agree with that.

“The decision to install these lights was made entirely without public consultation and, as Councillor Filmer has pointed out, without even consulting Council.

“The issue has come before us on numerous occasions over these last 10 months and we have heard from our staff [Bob Weir, Director of Engineering] to defend their decision, and received verbal updates [from Weir] about the work of our lighting consultant during our September meeting, with an observation that residents had become used to the lower level of lighting because the street lights had become dirty over time, and by comparison the current LED lights are too bright.

“Council and residents need to hear from our staff, from the illumination engineer about what’s going on. They would like to be included and be part of the process of how we can look at other and better options.”

Staff and Council confirmed that the LED lighting issue would be included on the agenda for the next scheduled Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting two weeks later on October 20, 2021.

John Wood expresses enthusiasm for LED streetlighting but withholds pertinent information

A few residents addressed Council at the October 20th meeting, expressing their concerns about specific locations, as well as pointing out the flexible LED lighting choices made by other communities. Some feel that it’s futile to continue to try to get the Town to listen to their objections, and believe the Town is just going to wait and wear the residents down. The Town maintains that they have had only 31 complaints about lighting, but the continuing buzz in the community about the LED streetlights suggests the displeasure is far more widespread, and is not waning.  

John Wood, Eaglecrest Residents’ Association president, stood out as a steadfast supporter of Bob Weir’s one-size-fits-all approach.

Speaking at the October 20th COW meeting, Wood said, “We have a director of engineering who is a person of some stature in his profession and when he makes a statement in the report that ‘As the Director of Engineering advising on technical issues, and oriented toward improving safety of the roadway, it is recommended that the BC Hydro LED streetlights be left as 75W 4000K’ I would give that statement a lot of credence.” Continuing his praise of Weir, Wood said, “the man is a professional engineer, with more than a few years of experience. This is something that I know Bob has struggled with because there’s been such a loud and raucous input from a fairly limited number of people.”

[M]ost of Eaglecrest’s residential streets have no LED streetlights of the type being imposed on other areas of Qualicum Beach, and we are not aware of any Town plans to install the same type of LED streetlighting in Eaglecrest that is being installed elsewhere in QB.

Mr. Wood concluded his remarks saying, “We are not a town of young people. We are a town of older, and getting older, people. We don’t see as well at night. If safety really is of importance to the pedestrians, to the residents, and to the drivers in Town, then I believe it is incumbent on us to do the best job we can and follow the recommendations that are presented today.”

There’s one glaring problem with John Wood’s pronouncements. He doesn’t actually have any skin in the game — John Wood lives on one of the most softly lit streets in Town. Indeed, most of Eaglecrest’s residential streets have no LED streetlights of the type being imposed on other areas of Qualicum Beach, and we are not aware of any Town plans to install the same type of LED streetlighting in Eaglecrest that is being installed in other QB neighbourhoods.

An evening stroll or drive through the Eaglecrest subdivision reveals the startling facts that most of the streets have surprisingly few streetlights and their lights emit a soft, warm glow, not a harsh glare. Are these streets unsafe to navigate safely at night? For all of Mr. Weir’s and Mr. Wood’s pious claims of concern about safety and their claims that glaring streetlights are the answer, one wonders why Weir and Wood aren’t out campaigning to spend taxpayer dollars to install their supposedly preferred form of streetlights in Eaglecrest too.

Another surprise that seems to fly in the face of Bob Weir’s insistence that our roadways must be lit by industrial-strength lighting for reasons of safety is that some of Qualicum Beach’s busiest non-residential “arterial” roads have long stretches without any lights at all. The section of Rupert Road that runs from the QB Fire Hall to the QB Airport, as an example, has scant lighting. This is a well-travelled stretch of road with a speed limit of 70 km/hour with nary a speed bump.

Dark Skies illuminate the way to a stronger, safer future

Many regions around the world have designated Dark Sky preserves, to prevent the continued proliferation of outdoor artificial light. Jasper, Alberta, a community slightly smaller than Qualicum Beach, has designated itself a Dark Sky preserve, recognizing the value to its residents’ health and well-being and to enhance its value as a tourism destination.

The International Dark-Sky Association, citing the American Medical Association Council on Science and Public Health (2012), states that “glare from poorly shielded outdoor lighting is harmful to a person’s health because it decreases vision by reducing contrast. This limits our ability to see potential dangers at night. Aging eyes are especially affected. Glare from nighttime lighting can create hazards ranging from discomfort to frank disability.”

The International Dark-Sky Association’s Technical Committee provides helpful information about light pollution for citizens, local governments and utilities.

Qualicum Beach resident Ron Fisher remembers “discovering the sky again” when he and his wife moved here six years ago from Port Moody, BC. A devoted amateur astronomer, Fisher recalls how he used to stretch out on a hammock and gaze up at the night sky. He believes that Qualicum Beach is taking “a step backwards” by installing this type of LED streetlight. “No one had complained about unsafe lights before,” says Fisher. He believes there is too much ambient light in our towns and cities today, and also cites experts’ warnings to avoid looking at brightly lit screens before sleep. A member of the Royal Astronomical Society (Victoria chapter), Fisher says that the cities of Victoria and Nanaimo are looking at creating Dark Sky zones.

A slight shift detected in Council’s posture gives hope to all who oppose, not just “31” residents

According to the minutes, two motions from the October 20 COW meeting were adopted at the regular Council meeting a week later:

“THAT Council postpone definitely the following motion: THAT staff be instructed to leave the BC Hydro LED streetlights on major collectors and points of conflict as 75W 4000K; AND FURTHER THAT all residential lighting be changed to 3000K 39W; and

THAT the Town work with BC Hydro to mitigate the current locations identified by residents as problematic by either reducing the wattage; davit arm orientation/location; shielding or by any other deems necessary [sic].”

This second motion originally specified an exact number (31) of “problematic” locations, but Council does seem to recognize there may be many, many more.

Three weeks later at the next regular Council meeting on November 17, 2021, Councillor Skipsey asked if any progress had been made and, if not, is there a time estimate that residents could expect to be hearing from staff.

Engineering Director Weir responded: “We have not made any progress with BC Hydro. They’ve been otherwise engaged with other activities for their linemen recently. I’m still trying to get the cooperation of the people rolling out the program to try a few different exercises in Town here. But so far we have not had success with that. As soon as we do, we will be contacting the affected parties and try to roll-out some changes and solutions.”

Perhaps Council will soon openly canvass the community about this important quality of life issue.

Other articles about LED streetlights in Qualicum Beach:

Council fumbles LED streetlights again, residents surveyed Sep 20, 2021

Town to hire lighting engineer to fix Weir’s LED mess Jun 7, 2021

Opposition to new street lighting grows Mar 19, 2021

Town misleads, leaves public in limbo on QB street lighting Mar 4, 2021

Harsh new street lighting decried Feb 4, 2021