Pan Am Path: An Update on our Legacy

Toronto hosted the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in 2015. Along with hosting such a large sporting event, Toronto invested in several facilities to host the games, to be reused for community benefit afterwards.

There was also one “legacy project” to pay tribute to the games. The Pan Am Path was a proposed 84-kilometre continuous off-road multi-use trail to connect the city, from the northwest Etobicoke, through downtown, to southeast Scarborough. Much of it was along existing trails, but there were a few gaps that needed to be completed:

  1. East Highland – Orton Park Road to Morningside Park
  2. Don Valley – Forks of the Don to Eglinton Avenue
  3. Waterfront – Stadium Road Park to Sherbourne Common
  4. Humber Marshes – Riverwood Parkway to South Humber Park
  5. Weston – Crawford Jones Memorial to Cruickshank Park
Courtesy City of Toronto
Courtesy Friends of the Pan Am Path

So as a legacy to a significant event that happened in the summer of 2015, these projects should be done almost 4 years later…right?

1. East Highland

This segment would connect from the Forks of Highland Creek to an existing trail where Ellesmere Avenue crosses the East Highland Creek. The current detour is following the existing multi-use trail along West Highland Creek south, and Orton Park Road back north to the Gatineau Hydro Corridor.

The City of Toronto’s project site for this connection says that planning did start with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority back in 2014, with construction starting last year, and completion in 2020. However, I walked the East Highland Creek back in July, and the only construction I saw was old construction accesses from previous creek remediation work. That said, I was able to reach out to the city and confirm that construction will start this year, and it is still anticipated to be done by next year.

2. Don Valley

This segment would connect an existing trail along the Gatineau Hydro Corridor, down the East Don River to the Forks of the Don. The current detour is along various streets to Taylor Massey Creek, and along that ravine.

The East Don Trail and connection to the Gatineau Hydro Corridor was another project planned through a city-conservation authority partnership back in 2016. Construction started in September last year, and is ongoing for Phases 1. This completes this connection for the Pan Am Path, despite leaving an unfunded gap along the East Don Trail north to Wigmore Park.

3. Waterfront

This connection was missing when the Pan Am Path was first announced, but was well under construction, and was completed in June 2015, one month prior to the opening of the games.

The path was created out of Waterfront Toronto’s revitalization of Queens Quay. The former 4-lane industrial boulevard with a streetcar saw itself cut down to 2 lanes, 1 in each direction north of the streetcar right-of-way, and the former eastbound lanes reclaimed as a dedicated cycling trail and wide pedestrian promenade. For a progressive dense community that was forced into amalgamation and dominated by suburban conservative politics, it was a breath of fresh air. It also made a track record for Waterfront Toronto, the tri-governmental agency that made it happen.

4. Humber Marshes

This is a connection I am not very clear on; the gap exists between King’s Mill Park and South Humber Park, requiring users to travel via Riverwood Parkway and Stephen Drive.

However, where exactly you would place a dedicated trail connection is a mystery to me, as welcome as it would be. This is akin to the TRCA’s proposal to extend a trail through the bottom reach of the Rouge River; it’s entirely a wide river channel with wetlands, and the adjacent tableland is taken up by private residential housing. Creating a path would be tricky and expensive, so this might be one acceptable on-street connection.

5. Weston

This segment would make the Humber River Trail continuous by making a connection between Memorial Park and Cruickshank Park, going under the GO Transit Kitchener line. The current detour up the St Phillips Steps, and along Weston Road.

I have seen no indication of this moving forward, and it’s extremely disappointing. Metrolinx recently completed work here to widen the rail bridge over the Humber River, and while other trail projects have taken advantage of old constructions accesses, nothing seems to have been left behind in this case. For extra irony, it is in the old Ward 11, where local councillor Frances Nunziata hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the path back in 2014.

Other Gaps

Besides the 5 main connections identified, there are still some other gaps that should be addressed to ensure the Pan Am Path is a legacy to be proud of.

Military Trail

This gap requiring use of a sidewalk on Military Trail to cross Highland Creek, and a looparound back under the road could simply use a dedicated bridge to create a more direct route.

