Bloor West Villager
Since the first phase of the West Toronto Railpath was officially unveiled in October of 2008, a movement for these linear parks along abandoned rail lines has developed.
Though the West Toronto Railpath was not the first linear cycling park to be built in the Greater Toronto Area – the Kay Gardner Beltline preceded it – the idea was virtually unheard of when it was initially conceived more than a decade ago.
“The concept was very unknown to people,” said Scott Dobson of the Friends of West Toronto Railpath. “The whole concept wasn’t on the radar. People weren’t familiar with what it was. Now that phase one has been completed, there’s a lot more interest in getting phase two done because people can see it and see the positives of it.”
The railpath stretches 2.1 kilometres of land between Cariboo Avenue to the Dundas Street West and Lansdowne Avenue area to south of Bloor Street West. The city acquired the land in 2001 to develop the multi-use trail for both recreational and commuter purposes. Construction began in June of 2008 and was completed that September.
The railpath winds its way along the abandoned railway beds that have been out of commission for more than four decades. Because the rail corridor has a substantial width, the railpath does not interfere with existing train routes. The railpath park’s features include a system of wayfaring signs indicating each access point along the route.
Phase two has always been part of the plan, said Dobson during an interview at his home in the Perth and Wallace avenues-area, mere metres from the Wallace Avenue railpath entrance. But momentum has slowed somewhat due to Metrolinx projects – the railpath shares the corridor with the provincial transportation agency, Dobson pointed out.
The railpath has become so much more than a pedestrian, in-line skating, cycling and skateboarding pathway. It has become a venue for the community to meet and socialize where festivals, movies and charity events are held.
“Its actual uses have gone far beyond what its original purpose was envisioned for. It’s been a pleasant surprise,” said Dobson, who likens the railpath to New York’s High Line, a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. “It’s about re-imagining space in an urban environment.”
Award-winning landscape architect Scott Torrance can take credit for the railpath’s design.
“I think when we started the project and I was walking down the corridor, it struck me that it had a wonderful wild quality, which is a rare experience in Toronto,” Torrance told The Villager upon receiving a Toronto Urban Design Award of Excellence in 2011. “We saw hawks there, lots of insects and butterflies, beautiful views - we wanted to maintain that quality.”
To make phase two a reality, a feasibility study will be conducted. The study will look at issues like how much land is available and assigns a time frame.
“It’s a ‘Let’s Get it Done’ study,” said Dobson. “We hope the study will be done in the spring.”
Friends of West Toronto Railpath plan to reach out to groups in the south end in Parkdale to generate support and ideas, he said. Construction should begin in 2014.
Phase two will see the railpath built to just south of Queen Street West.
“The goal was to get to Strachan Avenue, but the rail corridor along King Street is crowded,” said Dobson. “It looks like it’s impossible to have space so we’re looking at other options to get to King.”
Phase two has political support from city council. The railpath is on the mayor’s priority list for cycling trails.
“The best thing people can do is to tell their councillor to make sure it’s their priority,” said Dobson.