Night time view of Low Pressure Sodium lighting on Toronto's expressways


High Mast

Open fluorescent lights on the surface section

Single shaded fluorescent lights on elevated section

Image courtesy of Cameron Bevers

The Province's conventional high pressure sodium lighting in the foreground with the City's shaded conventional high pressure sodium lighting in the background on ramps from Highway 401 to the Allen Expressway


Double conventional on elevated section

Fluorescent lamps on ramps to the Gardiner Expressway from the Don Valley Parkway switched on during the day for testing 


Low mast


Single and double low pressure sodium lights on elevated section and ramps


Shaded high mast on surface section



The Province's high mast lighting in the foreground with the City's shaded high mast lighting in the background where Highway 404 becomes the Don Valley Parkway

Complete replacement of expressway lighting (1990's-2000's)

In 1975, Metro Council approved the remodelling of its existing fluorescent lighting system on its expressways into yellow-orange low pressure sodium (SOX) lighting using the existing poles and equipment for an inexpensive conversion. This was done to provide a more efficient lighting system which would reduce night-time accidents. Low pressure sodium had been tried out on a trial basis on the then Allen Expressway since 1969, and was very successful, so it was installed on the rest of the Metro expressways. By 1990, the lighting equipment on the Metro expressways was now thirty years old and needed major repairs. Metro officials announced that they were going to do a major repair to expressway lighting, and the Don Valley Parkway was given top priority. Metro Councillor Howard Moscoe, representing the area that the Allen Expressway passed through, noted that 60% of the lights on the Allen had burnt out, so he pushed for a complete replacement instead of just repairs. He also urged that the Allen should be done first due to the urgency of the bad state of its lighting. He even took staff on a tour of the expressway to show them how bad it really was. Metro staff agreed, and looked at a complete replacement, with the Allen Expressway being done before the Don Valley Parkway. 

A detailed lighting study was then carried out and it recommended that high pressure sodium (SON) was now the best long-lasting system. For the first time, lighting on the Provincial freeways and on the Metro expressways would be the same, except for different types of poles used. Fenco Engineering, a company which designed lighting for the Provincial highways, was retained to also design new lighting for the Metro expressways. Metro would replace the entire lighting system on all of its expressways for a cost of ten million dollars and the replacement would take five years to complete. However, since Metro wanted to widen the west end of the Gardiner Expressway from six to eight lanes, replacement of lighting on the Gardiner would be deferred until after the widening was done. Therefore, approval was only given for new lighting on the Allen Expressway and on the Don Valley Parkway. The existing low pressure sodium system would be maintained on the Gardiner Expressway for a while longer. Elsewhere, low pressure sodium would be replaced by high pressure sodium.

On the Allen Expressway, the existing 10 metre (30 foot) poles would be used. The low pressure sodium lamps would be replaced by new shaded cobra-shaped high pressure sodium luminaires designed so as not to obstruct the subway signals. Installation of new lights on the Allen began in 1991 and was completed along the entire length of the expressway from Eglinton Avenue to Wilson Heights Boulevard by 1993. Most of the poles were replaced because they were in poor condition.
On the Don Valley Parkway, due to its winding nature, Metro was having to replace four poles per week. Therefore, in order to solve this situation and to give drivers a better view of the Don River valley parkland, Metro decided to use a new technology known as high mast lighting. This consisted of tall 30 metre (100 foot) poles with a cluster of powerful high pressure sodium lights on the top. One of these poles would replace seven conventional poles on each side. The cluster of lights at the top could be brought down the pole mechanically to repair crews on the ground and then sent back up again. The Province was starting to use high mast lighting on its highways and planned to eventually convert all of the Provincial freeways to this technology. The Provincial Government had installed high mast lighting on sections of Highway 401 and was receiving complaints from nearby residents that these powerful lamps were giving off too much light, disturbing neighbourhoods. Metro councillors argued this point, but engineers came up with a solution. High mast lights would be uniquely designed for Metro which would be different from Provincial high mast lighting. Metro would use state-of-­the-art technology with shaded clusters of lamps which could be focused. The poles would also be painted black so they would blend in with surrounding parkland. High mast lamps would be installed on most of the Parkway on the east side, except for two sections which were alongside the Don River channel south of Bloor Street and under Hydro Towers south of Eglinton Avenue and on some of the ramps. A new type of 10 metre (30 foot) low mast pole, similar to conventional poles, also painted black, would be used on these sections. They would contain new round luminaires, rather than traditional cobra-shaped ones.

