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A new daylight is dawning

Time change will be 3 weeks early

US Representative Edward J. Markey says he has devised a way to combat crime, economic stagnation, car crashes, and the winter blahs, all while saving energy and costing taxpayers nothing.

Next Sunday , Americans will simply move their clocks ahead one hour, three weeks earlier than normal, under a law Markey pushed through Congress that moves daylight saving time for the first time since 1986.

Markey says his first concern is saving energy. But the congressman, who wakes to an alarm clock at 7 a.m., sounds like a Bible salesman when he talks about the benefits of giving every man, woman, and child an extra hour of sunlight in the evenings.

"Daylight saving time just brings a smile to everybody's faces," the Malden Democrat said last week. "When it's daylight and people are going home at night, they feel better, and as the ad says, that's priceless; it's impossible to put a value on it."

But in a nation where nearly everyone runs on a tight schedule, and mornings are often the only time people have to themselves before the demands of life kick in, the slight change feels more like a sharp jolt for many early risers.

At 6:30 a.m. Thursday in the North End, where the sun was slanting into the streets, many who had already started the day said they were dreading the change. By next Sunday at this time, when the clocks change, the neighborhood will be dark; sunrise won't come until 7:03 a.m.

"I'm going to be sick, really disappointed," said Barbara Summa , who was buying orange juice and a newspaper at White Hen Pantry on Hanover Street, on her 6 a.m. walk through the neighborhood. "When it's dark, I can't take advantage of it. Really, think about it. It's crazy. I'm very upset about it."

Complaints have also come from Orthodox Jews who pray before sunrise, farmers who rise at first light, runners who train before work, and parents whose children will have to travel to school in the dark. Some industries have also complained: US-based airlines say they risk losing preferred landing and liftoff positions at international airports, which will be operating on a different schedule. Other companies are scrambling to reprogram the clocks in their computers.

Markey is pressuring federal officials to do everything they can to spread the word about the change. But some scholars say his notion that a modest adjustment of the clock hands will make people happier and safer is silly.

"All of this is at best hypothetical," said Michael Downing , a professor of English at Tufts University and the author of "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time." "People have attributed to it all the evils of the world and all the healing properties of snake oil."

It is a debate that dates to 1907, when William Willett , a British architect and golfer, proposed adjusting the clocks to catch more sunlight in spring and summer so that people could enjoy more leisure activities in the afternoon. But the idea did not gain traction until World War I, when Germany adopted daylight saving time from spring to fall to save fuel. Britain soon followed suit, and so did the United States. After the war, the United States abandoned the practice until World War II, when President Roosevelt revived it as a an energy-saving measure and dubbed it "war time." In the decades that followed, there was confusion as some cites, including Boston, continued to observe the practice, and others did not. Congress adopted six months of daylight saving time in 1966, calling a uniform policy essential for business. President Nixon temporarily extended daylight saving time again, during the energy crunch in 1974 and 1975.

In 1986, Markey burst into the debate. Battling farmers who did not want to lose an hour of light in the morning, because that is when their animals awaken and need tending, he brokered a compromise under which daylight saving time would begin in early April rather than late April, which had been the case since 1966.

Markey convinced Congress the change would save energy because Americans would not need as many lights in the evening. In 2005, he struck again, tucking a monthlong extension into a massive energy bill that took effect this year. In addition to moving the start of daylight saving time to the second Sunday in March, the law pushes the end back a week, to the first Sunday in November. That will make it safer for children to trick or treat, since it will be lighter on Halloween, Markey said.

David Prerau , a former federal transportation official and the author of "Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time," helped Markey write the law. He said no consideration was given to extending daylight saving time year-round because wintertime sunrises would come as late as 8:15 a.m., and people would have a hard time getting out of bed.

Prerau and others remind critics that the coming change is a modest adjustment. Because each day as summer approaches brings a little more daylight, by the end of March early risers should see almost as much light in the morning as they saw before Markey's change took effect.

Citing a 1975 Department of Transportation study on daylight saving time, Markey said his law would reduce crime because criminals are less likely to strike in daylight. The study showed a 10 to 13 percent drop in crime in Washington, D.C., when daylight saving time was observed. He said fewer drivers will crash because they will be able to see in the evenings. The study found a 1 percent drop in accidents during March and April of 1974, when the nation observed daylight saving time, compared with the same months in 1973, when the nation did not. The study also showed electricity use in the nation dropped by 1 percent during daylight saving time in 1974 and 1975. Markey said the same reduction today would translate into $320 million in electricity savings by 2020, and could avoid the need to build three new power plants. There will be more daylight to relax after work, shop, play sports, or garden, which will brighten moods, he said.

But it comes with a trade-off: more darkness for early morning workers. Thursday morning at Bova's, a 24-hour bakery on Salem Street, there was consternation.

"God, I was looking forward to getting up and saying, 'Look at this light out,' " said Gilda Bova , 71, throwing up her hands inside the family bakery. She wakes at 5 a.m., she said. "It's kind of lousy when you get up early in the morning and it's dark out; you feel like it's winter constantly."

Morning joggers are worried, too.

"What's going to be a problem is the combination of ice and darkness -- that's what's going to be tricky for people," said Jeff Staab , a coach at the Boston Athletic Association.

The National Parent Teacher Association has also registered its displeasure, saying, "We remain concerned about the potential safety issues the extension into March may cause due to the increased danger of traveling to school in dark hours."

Doctors say it would be healthier for everyone if Congress mandated one time throughout the year, rather than force an already sleep-deprived populace to adjust to two schedules.

"The very fact that we change is disruptive," said Dr. Charles A. Czeisler chief of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

To be sure, even some early risers embrace the additional morning darkness. Rocco Napoli , 37, who drives a garbage truck from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. in the North End and Charlestown, said it would be easier for him to drive in the dark.

"It's less stress," he said. "No one's around. No traffic. You don't have to deal with people trying to get around you every two minutes, you know? It's quiet. And we've got plenty of lights on the truck."

Dave Karcher , 35, a truck driver for Drake's cakes, who was making deliveries on Hanover Street on Thursday, said he is looking forward to more light in the evenings so he can play basketball with his teenage children and push his 4-year-old on a swing. Next Sunday, sunset in Boston will be at 6:46 p.m., 61 minutes later than the day before.

"Lighter later is better," Karcher said. "Who wants to get out of work at 4:30 and you get home and it's dark? This means more time outside."

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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