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Maps Parks Toronto Walking

Finding a washroom during Toronto’s pandemic winter

Sugar Beach in the wintertime

Update November 28, 2020: I have added the list of 51 temporary portable toilets that the city has or will be adding to its parks this winter as part of an effort to encourage Torontonians to get outside for winter walks. Many of these locations are along the major ravine paths, including the Don and Humber Rivers. Most location descriptions were easy to locate, though others were quite vague. I did the best I could with the information given. I also added the toilet locations at Tommy Thompson Park, which is operated by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

There remain some critical gaps, including the absence of Guild Park in Scarborough and along the waterfront between Humber Bay Shores and Marie Curtis Park, but on the whole, this is a positive development. The city also announced new winter maintenance of additional park paths, though ideally, this service would be extended along the entire ravine network.



As of Monday, November 23, Toronto and Peel Region will be in another lockdown. Non-essential businesses and services will close or be open only for take-out and curbside pickup. Gyms, patios, and salons will all be closed. Though we may not be able to socialize with friends and extended family, we can still go for walks, runs, and bike rides to maintain our physical and mental heath.

But with indoor dining prohibited since October in Toronto, and most malls closing down, finding a washroom has become much more difficult. Many outdoor park washrooms are not winterized, so they must close as well. For many of us, having access to open and accessible washrooms is a necessary when leaving the home for long periods of time.

Happily, the City of Toronto has identified over 40 park washrooms that will be open during the winter months, with the promise of more to come, including portable toilets placed in strategic locations.

Though there is a list of washrooms open (or soon to open) on the city’s website, they are listed in alphabetical order, without easily-accessible location information. I took the liberty of mapping each park washroom location, as well as selected other city-owned public washrooms accessible seven days a week.

Though winterized public washrooms can be found across the city, there are a few areas left unserved, including the Etobicoke waterfront between Humber Bay Shores and Long Branch, the eastern Scarborough waterfront parks, including Guild Park and the Port Union/Rouge Beach area, and northwestern Etobicoke. Ideally, every Torontonian should live within walking distance of a four-season park.

Even with the impending lockdown, there are some other washrooms that will remain available when necessary. GO Transit has kept washrooms at its stations accessible even during the Spring 2020 lockdown. On the Lakeshore Line, stations are open seven days a week, including Guildwood and Rouge Hill. Many supermarkets have public washrooms as well.

I hope that there will be improved four-season access to public washrooms this year, and every year going forward. Simple outdoor activity, including long walks, are one of the safest and easiest things we can do to keep ourselves happy and busy.

I will update the map as more washroom facilities open.

Categories
Parks Toronto

A failure to communicate: a small, but meaningful example of the terrible messaging during this pandemic

On November 4, signage scattered around Allan Gardens leads visitors to locked doors

The ongoing pandemic, to quote the prime minister, “really sucks.” Ontario has been subjected to various levels of lockdowns and restrictions for nearly eight months now as COVID-19 case counts continue to be high. Restaurants, bars, cinemas, and gyms are currently closed in Toronto, as are most other indoor venues. Many of us are — if we’re lucky — working from home, but shut off from meaningful socializing from family, friends, colleagues, and allies. Many are left unemployed with few job openings out there. Those still working in factories, warehouses, public institutions, kitchens, and stores face increased pressures without many of their supports.

That leaves only a few outlets for selfcare: the support of immediate family, outdoor exercise, and passive entertainment such as streaming shows and movies online. Though I am working on several interesting projects here at home, I can attest that Zoom calls, Facebook chats, and occasional phone-calls are no substitute for in-person social interaction. Regular walks have been essential to my mental health, which has suffered during the pandemic. With so much construction in my neighbourhood, there has been one nearby oasis: the conservatory at Allan Gardens.

Sadly, that’s no longer an option, and I found that out the hard way. Though it is a minor complaint given the much larger failure to control the virus here in Ontario and properly communicate important public health information and advice, it’s just a microcosm of the mixed messaging from all levels of government that we have been enduring since February.