In 1991, Metro council approved the plan to install a combination of high and low mast lighting on the Don Valley Parkway in several stages. It was scheduled to be completed from the Gardiner Expressway to Bloor Street by 1995, to Eglinton Avenue by 1996 and to Highway 401 by 1997. Due to limited budgets, the scheduled replacement went on for much longer and would take several more years to complete. The replacement proved to be very expensive and was finally completed to Highway 401 by 2001.

In 1996, another new lighting system known as metal halide appeared. This was a white light with round luminaires. The City ofToronto needed to replace its obsolete incandescent lighting, which dated from the 1930's. City council did not want high pressure sodium, because they complained that these lights discoloured the community. They decided to convert their lighting to these new metal halide lights. Toronto streets were now unique in Metro in that they would have a different type of lighting from the rest of Metro, which now used high pressure sodium. 

In 1997, Metro decided that it was time to go ahead and replace the lighting on the Gardiner Expressway. The system to be used would be designed to accommodate the proposed widening of the western end of the expressway, which had not yet occurred. A detailed lighting study was done and both high pressure sodium and metal halide were looked at. It was decided that metal halide was not bright enough for expressway use and that high pressure sodium was still the best system. Using the existing poles with new cobra-shaped luminaires, as had been done on Eastern Avenue at the Don Valley Parkway and on the Allen Expressway, was studied, but was ruled out, because the existing poles had deteriorated. Fenco Engineering was retained and the same new lighting system being installed on the Don Valley Parkway would be used on the Gardiner. It would be a combination of the shaded high mast and low mast high pressure sodium lighting, with poles also painted black. High mast lighting would be installed along the south side of only the surface section of the expressway around Humber Bay in the west end from the Humber River toDufferin Street, with low mast on some of the ramps. High mast poles could accommodate any widening of the Gardiner. They could not be installed on the elevated section of the expressway, so low mast poles would be used on this section from Dufferin Street to Leslie Street in existing davits. The Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway were now to have the same style of new lighting. The replacement of lighting on the Gardiner Expressway would be done in three phases. Firstly from the HumberRiver to Dufferin Street, secondly to Yonge Street, and finally to the expressway's east end. Work was scheduled to begin on the first phase at the west end, in the summer of 1998. A 1997 proposal to turn off some of the lighting and only leave them on at interchanges, due to severely tight budgets, was dropped due to safety concerns. Metro was planning to demolish the east end of the Gardiner Expressway from the Don River to Leslie Street, so the plan for the new lighting would now only stretch from the Humber River to just east of the Don Valley Parkway interchange. Opposition to these new lights existed, and some appeals against them were heard. Some people complained that they would be too bright and that the existing low pressure sodium was sufficient. Nevertheless, the first phase of lighting replacement for the Gardiner, around Humber Bay, was approved and carried out in 2000 with a combination of high and low mast high pressure sodium lighting.

New high pressure sodium lights on black low mast poles were also installed on the new ramps at the new east end of the expressway at Bouchette Street after the section to Leslie Street was demolished. The remainder of the elevated expressway from Dufferin Street to the Don River continued to have low pressure sodium lighting, as the replacement was put on hold in 2002 due to the discussion of the possibility of burying the expressway. It was also decided in 2002 to install high mast high pressure sodium lighting on the section of the Gardiner across Etobicoke which had been transferred from the Province, formerly part of the Queen Elizabeth Way. This work was carried out throughout 2003.

By 2004, no final decision had been made over the future of the elevated central Gardiner Expressway. Plans were still being discussed on whether to bury it or to leave it as it is and spruce it up and beautify it. However, in the meantime, maintenance on this section of the expressway would continue. During maintenance, the Toronto Transportation Department found that they could not get any more low pressure sodium lamps, so high pressure sodium lamps were installed into the existing poles between Dufferin Street and Strachan Avenue and at the Don Valley Parkway. When new low pressure sodium lamps became available again, the remaining low pressure sodium lighting on the elevated Gardiner between Strachan Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway would be maintained until a final decision on the future of this section of the expressway is made.

Black Creek Drive and Highway 27 are controlled access arterial roads, so they are lit with regular high pressure sodium street lighting and Highway 2A has no lighting, as it is a rural expressway. Therefore, upgrading expressway lighting was only required on the Allen, Don Valley and Gardiner Expressways.