Missing Meadoway Segments

While these could be considered in the pipeline, there are segments of trail along the future Gatineau Meadoway that will need to be finished. I have previously written at length about the work that should be done in the corridor.

Old Mill

While dedicated space along the driveway into King’s Mill Park may be a bit of nitpicking, it has always driven me crazy that trail users must face off with vehicles on the skinny Old Mill Road bridge. A dedicated connection should be made, as I suggested in my analysis of TRCA’s Trail Strategy.

Eglinton

It may be of lower priority, but an opportunity exists to improve the trail in the vicinity of Eglinton Avenue. Two additional river crossings grade-separate the trail from Eglinton, and avoid the steep climb around Humber Creek.

Final Notes

As with any trails in Toronto, I place a lot of emphasis on ensuring that off street connections are minimized, and grade separations are created where required. Completing the identified connections and filling the other gaps will mostly address both these elements.

One aspect of the Pan Am Path that I cannot knock on is the branding and wayfinding. The city, in partnership with Friends of the Pan Am Path, have made an excellent website with helpful and informative resources, great navigational signs and maps, and a distinct logo.

At the same time, the branding, wayfinding, and general fanfare for the Pan Am Path feels like a bot of a slap in the face when not all of the larger capital improvements have been completed. Almost four years after the games, I feel the legacy should almost be complete.

Perhaps I am impatient; at least 1/5 of the identified connections is complete, and another 2 will be on the way. But the lack of plans for the remaining 2 really fits with a theme of what feels like a second-class treatment of active transportation in this city; lack of maintenance, lack of building, and lack of progress. Perhaps Toronto’s legacy is talking big, and not following through.

Golf: The Scourge of Ravines

Let me make it very clear: I don’t like golf. It’s nothing to do with the game itself, but for the fact that it is a land hog, exclusive to one sport and restricted to private members, with no space afforded to the general public (full disclosure, I don’t play typical golf, but a derivative: disc golf). In the Greater Toronto Area, a number of golf courses were established and have taken hold in ravines. This creates a problem in two parts: it fractures the natural corridors of our city.

The first part is obvious: golf courses, with their sprawling greens, are heavily managed to allow for a good game. This fragments the surrounding ecosystem, loads rivers with fertilizer, and foregoes the ecosystem benefits of having that land covered in natural vegetation.

The second part is that, because golf courses are mostly restricted to club member access, they create major gaps in Toronto’s active transportation network. They hog the banks of rivers and creeks, which are often conduits for high-quality hiking and biking trails. This is detrimental to the broader regional network, and in fact, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) recently released a draft Regional Trail Strategy that is directly or indirectly impacted by at least a dozen of them. They can also be barriers to access from and between local streets and neighbourhoods, making them less walkable and cyclable.

When food and beverage contracts at two city-owned golf courses expired in November 2017, the city noted that golf participation rates and revenues have been declining, and that some city-owned courses struggled to break even. This triggered the question of whether the city should be owning golf courses at all. My opinion: absolutely not. A city government has no business owning land that is restricted to a single activity and charging fees for access, let alone putting public resources towards them.

So this spurred me to look at the 7 city-owned golf courses, as well as 12 private courses, to see how much of a barrier they are in these respects, and rank them in terms of parkland and active transportation criteria. Below are the top 7 courses (3 public, 4 private) that could improve Toronto’s ravines and trail systems.

Public Courses

1. Don Valley

Don Valley Golf Course occupies over 2 kilometres of the West Don River, from the northwest corner of Yonge and Wilson, under the 401 to the southeast corner of Earl Bales Park. It also covers over 47 hectares of land, making it the second largest of the public golf courses.

This course is notable for being steps from a subway station, and within reach of high density populations at Sheppard-Yonge, giving it significant potential as an active transportation corridor. Multi-use trails stretch along most of the West Don to the northwest, all the way into Vaughan. Converting this course into parkland would create a direct pedestrian and cycling access from a number of residences in the Wilson Heights, Armour Heights, Lansing and southwest Willowdale neighbourhoods to Yonge Street and the subway.

