Dear PoP – Light Pollution from Howard Univ. Stadium

“Dear PoP,

I live at the corner of 14th and Fairmont in Columbia Heights. I have been having a problem with the stadium lights at Howard (I think these lights are from Howard) University being left on every single night, all night, regardless of whether there is a football game or not. The stadium lights are searing straight into my apartment. (Not to mention are a huge energy waste.) Do you know if any other readers have complained about light pollution from Howard? Has anyone else that lives on Fairmont, Euclid, or Girard Streets been able to read in their living room at midnight with no lamps on? What does one do about light pollution? Should I call the university politely? Please help!”

This is a very interesting question as I’ve been hearing folks mention light pollution lately (I wasn’t too familiar with it). But I passed the stadium recently when there was no game and indeed the lights were on at like 11:30pm (so I doubt a practice was going on). I know some folks will be disturbed with this question arguing “we have bigger fish to fry” but I really do think this is an interesting question.

Number one – why do you think the lights are left on all the time? Safety? Do you think it would be helpful to contact the university? And aside from this specific example – have you noticed other cases of egregious light pollution in other parts of the city?

80 Comment

  • I used to live next to a couple that kept this egregiously obnoxious light blaring in their yard every night and it pissed us off because it would shine into our apartment. but as far as i know nothing u can do about it.

  • I understand you being upset with the light pollution, however safety is a concern for some of the students. Being a Howard University Alumni, one thing that people have always had trouble doing is walking from the main campus to their dormitory or around campus so they are very helpful. There are also a lot of hidden areas of the campus so anything that can help the safety of the students is something that I must support.d

  • banks of stadium lights mounted on fifty-foot poles are not necessary to promote safety. Half the footcandles, installed at a third the height would still be excessive.

    As with many things, the place to start is probably your ANC, and your alderman. Contacting the campus safety director might be a worthwhile effort too.

    And also as with many things, approaching these people armed with information, and more importantly solutions, is the most effective approach. Rent a light meter and take some measurements. Do your homework, find out what the local ordinances are regarding light. Take photos and talk to some experts about the kind of lighting design that might be a better solution. Don’t just complain and expect other people to do the work for you to fix it.

  • I’d contact the Pleasant Plains Civic Assoication. It has acted as a good advocate for neighbor’s concerns when it comes to HU.

    Contact info:

    Their engagement is often through Howard’s Communty Association (oddly named because it is really HU’s comunity ENGAGMENT office – not a community assoication. But I’d not engage HU directly and rather talk first with the Civic Assoication:

    You should also contact your ANC representative (as long as you’r not in ANC 1A09 since it is basically vacant until Nov 2)

    Background on The Howard University Community Association:

    The Howard University Community Association, located at 2731 Georgia Avenue, is the principal point of contact between the University and the community-at-large. It is the locus for University planning efforts related to LeDroit Park and the Georgia Avenue Corridor. On a daily basis, it provides information and referral services about University events, programs and activities. It also provides the University family with information about important community events and initiatives.

  • I live on Euclid between 11th and Sherman but can’t see a thing…

    • That’s because you’re somewhat downhill of it, dude. There’s a reason why they call it Columbia “Heights.”

  • Good ideas on how to work with Howard above, but if you really want to do the best for yourself, get blackout shades. Serious blackout shades. It’s not too big of an expense, and will solve your problem in as long as it takes to ship.

    On the other hand, if the principle of the matter is what’s most important to you… see above.

  • Yes to opaque blinds or curtains. I think the trade off for having safer streets is worth it. We do populate our city with street lights, don’t we? I don’t see how this is all that different.

    • THese aren’t street lights, they’re stadium lights! Huge difference.

      • Huge difference – I can see them shing up on Warder looking out my back window.

      • I have a street light right outside my bedroom window. I can read in my bedroom at night. There are tens of thousands of people in the city in the same situation as me. I fail to see how the effect is any different from a practical perspective.

  • lights from howard?!? I think these are Cardozo High, not Howard.

    Have you any information about what they are lighting? Have you walked down there to see? Bothered to learn where Howard owns property?