Once all of the remaining Gardiner lighting work was done, the replacement of all expressway lighting in Toronto was completed. The total replacement of lighting on the three Municipal expressways would finally take over twelve years to complete due to budget constraints. In 2005, the City of Toronto’s budget did not adequately cover all basic services, so the City had to come up with ideas to raise extra funds. This included a controversial plan to sell its street lights to help pay for basic services such as police and parks The deal would sell an undisclosed number of street lights and the poles they hang from to Toronto Hydro Street Lighting Inc., a subsidiary of Toronto Hydro Corporation, which is wholly owned by the City of Toronto. There are 160,000 lights on City streets in Toronto, half of which shine from City-owned poles. The other half hang from Toronto Hydro poles supplying electricity to the City. On average, it costs $3,000 to erect each pole, plus $800 for the light, but they devalue over their 40-year lifespan.

The deal would also include the lights on the Don Valley Parkway, Gardiner Expressway and Allen Expressway, which include 15,000 conventional poles and 145 high-mast poles. In May 2006, the last low pressure sodium lighting on the Gardiner Expressway from Strachan Avenue to the Don Valley Parkway was replaced by conventional high pressure sodium lighting utilizing existing poles. Toronto’s entire expressway system was now lit with high pressure sodium lighting.

Single and double low mast at Humber River bridges

A balanced and workable
new transportation plan
for the City of Toronto


White LED lighting being tested on Toronto streets. Soon, the entire city will be converted to this technology. The first full neighbourhood conversion took place in 2020 in a neighbourhood in East York near O'Connor Drive and St. Clair Avenue East..

Advances and arguments of expressway lighting (1970's)

Metro was responsible for lighting on only its three expressways. Lighting on arterial roads and streets were the responsibility of the individual municipalities within Metro, until amalgamation in 1998. After that, Metropolitan Toronto and its six constituent municipalities were amalgamated into the single City of Toronto and lighting on all expressways, arterial roads and streets were under the jurisdiction of the new city. Lighting on Provincial freeways remained under the jurisdiction of the Government of Ontario. 

In the 1960's, the Province used blue mercury lighting, with cobra-shaped luminaires on 15 metre (50 foot) poles, on each of its highways and Metro used white fluorescent lighting, with tube-shaped luminaires, on 10 metre (30 foot) poles on each of its expressways. On sections of the elevated Gardiner Expressway, lighting was built into the railings along the side. In 1969, Phillips Electronics offered to install yellow-orange low pressure sodium (SOX) lighting with tube-shaped luminaires on the then Allen Expressway. This is a type of lighting used in Europe and is particularly popular in Britain. They were installed on the Allen on a trial run from Wilson Avenue to Lawrence Avenue on the expressway, but not on the ramps. Metro liked these lights and purchased the system in 1970. DelCan Corporation recommended mercury lighting on 12 metre (40 foot) poles for the proposed Scarborough Expressway. When the proposed route was redesigned in 1973, this was changed to flush fluorescent luminaires in the expressway walls. However, this never came to be as the Scarborough route never materialized. If the expressway had been built, it is most likely that the flush luminaires would have been installed as low pressure sodium. 



The first installation of low pressure sodium lamps in Toronto on the Allen Expressway in 1969


Double open fluorescent lights on surface section, single open fluorescent on ramps

In contrast to expressways, ceramic metal halide lamps on streets in the downtown are in more decorative styles

Fluorescent rail lights on elevated section ramps

(Lamps remodelled into High Pressure Sodium in the late 1980's)

The City's shaded high mast light cluster can be focussed
Screening to contain light                                                                                   The Province's high mast light cluster


By 1975, it was shown that low pressure sodium (SOX) was most efficient for preventing night time accidents. Some people did not like the yellow-orange colour of these lamps, but the benefits of low pressure sodium lighting, especially in inclement weather, outweighed this. Metro Roads officials pushed for a complete conversion of all the remaining fluorescent lighting on all the Metro expressways to low pressure sodium. Some Metro councillors opposed this and preferred the golden coloured high pressure sodium lighting installed on Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue in 1968 and on Kingston Road after it was widened in 1974. However, Metro staff pointed out that this would mean installing new poles which would push up the cost of conversion. They argued that low pressure sodium was a more efficient light and could be installed very inexpensively because the existing poles and equipment could be used. Conversion to low pressure sodium lamps using existing poles on the Don Valley Parkway would cost $750,000, while conversion to high pressure sodium would mean the installation of new higher poles, because of the glare from high pressure sodium lamps, and this would cost closer to $2 million. Nevertheless, councillors were unconvinced and sent the recommendation back for further review. Metro staff took another look at it and came back to recommend low pressure sodium again because of its efficiency and the low cost of conversion. After some tough convincing, the conversion from fluorescent to yellow-orange low pressure sodium lighting, with its tube-­shaped luminaires, was approved by Metro council.