“Urgent notice” – anyone who continues past the signs directing visitors to the designated entrance to the Allan Gardens Conservatory is greeted with this notice indicating that the building is closed until further notice
Categories
Maps Parks Toronto Walking

All stick, no carrot: the problem with the city’s response to physical distancing

IMG_8327
Parks across Canada are closed, with the exception of walking through

On Saturday April 11, during the Easter long weekend, the City of Toronto announced that a team of over 350 police officers and bylaw enforcement officers would shift from an education-based campaign of verbal and written warnings to people congregating and using closed amenities in parks to a zero-tolerance ticketing campaign. Tickets for violating orders — intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 — include a fine of up $1,000.

In the press release, the city listed twenty parks specifically targeted for enforcement. Though most are located in the old City of Toronto and along Lake Ontario, there are several others located in Toronto’s inner suburbs.

The list of parks include several along Toronto’s waterfront, including Humber Bay Park, Woodbine Beach, and Bluffers Park. It also includes several small downtown parks adjacent to recent high rise residential development, including Corktown Common, College Park, and Allan Gardens. Large suburban parks known for family gatherings and picnics, such as Earl Bales, G. Ross Lord, and Sunnybrook Parks are also on the list.

These parks are illustrated in the map below.

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Parks targeted by the City of Toronto for stricter enforcement (click for larger image)

Though many of us are at home, working remotely or waiting for schools and workplaces to reopen, those employed in essential industries and services do not have a choice. For the rest of us not required to self-isolate, an occasional walk or bicycle ride is good for our mental and physical well-being. It may be necessary to pick up food and prescriptions.

For those of us without yards and quiet residential neighbourhoods, going outside means either navigating narrow and occasionally crowded sidewalks, or going to nearby small and busy parks, especially those without access to a car. In my experience so far, the vast majority of people are respecting the calls for physical distancing.

Closing parking lots and amenities such as playgrounds and picnic facilities makes sense. Where possible, we shouldn’t be straying far from home while physically distancing, and we should be keeping close to those we’re living with. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people live in apartments in Mimico and Humber Bay Shores; they shouldn’t be crowded out of their own backyard by others seeking a stroll along the waterfront.

But downtown and in the Yonge-Eglinton area, quiet open spaces close to home may be hard to come by. Sidewalks are narrow, construction barriers such as scaffolding make physical distancing especially difficult, and along Eglinton Avenue, Crosstown LRT construction has made getting around on foot especially challenging, with pedestrians often restricted to narrow passages.

These help to explain the problems at College Park, Eglinton Park, and Allan Gardens. Furthermore, Allan Gardens is close to several shelters and social services such as Seaton House, and has long been a place for marginalized residents to socialize and linger.

This is one more reason why dense, growing urban neighbourhoods require more space. Increasing the space allotted to pedestrians and cyclists by removing underused traffic lanes would provide some of that relief.

This was the argument made by two associate professors of epidemiology at Ryerson University, who sent an open letter to Mayor John Tory and the city’s medical officer of health, Eileen de Villa, arguing for more road space for pedestrians and cyclists.

It is disappointing to see the city respond only with increased enforcement without providing any alternatives for safe physical distancing.

Categories
Ontario Parks Politics

The province’s attack on conservation authorities

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View from the Niagara Escarpment at Mount Nemo Conservation Area towards Mississauga and Toronto

One of Ontario’s greatest success stories has been the development of conservation authorities (CAs). The provincial Conservation Authorities Act was introduced in 1946 to provide for new joint provincial-municipal bodies protect farmland and natural features from deforestation, flooding, and erosion, organized not by political boundaries, but by watersheds. In 1954, south-central Ontario was hit by Hurricane Hazel, which caused extreme and deadly flooding. This highlighted the need for strong local authorities to coordinate flood protection strategies, including dams, floodways and reservoirs, but also land use planning, the protection of headwaters, and the naturalization of important landscapes, such as the Niagara Escarpment and Toronto’s ravines. Planners at CAs help to ensure that any new development is protected from flooding or erosion and will not negatively impact other properties or the watershed as a whole.

Most of Ontario’s 36 CAs also operate conservation areas, open to the public as parklands. These may contain hiking trails, wildlife sanctuaries, campgrounds, lakes and reservoirs for swimming, boating, or fishing, as well as waterfalls, caves, scenic lookouts, or other unique natural features. A few conservation authorities also operate historic sites, including old mills, or even entire pioneer villages, such as Black Creek. Many CAs also hold special events, such as festivals, school tours, and even concerts.

Many of these programs and services are incredibly important, but all are beneficial to the public. And they are under attack by the provincial government.