    How long have you lived where you live?

    • Cardozo’s football field and accompanying lights are on the south side of the high school. Not visible from this person’s house.

      • I live just north of Cardozo… those lights are huge, they would definitely be visible from fairmont which is only 2 blocks north.

        But yes, judging by the view of the church that’s on 13th and Fairmont, it looks like this view is straight down Fairmont and would be from Howard University.

        As for the light, I’ve always thought it was just one of the things that comes along with living in a city. Buy dark shades or do what I do and sleep in an eye mask. You get used to it!

  • I think you are hypersensitive.

  • gah! what kind of person complains about lights from a football field? how hard is it to get blackout curtains? grow up.

  • Blackout shades for you. If I had a child enrolled at any college, I’d want as much light as possible even in the middle of the night for the students’ safety.

    • There has to be something between no lights and a stadium full of flood lamps! How about lights for the walk ways? I don’t see whay any students need to be out in the football stadium at night?!?

  • I have had the same experience

    I lived at 12th and Euclid for 3 years on the third floor. These lights from the Howard Stadium were on frequently when there was not a game. A lot of times, when I noticed they were left on all night, they were on in the morning and throughout the following day.

    We did some investigating, and the lights offer little value as far as illuminating the surrounding area at the University. The lights are aimed at the field, and a lot of light that is ‘escaping’ above the top of the stadium is travelling too far to really be of any use compared to street lights (other than annoying the neighbors). There are lots of streetlights around the stadium too.

    It never really bothered us enough to complain, but it did annoy us that they were on all day long and all night when there was no event/game at the stadium. I would say this happened a couple times a month.

    Give a call to the University and see if they have an explanation.

    • +1

      Those lights are on all the time.

      Those raising “safety issues” should realize that the only thing they effectively illuminate below is the football field. Which is of course what they were designed for in the first place.

      • +1

        Aside from annoying the neighbors I imagine those lights are wasting a lot of energy.

      • they’re obviously doing more than lighting up the football field since the OP has the need to complain about them.

        I say keep them on if it’s for safety.

        • They are not improving safety! At the street level, most of the light is blocked by the stadium walls. At higher elevations, the light is not blocked by anything so it travels and goes into people’s windows.

          Also, doesn’t anyone miss the stars at night? Over illumination is an awful, awful thing.

          NOTE: I said over-illumination. So targeted, low-candle street lighting for safety is a good thing in my book.

        • Right as I said “effectively illuminating _below_”

          EHS hits this nail on the head…it’s the light pollution above what I’ll call the “3rd story” level that is an issue for some (but not most) people who live in the area.

          Dollars to doughnuts, my guess is that someone is literally just forgetting to shut the lights off at night. I really doubt it’s HU policy. Furthermore I’ll guess that no one “in charge” lives in the immediate area, so no one else has noticed except PoPers who don’t have Howard connects.

    • Yeah, were I a student there I’d be kind of pissed that my tuition dollars were paying to keep lights on during the day.

  • I am a proud Howard Alum and can give a partial answer to this. The original note was not clear as to if the lights are on all the time, but if this has only been happening for the last few weeks, it is because our Homecoming is this week and the band practices double and triple time leading up to Homecoming. I had plenty of friends on the band who would disappear from regular college life in the weeks leading up to Homecoming.

    Hope this helps. If they are on all the time, however, I’m not sure what it is.

    • If this is true, do yourself a favor and go check out Howard’s band. They are AWESOME.

    • Yuck…Howard Homecoming. I used to live in LeDroit and I can tell you that Howard has rudest alumni in the world.

      • How did you know they were Alum? Did they flash an ID card? Thousands of non-Alum attend Homecoming. (Many people attend with no ties to the school at all attend Homecoming)

        Re: the lights, just call the school and ask if the light can be cut off after band / football practice nightly or maybe there is a lower setting. Note: The lights may be kept on can because Drew Hall is close by and occasionally there have been crimes against the student who live there.

      • well, we all have our own opinions. but making generalizations about the thousands of people who have graduated from HU isn’t the smartest thing to do either.

