‘The feeling of safety’: lighting up dark winter nights on Graham Avenue


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Seven bus shelters along Graham Avenue have been equipped with rooftop lighting — a move aimed at improving the area aesthetically and boosting public perceptions of safety during dark winter months.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/12/2019 (1186 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Seven bus shelters along Graham Avenue have been equipped with rooftop lighting — a move aimed at improving the area aesthetically and boosting public perceptions of safety during dark winter months.

The white lights were installed this week as part of a Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone initiative, said Kate Fenske, the organization’s CEO.

With the sun setting at 4:28 p.m., Friday, extra light is something most Winnipeggers could probably appreciate.

“We’ve been hearing from members and the public that more lighting downtown can improve the feeling of safety,” said Fenske. “So we wanted to see if that was something we could expand downtown.”

In a January survey of Downtown BIZ members, 79 per cent of respondents said they thought public lighting could improve safety. In total, the lighting cost the BIZ less than $10,000, with the City of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Transit helping to implement it.

The perception of safety in the downtown has been discussed at length by politicians, police and policy makers in recent months, no doubt coloured by the level of high-profile crime the city has experienced this year.

A survey commissioned by the Winnipeg Police Service, conducted in the summer and released in November, found 72 per cent of respondents felt crime had risen as compared to the previous year. The survey also asked whether people felt safe walking downtown after dark, with just under 12 per cent of respondents saying they would.

University of Manitoba criminologist Frank Cormier told the Free Press the results of the survey were somewhat dubious for several reasons — the impact of recency bias, lack of racial or sexual orientation-stratified data, and a rise in crime rhetoric by public officials — calling those perceptions into question. Generally, Cormier said, perception does not equal statistical reality.

The public’s sense of safety was once again brought to the fore when Downtown Biz, True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the city and police launched what it called the Downtown Safety Initiative a few weeks later. The initiative, which is still in its early stages, planned on rolling out safety projects in a targeted fashion.

“Bottom line is, we want people and citizens to feel safe wherever they are — feel safe and be safe,” Fenske said at the time. Fenske said Friday the shelter lights are a BIZ place-making initiative, entirely separate from the Downtown Safety Initiative.

In December, a report about downtown safety by the Manitoba Police Commission recommended the city, province, and private stakeholders collaborate to develop a lighting strategy. It also recommended “clarity be sought on what is the best practice or standard for lighting to achieve a sense of public safety.”

Anya Paskovic, a land development planner in Vancouver who wrote her graduate thesis on urban lighting, says that lighting increases “perceptions” of safety, which encourages more people to use an area. But there is little evidence that lighting actually increases safety or reduces crime.

A 2015 article in Leukos, a scholarly journal focused on the applied use of light, stated lighting could enhance pedestrian “reassurance,” meaning they might feel more confident and more safe. However, it also cited research concluding better lighting has little impact on safety without an overarching strategy.

Last year, Winnipeg launched the building exterior lighting grant program as part of its multi-year downtown public safety strategy, allocating $300,000 over two years to enhance pedestrian safety. But an overall downtown lighting strategy as proposed by the police commission hasn’t yet been enacted.

Fenske said her organization will monitor whether the lights have an impact on bus shelter cleanliness and maintenance, as well as safety, and the findings will help determine whether more downtown shelters are equipped with the rooftop lights moving forward.

The Graham Avenue lights will stay up until the spring.


Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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