Low pressure sodium was installed along all of the rest of the Metro expressways between 1975 and 1980. This included the Don Valley Parkway, the Gardiner Expressway and the Allen Expressway ramps. The existing 10 metre (30 foot) poles were used and new poles replaced Gardiner rail lights. Aluminum poles which do less damage to cars in collisions replaced original cement poles. Low pressure sodium lighting would only be used on grade-separated expressways because Metro Police officials stated that these yellow lamps would obscure traffic signals at intersections when they were changing at yellow. In 1978, low pressure sodium was installed on the grade-separated Allen Road between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues. However, standard street lighting was installed on the northern arterial extension of the Allen Road and on Black Creek Drive because they were built as arterial roads with signalized intersections. The Province opted for bright golden-coloured high pressure sodium lamps to replace the blue mercury lights on the existing poles on its highways. Mercury lighting on Metro's suburban arterial and local roads was also converted to high pressure sodium.


Night time views of current High Pressure Sodium lighting on Toronto's expressways


Today, lighting on Toronto's roads and expressways is becoming outdated and nearing the end of its life. Municipalities around Toronto such as Mississauga, Vaughan and Markham have replaced most of their high pressure sodium lighting with new LED lighting. Toronto needs to make a similar move. LED lighting, as a directional light, is good for smaller streets and roads. Induction lighting, used in Cobourg, Ontario, spreads over a wider area, so is more appropriate on Toronto's wider streets and highways. Toronto needs to look at an LED or Induction lighting solution for its road lighting which will cut night accidents and night crime. LED and Induction lighting have a warm white colour and will provide, for the first time, uniform lighting throughout the city. Existing light standards can easily be retrofitted to LED or Induction lighting, so the existing ornamental standards in the downtown area can be preserved. This would involve the conversion of all 165,000 street lights on all roads in the City of Toronto, except for the 400-series freeways, which would remain with existing lighting as they are under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. There would be immense savings in both electricity and carbon footprint as well as a vast improvement in lighting quality throughout the city. The light-polluting orange glow over the city from sodium lighting would be eliminated as Induction lights are dark-sky-compliant.

In 2016, Toronto Hydro installed new LED lighting on some residential streets in different parts of the City as test sites. It was decided that it would be installed throughout the City in the near future. All lighting on Toronto's streets and expressways would eventually be converted to LED technology. It was also recommended that a warmer, more yellowish LED light be used instead of the blueish-white LED lights already in use because they offered better and safer light to communities.


Shaded Conventional

Single conventional on elevated section


Expressway Lighting


The first installation of High Pressure Sodium on Toronto's municipal expressways on the Allen Expressway in 1990

A balanced and workable
new transportation plan
for the City of Toronto


Shaded high mast


Photos courtesy of Michael Sgambelluri - Vintage Kings Highways
Double low pressure sodium lights on surface section, single low pressure sodium lights on ramps

Metropolitan Toronto's low pressure sodium lighting on the left and the Province's mercury lighting on the right, at the interchange of the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 401 in 1975

Photo courtesy of Michael Sgambelluri - Vintage Kings Highways


Provincial Freeways and Municipal Expressways and Roads

In the City of Toronto (formerly Metropolitan Toronto or Metro), the expressway system is divided into two parts - Provincial freeways and Municipal (formerly Metropolitan) expressways. Provincial freeways are under the jurisdiction of the Government of the Province of Ontario and include the Queen Elizabeth Way (outside Toronto) and all of the 400-series highways such as Highways 400, 401, 404 and 427. Municipal expressways are under the jurisdiction of the City of Toronto (formerly the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto). 

Some Provincial highways have been transferred to the City of Toronto (formerly Metropolitan Toronto) over the years. In recent years, some of these include Black Creek Drive (Highway 400 Extension) the Toronto section of the Queen Elizabeth Way (now part of the Gardiner Expressway), Highway 27 and Highway 2A.

Municipal expressways include the Gardiner Expressway from Highway 427 to the Don Valley Parkway (the section east from the Don Valley Parkway to Leslie Street was demolished in 2001), the Don Valley Parkway from the Gardiner Expressway to Highway 401, the Allen (Spadina) Expressway (later called the Allen Road) from Wilson Heights Boulevard to Eglinton Avenue West, and finally Highway 2A from Kingston Road to Highway 401, which would have acted as the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway if it had been completed across Scarborough as originally planned. The City of Toronto also has jurisdiction over all arterial roads, local roads and laneways within its boundaries.