It would also create an opportunity to fill a dangerous sidewalk gap along Yonge. Currently, if you are travelling north from Wilson on the west side of Yonge, the sidewalk suddenly ends 200 metres north of William Carson Crescent, forcing you to backtrack, or try to jaywalk across 6 lanes of traffic on Yonge plus an offramp from the 401. It’s a dangerous proposition, and coming southbound is marginally better, with one formal onramp crossing and a pedestrian bridge over Yonge. A full-on trail bypass is a solution that could be facilitated, in part, by opening up the golf course to the public.

2. Royal Woodbine

Royal Woodbine Golf Club is a very long a stretched out course, covering about 3.5 kilometres of Mimico Creek. This course is notable for being in what I refer to as the “Pearson Triangle”, an area bounded by the 401, 427 and the GO Transit Kitchener line. This area has almost no parks in it; with the exception of some land south of Disco Road and north of the 409, the only open space you’ll find will be isolated patches along hydro corridors.

It’s hard to argue for park space in an area with no residents, low rise commercial buildings, and airplanes screaming into and out of Pearson. But remember that this is about naturalizing a stretch of Mimico Creek, and also providing an active transportation link. That has benefits for the environment, as well as workers and customers who don’t have a car.

The success of this stretch also depends on addressing barriers to travel north and south of the course. The 401/427 interchange, immediately to the south of the course, represents a huge barrier the Pearson Triangle and a fairly contiguous creek-side trail south of Eglinton Avenue. There are no sidewalks or trails west of Carlingview Drive either. So even if Royal Woodbine could be converted with trails included, it would be considered quite isolated in the broader network, and this knocks it out of the top spot in the ranking.

3. Dentonia Park

Dentonia Park is along a short 400 metre stretch of Taylor Massey Creek. It is also the smallest of all Toronto golf courses by a long shot: 13.7 hectares, with the next course coming in at over 20 hectares.

This course is small, but its location is critical. It’s the only break in an otherwise continuous, grade-separated, high quality, 13.5 kilometre natural active transportation corridor from Warden Subway Station all the way to Lake Ontario. By opening this course up and creating a grade-separated crossing of Victoria Park Avenue, you could commute by bike without encountering any cars outside of the first and last mile. It would be a #bikeTO fantasy come true.

Private

1. Oakdale

Oakdale Golf and Country Club covers 1,300 metres of Black Creek, which is mostly concentrated in the south part of the course. It is also the largest course in Toronto, covering 88.7 hectares.

Oakdale is a barrier to continuous trail access along Black Creek, and opening it up connect Downsview Dells and Chalkfarm Park. The TRCA has proposed a creative solution to the golf club’s presence by proposing a trail corridor that follows Heathrow Creek to Jane and Wilson, and then redirects users to the Humber River valley. I have provided feedback on the latter part of TRCA’s proposal.

However, this is not an optimal routing, as it still requires climbing out of the Black Creek ravine, and it diverts users away from existing parkland in Chalkfarm Park. This golf course could contribute towards a complete trail network from York University to Jane and Wilson, and has the potential to add significant natural lands to the Black Creek watershed and the broader Downsview community.

2. Donalda

The Donalda Club spreads over 3.25 km of the East Don River, 800 metres of Deerlick Creek, as well as a total of nearly 500 metres of at least three other minor streams. It is the second largest course in Toronto, covering 77.2 hectares.

Donalda is actually the one course to my knowledge that allows some limited access: you can cross between the end of Three Valleys Drive and Chipping Road via a short walkway across the course. However, the owners make it very clear that straying left or right is trespassing on private property.

The result is detrimental to the trail network. Existing adjacent trails along the East Don Trail currently end north of Lawrence Avenue East and east of Don Mills Road, creating a gap in what will otherwise be a continuous trail from the city’s north boundary to the lake (once the trail between Wynford Drive and the Forks of the Don is completed). There are also three potential connections to existing local trails along Deerlick Creek and two other unnamed tributaries. Opening up this course would make a significant improvement to local and regional trail systems.