Earlier this year, the province cut funding for natural hazards planning by 50 percent. Late last week, the minister for Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff
Yurek, sent a letter to all CAs and their partner municipalities to begin to wind down any programs not directly related to their “core mandate.”

Yurek commented that “over the years, conservation authorities have expanded past their core mandate into activities such as zip-lining, maple syrup festivals and photography and wedding permits.”

One such CA, Conservation Halton, operates several conservation areas in Halton Region and the City of Hamilton.

Kelso Conservation Area includes a ski hill, a reservoir that provides for paddle boating, fishing, and a swimming beach, and a campground. There are also outdoor movie nights. At Mountsberg Conservation Area, Conservation Halton operates a Raptor Centre, where injured birds of prey are treated and shown to the public. It also has one of those maple syrup festivals in its sugar bush.

26437885398_1405516057_o.jpgFeeding chickadees at Hilton Falls Conservation Area

Conservation Halton has a $30 million annual budget, but it only gets $145,000 from the province for core programs. The rest of its funds come from municipalities and from park user fees, rentals, and sales. The festivals, event bookings and wedding permits help fund the important conservation work. Offering festivals and other special events also help engage the public, especially children.

Of course, the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative government’s attack on conservation authorities isn’t about saving money. Instead it’s about restricting their mandate, reducing their ability to raise funds and engage the public.

Perhaps this all has to do with the influence of the development industry. Ontario Proud, a third-party advertiser connected with the Progressive Conservatives, ran attack ads on social media and on outdoor billboards against the last Liberal government in 2016 and 2017. It was funded by the development and construction industry, with Mattamy Homes being its largest contributor. The province also weakened planning legislation and municipal power to restrict new development through Bill 108, the so-called More Homes, More Choice Act.

If the Ford government gets its way, conservation authorities will have fewer resources to protect watersheds and natural lands and reduce the risk of the effects of climate change. Without maple syrup festivals and other “non-core” programming, there will also be less fun and reduced awareness of Ontario’s wonderful natural landscape. This isn’t about fiscal responsibility. It’s about ideology and payback.

27035683581_ff87c274c6_o.jpgThere are plenty of developers who’d love to pave over the Greenbelt

Categories
Election Parks Toronto Urban Planning

Why closing Toronto’s public golf courses is a boon to the public

IMG_8013-001.JPGDentonia Park Golf Course

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Monday, mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat proposed closing three of Toronto’s five municipally-owned golf courses. Keesmaat, Toronto’s previous chief planner, pointed out that the municipal golf courses operate at a loss, and that $10 million is allocated for improvements to those three courses. Furthermore, she intends to consult the local communities to best re-program the sites to address local wants and needs for the opened-up greenspace.

The three courses are:

  • Dentonia Park Golf Course, located on Victoria Park Avenue north of Danforth Avenue, next to Victoria Park subway station, in the Massey Creek ravine.
  • Don Valley Golf Course, located in the West Don Valley near Yonge Street and Wilson Avenue, near York Mills Station. It extends under Highway 401.
  • Scarlett Woods Golf Course, located near Eglinton Avenue and Scarlett Road on the Humber River.

Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, near Sheppard Avenue and Kennedy Road in Scarborough, and the Humber Valley Golf Course in north Etobicoke, are not mentioned in Keesmaat’s proposal.

I’m very happy that Keesmaat has put forward this bold idea. Despite the municipal ownership of these lands, they are fenced off from residents. For example, Dentonia Park is located in a lower income neighbourhood made of many high-rise rental buildings. As Toronto continues to grow in population, greenspace reserved for golfers could be put to better uses such as sports fields (soccer and cricket, especially), playgrounds, natural wetlands and woodlands, and public paths.

Golf is an expensive leisure activity with a large environmental footprint: the tending of golf courses require lots of water and pesticides. (Golf courses are exempted from a provincial ban on certain types of pesticides.) They may not adequately address the local community’s needs either, especially in lower income areas. Interest in playing golf is waning in North America as well. It makes sense to open up these publicly owned lands.

Golf courses get in the way of potential linear parks. As I mentioned before, the Don Valley Golf Course blocks access to Earl Bales Park from the south. Opening up the grounds to the general public would provide a continuous path from York Mills Station to Bathurst and Sheppard and beyond. This would provide a safe and pleasant walking and cycling route across Highway 401, compared to the unpleasant and dangerous crossings at the interchanges with Yonge Street and Avenue Road.