        JoeEsq74 is right as well. While many alums come back to HU for our awesome Homecoming, so do many people from all across the nation not associated with the institution.

        Anyway, go Alma Mater! I’m looking forward to a great Homecoming weekend and am excited to have a few of my classmates/friends staying with me through the festivities.

  • They were on at 6:45 this morning when I drove by.

    On a related note, I can hear the Howard U band practicing every fall from my Bloomingdale house and it’s wonderful! They’re fantastic.

  • Allison

    Thanks everyone who gave helpful suggestions. (I’m not sure if the photo fully captures how different this is from regular street light pollution, they are absolutely obnoxious. If they are for safety, they are indeed excessive and certainly pointed in the wrong direction… being up… at my apartment…)

    Shaw Sweetie, thanks for the info. I will wait until the end of homecoming and then see if the situation gets better. If not, the link to HUCA from Anon will be my starting point.

    I’m certainly not going to make this a Gladys Kravitz style war, but it would be nice to not have the constant nuisance anymore. My undergrad university had a similar debate about leaving the stadium lights on a while back, and the university ended up turning them off. The students were really happy because the university made the choice to save energy costs which are passed on through tuition and fees, and the many dorms and apartments near the stadium all slept better. There are definitely other means than the stadium lights themselves for safety illumination.

  • Agreed. I love hearing the Howard band practice.

  • Very simple solution. Shoot the lights out. With all the gunfire in Shaw, who’s going to notice?

    And Howard University will get the message real quick.

  • There’s a similar “lights on for safety” at Marie Reed Learning Center at 18th and California. Not sure how many people are affected by those lights though as they point in to the field, mostly towards the school and the tennis courts. Considering the number of muggings that used to occur in that alley under the school breezeway, I like having them on. But the constant unnecessary electricity use kills me in inside.

  • I can see these lights from my balcony. They are EXTREMELY bright and as far as i’ve noticed, they are on every night and have been for at least 5 years. Luckily i’m far enough away that they don’t really bother me, but i can see how it would be intolerable if they were pointed directly in your window.

    Think–Kramer and the Kenny Rogers Roasters sign, time eleventy.

  • I have a street light that shines directly into my bedroom. So do many people in this city. Buy heavier shades and/or wear a sleep mask. These things happen. Howard University and their lights were there first.

    • Personally, I find it annoying when the police decide to pull over someone over in a quiet residential area and have those bright blue strobe lights (which give me migraines) shining directly in people’s windows and wasting energy. Can’t they turn them off for 20 minutes while they right up the ticket?

    • Howard was here before any houses or any people or howard was here before this particular person? How about howard’s football team and stadium lights? Were they here before any person or any residential building?

      Lame Argument.

      • No its not. When this person moved in, the lights were there. Its a bit like the people who move in under the flight path and bitch about the planes.

      • Yeah, that is what the ANC 1B chairperson Gail Holness says – Howard was here before all of us so just deal with it.

        Kinda sucks having your ANC rep actually representing the University and not the residents!

    • I’d be willing to bet those stadium lights were NOT there before this house was built.

      • That’s really not a good argument unless the complainer is also the original owner circa 1904. The OP decided to move there when the lights were there.

  • It seems awful nitpicky to complain about having too much light in a densely populated city. Especially because the same folks who complain about such things would probably advocate wheeling in big spotlights to curb crime in housing projects. I’m sure that when you elected to move into a home near a university with a stadium and the requisite stadium lights, there must have been some cognizance of the fact that the lights may one day be turned on.

    I am amazed at what people on this site complain about.

    • I know if it’s a difficult concept to understand, but you can have lights that illuminate the sidewalks and streets without lighting up the sky and your neighbors upstairs windows.

      The same people who complain about lack of jobs complain about gentrification.

      • And I know it is a difficult concept for you, but people have to take some personal responsibility about their personal choices. If they are on all the time like you say then I am sure you noticed them when you toured the place no? No one forced you to move in that apt or condo and unless you were living there before 1986 when that stadium opened, then you brought this on yourself. Just because you rent/buy yourself a place with a view doesn’t entitle you to determine what everyone within that scope of view does.