3. Islington

Islington Golf Club spreads over 1.8 km of Mimico Creek. It is a medium-sized course relative to others within Toronto, covering 51.2 hectares.

The Islington Golf Club creates a gap in the trail network along Mimico Creek. Trail users must currently divert via Kipling Avenue, Burnhamthorpe Road and Dundas Street West to get between the trail segments. It’s not the worst detour in the city, but it’s enough. Closing this gap could contribute towards a continuous trail between Eglinton and Bloor, and perhaps further north to the Pearson Triangle (see Royal Woodbine above) and further south if existing segments were stitched together.

4. Markland Wood

Markland Wood Golf Club spreads over 2.75 km of Etobicoke Creek. It is also a medium-sized course relative to others within Toronto, covering 46.0 hectares.

Markland Wood creates a gap in the trail network along Etobicoke Creek. While “Tributary 4” provides an alternative parallel route, it can feel tight and confined relative to the open valley of the main creek. Closing this gap could make a continuous trail from Dixie Road (north of Courtneypark Drive) to Dundas Street, and all the way to Lake Ontario once the gap between Dundas and the Queensway is addressed. Again, this is something the TRCA has proposed, and I have presented a counterproposal on.

Conclusion

These seven courses received a score of 3 in at least three categories of evaluation. The evaluation of all courses, the evaluation criteria, and a map of the courses are posted below. Do you agree with the ranking? Are there criteria that were missed or require more weight? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Public Review: A Regional Trail Strategy for Toronto

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has released a draft of the Trail Strategy for the Greater Toronto Region (Trail Strategy). As someone who has accumulated over 1,000 kilometres of hiking experience across Toronto, I wanted feedback based on these experiences, specific to the proposed regional trail network within the City of Toronto, and limited portions of York Region south of Highway 407.

I am in agreement with many parts of this proposed regional trail system. However, there are some parts that I feel could be changed to enhance the trail experience, and align better with the Trail Strategy’s vision. Without being privy to the decision-making and perhaps some key considerations, and keeping in mind that this is a regional network for the entire region, I’ll highlight some key issues I believe need to be addressed in a final Trail Strategy:

  • Creating a crosstown trail corridor within greenspace;
  • Extending the Scarborough Waterfront Project west;
  • Travelling further down Black Creek;
  • Sticking to the Etobicoke Creek river valleys;
  • Considering 3 alternative trail connections;
  • Recognizing 5 representations in the map; and,
  • Addressing 3 remaining gaps in the network.

Crosstown Corridor

I wholeheartedly disagree with the Trail Strategy’s reliance on the Bloor Street / Danforth Avenue bike lanes as a major east-west corridor for the regional trail network, between the Scarborough Heights Park area to the west boundary of the Etobicoke Creek watershed. While I fully support and agree that a) bike lanes on Bloor Street / Danforth Avenue are necessary, and b) the Trail Strategy must integrate with it, I do not agree that the TRCA should formally rely on it as a major crosstown corridor for its network. I believe it conflicts with the Trail Strategy’s vision of making a trail network within greenspace.

I think a great alternative corridor exists, using 8 kilometres of existing Valley trail in the Don watershed, and is an opportunity to create nearly 20 kilometres of Corridor trail and associated greenspace. The alternative corridor is as follows:

  • A new trail from the existing access ramp between Scarborough Heights Park and Rosetta McClain Gardens, and Warden Woods, partially using existing parkland and a former railway spur;
  • Using the existing trail network along Taylor / Massey Creek and the Lower Don River to Crothers Woods;
  • A new trail adjacent to Canadian Pacific Railway’s North Toronto subdivision to Davenport Road;
  • A new trail along the “Green Line” park system proposed by Park People to Metrolinx’s Newmarket subdivision (aka the GO Transit Barrie Line);
  • A new trail or existing trails along a hydro transmission corridor to Etobicoke Creek.

This alternative corridor is located within greenspace, congruent with the vision of the Trail Strategy, and ensures that the trail experience is richer and safer for active transportation users. It also connects users more directly to two of the destinations identified in the Trail Strategy: the Forks of the Don, and the Humber Parklands.

