Sun-powered sidewalks reduce need for streetlights

Image of illuminated Star Path
This glowing sidewalk is at the Surrey, England headquarters of Pro-Teq, which creates materials that can cover any asphalt or concrete surface, absorbing solar radiation so that it can be emitted at night.

Safety, and star gazing, could improve with sidewalk lighting technology

Jasper National Park in Alberta is a Dark Sky Preserve. That designation is given to places where light pollution is at a minimum. The lack of streetlights and unnecessary lighting at night is one reason Jasper has been described as a "star-gazing playground".

Celebrating dark skies

Every year, Jasper hosts the Dark Sky Festival, a star-gazing festival at a place far away from the light pollution of our towns and cities.

Celebrity astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield, a featured guest at this year's Dark Sky Festival, places great value in being able to commune with the stars. Imagine what he'd think of a new technology that can be used to reduce the number of bright lights needed to light our shared public spaces.

Wouldn't you love to be able to see the stars clearly in your town? With a little technology, that could happen.

These sidewalks sparkle like the stars

The "Starpath" you see above is at the headquarters of Pro-Teq in Surrey, England. The company creates materials that can be used to cover any asphalt or concrete surface, and can suspend aggregates inside.

Gravel can be used if a parking lot needs to have more grip, for example. Or if a path winds its way through a park where there is little external lighting, Pro-Teq has a material that glows at night.

During the day, particles in the path absorb solar radiation, which is then emitted at night. If the sky isn't quite so dark — during a full moon, for example — the path isn't as luminous. And the light emitted isn't a glare, but a glow, so it doesn't "pollute" the way brighter, directional lights can.

The polymer surfacing material and the aggregates that are suspended in it are non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and can prolong the life of pathways that otherwise might need to be replaced.

Brighter doesn't mean safer

According to the International Dark-Sky Association, the idea that bright lighting leads to safety and security is a myth. And because bright lights create dark shadows, using them can make environments less secure.

For lighting to enhance safety it doesn't need to be bright, it needs to be directed where it's required. Not to mention the energy that is wasted to power lights that aren't needed.

LED street lights are more energy efficient, as well as being easily directed and shielded, so the light only goes where it's needed, and doesn't "splash" into the sky the way older street lights do.

The Starpath from Pro-Teq allows pedestrians and cyclists to see the ground as well as others using the walkway.

Preserving your own dark sky

If you're a stargazer and want to help bring back the dark night sky, the Globe at Night initiative is a worldwide project where citicens measure the light pollution in their community.

The information is then used to educate and inform. The next data collection for Globe at Night takes place from December 11 to 20.