Magazine

On the Bright Side

Proper Parking Lighting Helps Keep Event-Goers Safe

Doug Dahlgren

Itís probably the only thing that Ď80s hair band concerts, old-fashioned tractor shows, arts and crafts festivals, traveling carnivals and rural weddings have in common: the need for temporary event parking, often well into the hours of darkness.
These same scenarios come with a wealth of potential accidents, as well. Drivers tripping on an uneven surface while walking to and from their cars. Pedestrians getting struck by cars. Increased crime risk. All of these concerns may be countered through the use of proper event lighting.
Portable light towers provide the perfect solution for temporary or short-term parking lot lighting. But lighting a parking area involves more than simply putting up a tower. Identifying key lighting safety issues helps protect drivers, pedestrians and passersby by providing a well-lit space that prevents accidents and crime without distracting people driving by.
Light It Right
Before powering up a light tower, the correct amount of light needed to safely and effectively illuminate the parking lot must first be determined. If the light is not bright enough to thoroughly cover the area, there may be risk of accident, injury or worse.
The Illuminating Engineering Society, a group of lighting industry experts, established a set of guidelines to help determine how many foot-candles of light a particular area requires. A foot-candle is the intensity of light per square foot of surface area. By calculating the size of the area to be lit, the correct amount of light needed can be determined.
The level of illumination required also depends on what is being illuminated. For instance, is the parking lot in a grassy field or on gravel, concrete or asphalt? Because soil and asphalt absorb light, more light towers may be needed to reach the optimal foot-candle measurement when on these surfaces. Concrete may not require as many towers, since this material naturally reflects light.
Weather conditions also can become a factor when determining the light needed on a parking lot. If the sky is cloudy, the number of light towers required to reach the desired illumination level may need to be increased to counteract clouds blocking the moonís light.
A personís age also affects how light levels are perceived, with more light being needed with age. While this typically wonít be a factor for parking lot lighting, it may be worth considering in special circumstances, such as parking for a 50-year class reunion.
Generally, parking areas require about one to five foot-candles for appropriate lighting. A concrete lot would fall at the lower end of that scale, while asphalt or a field would top it, possibly requiring an even greater level of foot-candles. By determining the size of the area to be lit and considering the effects the parking surface might have on illumination levels, it becomes easier to determine the amount of illumination necessary to provide a safe environment.
Proper Positioning
After establishing the correct level of lighting, where a light tower is placed and how its fixtures are positioned are the next factors to consider in creating a safe parking area.
First, consider the physical location of the light tower. The ground on which a tower is placed is vital to the unitís stability. When settling on a location, seek a surface that is flat and firm, because a portable light tower could potentially fall over if placed on rocky or sandy soil or an uneven grade. Overhead obstructions, such as power lines and trees, also may inhibit the use of towers in a particular location. Since a tower can be deployed as high as 30 feet, the unit must be free of anything above the ground that may damage the tower and subsequently risk the safety of those in the lot.
After a proper location has been selected for the unit, the positioning of the towerís fixtures is the next safety factor to address. If light towers are not positioned correctly, the direction the light shines from the fixtures may reduce visibility for passing motorists. Operators must find the right balance between creating the best possible lighting scenario for the site and protecting drivers from unnecessary distractions.
Fortunately, operators have an infinite number of positions, angles and directions in which light fixtures can be positioned. The key is to arrange the units to light up the parking lot safely, but not blind or obstruct nearby traffic. For example, placing the light towers in such a manner that they shine away from oncoming traffic is the best option, as this positioning creates optimum visibility for drivers traveling by the parking area. Additionally, tilting the fixtures down 20 degrees increases the efficiency of the light tower by focusing the light on the parking area and minimizing the amount reflected skyward. Light pollution and glare can simply be a nuisance, especially to those in nearby buildings, or it can be a safety concern. Either way, itís best avoided.
On the Bright Side
Proper positioning of not just the fixtures, but the complete tower, will reduce shadows on the lot. By eliminating dark areas, it will be easier to prevent crime as well as to maintain safe foot and car traffic through the area.
Although advances in technology have made a significant difference, some portable light towers may still produce a small amount of glare, which can temporarily blind motorists, compromising the safety of both drivers and pedestrians. However, glare can easily be corrected by angling the light fixtures down while employing a visor. This curved piece of aluminum attaches to each fixture to prevent light from traveling in an undesired direction. In addition, a visor can reflect light back to the ground to increase its intensity on the lot. This toolís benefits are twofold: It decreases the driverís possibility of being distracted by light while increasing the efficacy of the light itself.
Todayís towers are engineered to help eradicate common lighting challenges of the past. For example, light fixtures are now designed to help eliminate ďhot spots,Ē areas that receive a high concentration of light while another location is left in the dark. New fixtures distribute light more evenly to cover a parking area more efficiently. Some manufacturers also are producing light fixtures developed with strategically positioned reflectors that maximize the light produced by the lamps, further increasing the safety of event-goers.
Automatic lighting sequence and command control systems also have improved parking safety and security. These systems automatically turn lights on and off at set times, eliminating manual operation. Photocell sensors start the unitís power at dusk and shut down the tower when the sun rises. This removes the need for a person to take time away from other tasks to turn the light tower on and off.
Light towers are easier to transport from one area to another now, making the units especially useful for the mobile world of summer concerts, special events and other activities. This engineering reflects how todayís light towers are created with portability in mind. Not only have these technology and design advances made portable light tower usage safer, but the changes also have created better lighting for outdoor environments.
Considering that portable light towers are safety tools in their own right, operating them in the safest manner possible is a must. It is important to determine the proper amount of light needed for a parking lot. Correct tower placement and fixture positioning also will help protect event workers and the public alike. Keeping proper positioning in mind will allow event-goers to focus on the main show, rather than their safety to and from it.

Doug Dahlgren is Product Manager for Allmand Bros. Inc. He can be reached at ddahlgren@allmand.com

Article Abstract from October, 2007




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