Scarborough Waterfront West

The TRCA is currently working to implement the Scarborough Waterfront Project, which will protect the Scarborough bluffs from erosion, enhance natural habitat, and create a new continuous waterfront trail from East Point Park to Bluffers Park. The Trail Strategy includes this, and then proposes to direct users up Brimley Road (a significant and relatively steep grade), and continue east via the existing ‘trail’, which is actually a zig-zagging patchwork of local streets and fractured trail segments at the top of the bluffs. Once again, I believe it conflicts with the Trail Strategy’s vision of making a trail network within greenspace.

It’s lost on me why the TRCA would not propose extending its Scarborough Waterfront Project further east. The TRCA, to my knowledge, owns title to all of this stretch of the waterfront with one exception (The Toronto Hunt). Implementing this would create a continuous trail along over 85% of Toronto’s waterfront, from the Rouge River, through Scarborough and the downtown, to Mimico Waterfront Park in Etobicoke. It would also reduce the distance travelled between Bluffers Park and the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant by over 30%, and eliminate any significant grade changes.

Black Creek

The Trail Strategy has identified Black Creek and its parklands as both a trail corridor and a destination. It also proposes extending the existing trail system south from Downsview Dells Park, using Giovanni Caboto and Heathrow Parks. While it does not utilize the rich and natural west part of Downsview Dells Park, I think this is a great and creative solution to get around the barrier presented by the Oakdale Golf and Country Club.

However, the Trail Strategy then proposes to redirect users into the Humber Valley system via Highway 401 and/or Wilson Avenue. I do not agree with this redirection, as I believe there is ample opportunity to continue the trail further south along Black Creek, at least to Weston Road. This would align better with the Trail Strategy’s vision of making a trail network within greenspace, and would facilitate direct connections with the West Toronto Railpath North and the Eglinton Avenue Trail.

Etobicoke Creek

It is unfortunate that the Markland Wood Golf Club is a barrier to a continuous trail along Etobicoke Creek, from Eglinton Avenue to the lake. The Trail Strategy suggests overcoming this barrier by creating a
Corridor trail along a nearby utility corridor.

It is a worthy proposal, but wish that a Valley trail through an alternative corridor could be considered. My suggested approach is continuing to follow Etobicoke Creek north to Dundas, within lands mostly owned by the TRCA already. Once this trail reaches Neilson PArk, a trail already exists along Etobicoke Creek’s “Tributary 4” to Burnhamthorpe Road. A minor detour along Burnhamthorpe Road would link trail users back to the Etobicoke Creek Trail. Another alternative corridor could be along Little Etobicoke Creek to the west.

Alternate Connections

There are some trails that I mostly agree with, but would implore TRCA to consider alternative ways of connecting them to the broader network.

Leaside South

The Leaside Spur Trail is (technically) a dead end at its southern tip, in behind 1121-1123 Leslie Street. The TRCA has proposed connecting it by directing users to and along Leslie Street, and down the vehicular entrance to Wilket Creek Park. An alternative connection is already proposed as part of the redevelopment of the former Celestica site (known as Wynford Green): over a bridge over the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Belleville subdivision, and along the access road from Eglinton Avenue into the West Don River Valley. The TRCA should work with the developers to advance this connection.

Rendering by TACT Architecture, Rezoning Application for Wynford Green (16 236387 NNY 26 OZ).
Highway 401/427

The Highway 401/427 interchange is a major barrier to pedestrian and cyclist movement between the Pearson Airport area and west end neighbourhoods in Toronto.  While the Finch Meadoway is a great opportunity to improve this connectivity, I don’t feel that continuing in a straight northeast/southwest line, from the Richview Transformer Station to the Matheson Boulevard/Eglinton Avenue intersection, would achieve that goal. Instead, I would propose a path that follows Mimico Creek, and connects directly with the West Deane Trail, as an alternative.

