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Guest Opinion

Bridge commission should study display lighting’s impact on bird population


The recent death of celebrity owl Flaco is drawing much-needed attention to the vast number of bird deaths caused by collisions with man-made structures. As cited in the New York Times: “A study published in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology concluded that between 621 million and 1.7 billion birds die in the United States each year because of building strikes.”

We hope our neighbors will agree that this casualty rate is much too high. The good news is that, with some planning, most of these collision deaths are avoidable.

For example, now that the 2024 New Hope-Lambertville Toll-Supported Bridge Rehabilitation Project is underway, we are concerned about the proposed programmable display lighting. This lighting has the potential to be disruptive and harmful to the wildlife that depends on the Delaware River.

We hope the public will join us in urging the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission to undertake an environmental assessment/impact study of the display lighting, to be conducted at the earliest possible stage. We urge that a policy be put in place to undertake a similar impact study each time the commission is considering bridge upgrades or replacement.

It is well established that migrating birds can be confused and disoriented by nighttime lights. In Chicago, more than 1,000 birds were killed in a single night from impact strikes directly attributable to lighting.

The National Audubon Society has a campaign to encourage municipalities to extinguish building lights during spring and fall migration to prevent such horrific occurrences.

Bucks County and the Delaware River are an important part of the Atlantic Flyway, a major corridor for migrating birds. Doylestown recently enacted a “lights-out” resolution to diminish light pollution. If no impact study is undertaken, the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge display lighting may run directly counter to these efforts to protect migrating birds.

The Responsible Outdoor Lighting Bill — HB 1803 — was introduced in May 2023 and referred to the committee on Environmental Resources and Energy in October 2023.

This bill lays out guidance for the directionality and luminosity of outdoor lighting; while not all-encompassing, this bill provides a good starting point for responsible outdoor lighting. The design and implementation of any lighting on the New Hope-Lambertville Toll Supported Bridge should take this guidance into account for the protection of our environment and the creatures that depend on it.

Michael Celec is the Executive Director of the Bucks County Audubon Society at Honey Hollow.

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