A cyclist looms large along the rail path. Photo by Vic Gedris
West Toronto Rail Path Update
Next public meeting to review design for expansion will likely be in the Fall of 2018
Story by Sonya Allin
Like many residents on the west side I’ve been eagerly awaiting news related to the extension of the West Toronto Rail Path. This is a paved, quiet, green off-road bike and pedestrian path that currently runs alongside the railway from north of Dupont to Dundas at Sterling. By 2019 (assuming all goes according to plan) this path will run further south to Dufferin and Queen. And ultimately, the hope is to see it extend all the way to the waterfront.
I find myself fantasizing about the future of this path almost daily. We already regularly take it from Dupont to Dundas en route to camps along Sterling, the Henderson Brewery, our jobs downtown and our kid’s school. In the Spring of 2018, and assuming there are no further construction delays, we’ll additionally be using it to go check out the new Museum of Contemporary Art. Shortly thereafter, we should see ourselves to cycling further south, entirely off the road and across pedestrian bridges at Lansdowne Avenue, Brock Avenue and Queen, to picnic and to jump through water jets at the new Pessoa Park.
Image courtesy of the City of Toronto of proposed Peel Pocket Park at Dufferin.
Some progress on the planned extension of the path to Dufferin been made. The environmental assessment for the first phase of the trail’s extension is done and about half the $23 million dollars it will require is already in-hand. In addition, the overpass across Dufferin street, which includes a pedestrian path, seating, and bike lanes is complete. But questions still remain as to the rail path’s future. For example, a detailed design, which will be informed both by the City’s Design Review Panel (DRP) and the public, is yet to be fleshed out. And construction is heavily contingent on the progress of Metrolinx, which plans to bring rush-hour service from Waterloo to Toronto via the corridor. This will change the shape of the corridor substantially.
So what do we know the rail path’s future? How will it be affected by Metrolinx’s plans? How can we help push the project forward?
I had a chance to discuss some these issues with Shawn Dillon, the City of Toronto’s Acting Manager of Cycling and Infrastructure and Programs.
Is the funding for the rail path extension secure?
We have funding available now through the Public Transportation Infrastructure Fund (PTIF). PTIF provides matching federal infrastructure funds. If things were to proceed very quickly, we could partially fund some construction with those dollars. However, we’re not expecting it to proceed quickly enough to take advantage of current funding.
We have heard that there will be additional phases of PTIF funding and, given that the project was previously approved, it is very likely that it would be approved again. So, we will get all the design work done [with current funding] and if things proceed very quickly or we get an extension we may get some construction completed [with current funding]. More likely, [funding for] construction will be part of an [additional] PTIF project. And if not, we will submit the project through our normal capital program and seek council approval through their budget program.
Who will do the design of the rail path extension?
We are working to hire Hatch Limited; this is the engineering consulting firm that Metrolinx has hired for their expansion. We are hiring them through Metrolinx so that we can make sure the two projects (rail path and rail expansion) are integrated.
We’ve reviewed Hatch and made sure we have a team that is heavily involved on active transportation design projects. They’ve also partnered with Scott Torrence Landscape Architect Inc. So they’ve got strong partners with experience in active transportation. We’re really confident that the design team we have has strong expertise in active transportation designs.
Can you tell us about the City’s Design Review Panel (DRP) that will review this project. Who is on this panel?
The DRP is a City of Toronto panel that serves as resource for city staff on projects of this magnitude. The panel includes architects, landscape architects and urban designers who provide independent and objective advice to City staff. They have informed other major infrastructure projects, like the redesign of the waterfront trail. If you want more information on them, you can go to the City of Toronto website; there is a section dedicated to the panel.
When will the public be able to see and comment on designs?
There will be two meetings about the project for the public. One will be done during the design process. This will happen sometime next year, once we have a reasonable design that we are ready to show. We will take that out for public review to get comments and we will incorporate what we hear into the final design. Could we be ready to have this [meeting with the public] by June 2018? Maybe. September (of 2018) will be more likely.
The second meeting will be more informational, to provide details on the final design and to give an update on plans for construction. We don’t know when that second meeting will be; it will be when we know and when we have a better indication as to when construction will proceed.
Will the expansion project affect the existing rail path?
Yes, there will be a time when the existing path will not remain open. We obviously hope to limit that as much as possible. But when Metrolinx proceeds, there will be a need to shift the alignment of the trail to the north. That’s something we’re still working through with Metrolinx.
So, any estimates as to when all this construction might begin?
Our goal is to have the detailed design completed by next year so as soon as Metrolinx says they are ready to start building we’ve got everything fully designed so it can be included in their construction.
It seems the future of the path depends heavily on Metrolinx. Is the rail path a priority for them?
Metrolinx is interested in delivering on transit projects but they are also very, very active in promoting and building active transportation facilities. For example, they are a partner in Toronto’s Bike Share and have helped to fund Bike Share. Their new transportation projects include the Finch West LRT; this will be built with very high quality pedestrian and cycling facilities. While Metrolinx has a focus on rail in this corridor, they are great partners in making sure active transportation components are considered and appropriate facilities installed.
The author, Sonya Allin, and her daughter enjoy riding on the rail path (as seen above) and eagerly await it's expansion south.
For those of us eagerly awaiting the rail path extension, what can we do to help make sure it advances?
Reaching out to Metrolinx is the way to go. We can’t proceed without doing it in lockstep with them. We’re doing everything we can to be ready, and as soon as they say go we will have everything in place to make it happen. The project all hinges on them making the decision to move forward and we’re anxiously awaiting to hear from them.
To reach out to Metrolinx, you can contact: Joel Dempster, Project Manager, Metrolinx at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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