Leaside North

The Trail Strategy illustrates an existing ‘trail’ from the top of the Leaside Spur at York Mills Road. This is actually a series of sidewalks along York Mills Road, Lesmill Road, Valleybrook Drive and Duncan Mill Road. A true trail connection could be forged here by continuing the Leaside Spur Trail north to Leslie Street and Woodsworth Greenbelt, and forging a new path through Moatfield Farm Park to the Betty Sutherland Trail. In the future, this trail could be optimized in conjunction with minor daylighting improvements to Vyner Creek.

Map Misrepresentations

Twyn Rivers

While the Trail Strategy illustrates a continuous trail along the Rouge River in the Twyn Rivers area, two small but critical improvements are required: a dedicated active transportation bridge across Little Rouge Creek (as opposed to forcing users into vehicular traffic along the heritage bridge), as well as a dedicated or grade-separated crossing of Twyn Rivers Drive. The lack of proper crossings is an ongoing hazard to trail users.

Weston North Humber Connection

The Trail Strategy illustrates an existing trail between Crawford-Jones Memorial Park and Cruickshank Park along the Humber River. This trail, although recognized in many plans, still has not been built. Implementing this connection would avoid a steep detour along Weston Road.

Morningside Park to Ellesmere Road

The Trail Strategy illustrates an existing trail from Morningside Park north to the Gatineau Meadoway. This trail actually does not exist, except underneath the Ellesmere Road bridge. There is plenty of opportunity to use a former construction access that exists in this stretch, and it would greatly improve connectivity within the broader Highland Creek trail system.

West Don at Leslie

The Trail Strategy illustrates an existing trail following the West Don River, north of Steeles Avenue along Leslie Street. There is no dedicated infrastructure along here. A dedicated trail following the West Don, and facilitating a grade-separated crossing of Steeles Avenue, would be preferable.

Old Mill

The Trail Strategy illustrates the Lower Humber as being continuous through the Old Mill area. However, trail users must cross a narrow heritage bridge shared with vehicular traffic, and then use a vehicular access into the park. A dedicated crossing and space along the access road would be preferable.

Remaining Gaps

Finally, there are some gaps in the Trail Strategy that have been overlooked or misrepresented, which I feel need to be addressed.

North Scarborough

While the Trail Strategy provides plenty of north-south links across Toronto, there is a notable gap in north Scarborough, between the Warden Meadoway and the Rouge Valley. I think the TRCA should consider is a regional trail corridor can be established somewhere inbetween, at least from the Finch Meadoway to the Gatineau Meadoway. I would suggest following East Highland Creek, but any corridor should achieve the goal of of connecting to Scarborough Town Centre.

West Humber to Mimico Connection

I have lamented for years about the lack of a proper link between the West Humber River and Mimico Creek. Such a link has a two fold purpose, in conjunction with the alternate 401/427 crossing suggested above:

  1. Improving connectivity for residents travelling between areas north of Rexdale Boulevard and south of Eglinton Avenue.
  2. Creating an active transportation corridor that links to key destinations such as Pearson airport, its surrounding employment lands. and Woodbine Racetrack.

The Trail Strategy illustrates a trail along Airport Road to Pearson Airport. I think a link between the Humber River and Mimico Creek would provide a better connection through greenspace, with the potential to make local connections along less busy streets.

Finch Meadoway at G Ross Lord Dam, Metrolinx Uxbridge Subdivision

The Trail Strategy illustrates the Finch Meadoway Trail detouring from the hydro corridor in two spots: G Ross Lord Dam and Metrolinx’s Uxbridge Subdivision (aka the Stouffville GO Line). In both of these instances, the TRCA should work on more direct grade-separated connections within the corridor.

Conclusion

All of the suggestions above are framed against the Trail Strategy’s vision:
making a trail network within greenspace. But it’s more than that: it’s about making it a high-quality network that is maximized within greenspace. This means opting for connections that reduce diversions, unnecessary winding, and steep grades. It also means sticking to corridors that are as thickly vegetated as possible, grade separated from roads and railways, whereever possible. It’s making a trail network that is convenient, attractive, lush, rich, natural, and safe.