        Its like people who buy a house next to a fire station (coworker) then spend all their time complaining about the noise of the sirens and lobbying their ANC and Council chair to get it closed.

        Go to Bed Bath and Beyond, spend 50 bucks on some blinds like a normal person and move on.

      • I’m sure that Howard University would be interested in your plan to light their stadium with streetlamps.

    • So why should the lights be on during the day? Doesn’t sound like the person is nitpicking to me. I don’t think any reasonable person who moved in would have anticipated the lights being on all the time.

      I am amazed at how people on this site complain about others complaints instead of offering something useful to the discussion.

      • Prince Of Petworth

        You and me both.

      • Weird, lots of people said put up dark shades and I said wear a sleep mask.

        I also think people should be a bit more open to allowing other community members to do what they do without being nitpicked.

        That said, I think everyone will agree that having lights on during the day is wasteful. It doesnt affect this person’s quality of life.

        At the root of the issue, she cant sleep. She’s also far from alone in this city in dealing with bright lights at night. Its just part of life. Thats why they invented dark shades.

        Sure you can ask Howard to turn them off, but thats just setting up a discussion on here for how mean Howard is when they say no.

        Go ahead ask, dont be surprised if they dont care. Maybe they’ll give you a gift card to Home Depot. They clearly dont care about the cost of operating those lights. Whats a few bucks on a gift card.

  • On my way home from work, I ride my bike up 1st St. NW towards the hospital and can attest that these lights are on throughout most of the year. I think it might just be during the school year b/c I don’t recall them on in the summer evenings except maybe in late August when the football team has two-a-days. Regardless, they definitely are on post-football season.

  • Just tuning in, and already 53 comments: too much to wade through but in case it’s useful (and not mentioned already):

    The HU band has been practicing out there regularly, into the evening hours. IA HQ is a couple of blocks north of the field, so we hear it. It’s a fairly funky bit of sonic incense, no complaints here.

    Dunno if the lights are kept on after all that, but they do have activities in the field beyond the games.

  • Seems to me that your Ward rep should be able to at least get an explanation as to why the lights are on all the time.
    No idea whether there is some safety element to these particular lights but a couple of years ago, a decision was made to keep the lights on in the field next to the Park View rec center and that had, in my opinion, a significant effect on reducing illegal activity in the immediate vicinity. Interestingly enough, I don’t recall hearing any complaints – but I guess most people figure that the intrusion is worth it.
    The biggest light polluters around are those light trucks that show up after a crime has been committed. The floodlights combined with a loud generator has got to be almost unbearable for the unfortunate people who happen to live next to where the truck parks.

    • Agreed– I don’t think it’s normal for a university to have the stadium nights on late at night. I distinctly remember watching the 2001 Leonids from a soccer field next to my school’s football stadium.

  • This discussion reminds me of a fascinating article in the New Yorker a few years ago about light pollution and how we will never be able to see what Galileo saw. I attach the link here to the article.

    • That’s a good article.

      I was in South Africa several years ago, in the middle of the Karoo, a hundred miles from anything. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that what I was seeing in the sky was the actual Milky Way. Til then, I hadn’t realized that it was actually visible. Not “discernable”… VISIBLE.

  • Agreed. These lights SUCK! Granted, living in a city means light pollution, but I got use to the nice darkness during the summer. As soon as we hit fall, bam! Bright lights.

  • So if this happened in the suburbs the concern would somehow be more valid?

  • How many people attacking the OP and saying “get curtains” have gone to the corner to see the lights? I used to live on 13th at Fairmont and can attest to how bright they are; the picture doesn’t do it justice. We can see them from our roof at Georgia and New Hampshire, too. They are different than street lights. Street light are designed to be on all night. Stadium lights are designed to be on when the field is in use. (and I dealt with a street light outside my bedroom in Mt. Pleasant – that was put in years AFTER I moved in and without ANY notice from the city)

    Many people are citing it is “safety,” but no one has cited an actual source or proof of this. Didn’t you all learn what happens when you assume? (ass = u + me)

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