Unlocking the 'untapped potential' of Toronto's underlit laneways

A Toronto organization has launched a fundraising campaign to install ambient lighting at a pair of laneways that are frequently used by pedestrians and cyclists. "They're spaces that are full of untapped potential in our city," said an organizer.

Group says added lighting could make dark laneways in West Queen West and Bloordale Village more accessible

'Laneways can provide extensive cultural, economic, social, health and environmental benefits,' says the group behind a project to light up west end laneways. (The Laneway Project)

A Toronto organization is hoping to make the city's darkest laneways more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians who want to use them at night. 

The plan is to install ambient lighting in laneways that are already being used for foot or bike traffic, organizers say.

"They're spaces that are full of untapped potential in our city, they're spaces that could be doing so much more," said Michelle Senayah, co-founder and executive director of the Laneway Project.

Senayah and her group have identified a pair of lanes for the first phase of the project: one that runs parallel to Ossington Street north of Dundas Street West and another that runs parallel to Bloor Street West between Brock Avenue and Pauline Avenue.

According to Senayah, both locations are "routes that make sense for people to take through a neighbourhood, routes that people are already walking through." Both have also been identified by local business improvement associations as areas in need of improved lighting.

At the moment, she says both lanes feature high, widely spaced lights intended for drivers using a car with bright headlights.

"While the level of lighting will be sufficient for someone in a vehicle using a laneway, it's often insufficient for someone on foot or on a bike."

Michelle Senayah says more lighting will improve quality of life and safety for laneway users. (The Laneway Project)

To complement those street lights, the Laneway Project is hoping to install a series of smaller lights at more frequent intervals, placed closer to the ground. The lights would also be shielded to point downwards only.

Doing so would improve the quality of life for people in the area, in addition to promoting a feeling of safety for people who use the lanes, she says.

The planning and installation of the lights will cost between $55,000 and $175,000, depending on the type of lighting fixtures chosen. The group is now raising money to jumpstart the project.

The lights would be installed on private property, meaning that no city approval would be required.

In response to concerns about encouraging too much traffic in the lanes, Senayah says the lights will only be installed in areas that are already being used, even without much lighting.

She calls those routes "desire lines."

"We're not trying to encourage people to walk through the laneway because of the lighting," Senayah added. "We're lighting laneways that people are already walking through."