Babbling Brooks: Shine a light on the dark ground of compromise
Thanks to some hard work from various poeple, four areas in the Verde Valley are recognized as International Dark Sky Communities, and Cottonwood has a committee and leadership’s backing in pursuing a fifth such honor.
This distinction, earned by Sedona, Village of Oak Creek, and, about a year and a half ago, Camp Verde, are to be applauded, and reflect several commendable aims of both longtime residents and municipal planning.
Being a dark sky community not only welcomes stargazers, but also shows the rest of the world that some communities value parts of the rural lifestyle that avoid big-city pitfalls like tons of bright lights.
As the rest of the world discovers our precious valley and brings more traffic to the area — both in new residents and short-term or even one-night visitors — local leaders face immense challenges in balancing public safety with the dark-sky goals, wanting to keep the traditional, rural atmosphere while, at the same time, allowing for or providing enough lighting to allow everyone to see and be seen.
One element of dark-sky communities I applaud is that it encourages personal responsibility of motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and skateboarders alike.
It’s the job of each driver to drive a little slower than the posted speed limit at night, watching far ahead in the headlights for people and animals, and it’s the job of everyone else to either stay out of vehicle’s paths or illuminate themselves or stand out visually.
It shouldn’t need to be the responsibility of government to make sure every likely place vehicles and people share space with thousands of watts of light from towering poles — the kind that would make Verde Valley roads look like the brightest-lit parts of the Pheon.
However, there are compromises that city and Yavapai County leaders should be willing to fund, as our population grows — and these leaders should continue to talk with each other and brainstorm for lighting solutions.
Perhaps there are reflective tabs or strips that could be installed on more vertical or other surfaces that would show up in the headlights of vehicles. These could illuminate curbs, sidewalks or other places pedestrians and bicycles travel.
Perhaps there are low-mounted, low-energy lights that don’t sit as high as traditional streetlights — ones maybe at bus-stop-roof heights, or maybe about 12 feet high, just out of the reach of would-be vandals.
Non-vehicle visibility could be a collaborative effort, crowd-sourced or grant funded — and only effective if pedestrians and bicyclists also take responsibility and wear bright clothing, or reflective or light-emitting gear.
We can no longer contain the flow of people to the valley, and more people in the valley means more people out at night.
While the trails and outdoor beauty of the valley are enjoyed in the daytime and primarily in cooler months, the growing population is inevitably going to bring more “night owls.”
Do we all really feel this unsafe situations should go unaddressed? Even the folks who have proposed large-scale development in Cornville, in their plans, have mentioned dark sky designations and the need to create lighting solutions.
If any of our parents or grandparents were to have a vehicle break down in the dark, out of a phone service area, we’d want them to be safe if they have to walk to get help — especially on streets not maintained by the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Let’s keep and pursue International Dark Sky Community designations and keep public safety on the front burner at the same time. If our leaders are open-minded, and everyone out and about is responsible, we won’t have to choose one or the other.