Dentonia Park Golf Course sits in between the path through Warden Woods and the Taylor Creek Ravine. If opened to the public, there could be a car-free path for pedestrians and cyclists all the way from Warden and St. Clair Avenues all the way downtown via the Don Valley trail system.

Keesmaat’s plan to close money-losing, poorly-used golf courses is a great idea, much like her promise not to go ahead with the costly replacement of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, instead going with the locally preferred boulevard option. Both of these ideas may not be popular with some, but they are both fiscally and environmentally sound.

Categories
Parks Toronto

Major improvements are coming to Scarborough’s waterfront

IMG_8897-001The Scarborough Bluffs will soon become more accessible

Over the last few years, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has been working on an environmental assessment for improvements to much of the Lake Ontario shoreline in Scarborough. Today, the TRCA announced that assessment is now complete, and it calls for major improvements between Bluffer’s Park and East Point Park.

A new multi-use trail is planned for the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs, with access points at Bluffer’s Park, the Doris McCarthy Trail, Guild Park, and East Point Park, connecting with the existing path across Highland Creek and the Rouge River to Pickering. In addition, pedestrian and cyclist access down to Bluffer’s Park on Brimley Road will be greatly improved.

When my partner and I tried to walk along the Scarborough Waterfront in 2016, we found the Waterfront Trail lacking, and the section along Brimley Road quite dangerous. These changes, along with the new seasonal TTC bus service to Bluffer’s Park, will help to make Scarborough’s wonderful waterfront safer and easier to access. 

The plan also calls for improved erosion control measures, along with interventions to improve land and aquatic habitats, helping to protect one of Toronto’s most spectacular natural features while protecting the natural environment.

If you were looking for some good news in Toronto, especially with the many recent stories of violence on our streets, this is it.

Categories
Brampton Cycling Parks Walking

Brampton’s multi-use path problems

IMG_2362-001Recreational Trail: no loitering

Brampton, my hometown, has a great network of parks, many of which are connected by multi use paths that follow local waterways like the West Humber River and Etobicoke Creek. In suburban neighbourhoods where curvilinear street networks and cul-de-sacs predominate, these paths are necessary as shortcuts for pedestrians and cyclists, and for anyone looking to take a stroll away from the busy arterial roads.

But these multi-use paths, called “recreational trails” by the City of Brampton, do not properly accommodate all users. And where these paths meet major streets, users must either detour far out of their way to a designated crossing, or attempt to cross a busy roadway. Where Toronto and even other suburban municipalities can get this right, Brampton consistently gets it wrong.

IMG_2361-001Entrance to Addington Park at Balmoral Drive, Brampton. Part of the Don Doan Trail.

The first problem Brampton has is the consistent lack of curb cuts where a park path meets any roadway, be it a residential side street or a busier road. Curb cuts are necessary not just for cyclists, but for pedestrians with strollers, or anyone using a mobility device such as a walker or wheelchair. In many cases, a nearby private driveway or a nearby intersection can provide the necessary curb cut, but this is not always the case. Perhaps the reason not to provide the cut is to discourage cyclists or children with wheeled toys crossing without stopping and dismounting, or preventing motor vehicles from entering the path. But it instead encourages cyclists to ride on the sidewalk instead, where most cyclists shouldn’t be, and makes it more difficult for parents with young children, or pedestrians with disabilities from using the paths.

Categories
Parks Travels

How two Ontario cities are re-imagining abandoned railway relics

Brockville and St. Thomas are two small Ontario industrial cities that wouldn’t normally attract much attention. But both communities are working on remarkable projects that re-purpose former railway infrastructure to create interesting public spaces that don’t just lure out-of-town visitors, but add a significant asset to be enjoyed by the entire community. The St. Thomas Elevated Park and the Brockville Railway Tunnel are the type of local, community-driven projects that I can get excited about.

St. Thomas likes to call itself the Railway Capital of Canada. One hundred years ago, five separate railway companies served the city. The Canada Southern (CASO) Railway, later purchased by the Michigan Central Railroad (which became part of the New York Central empire), built its headquarters and shops here; its double-tracked corridor was the fastest route between Buffalo and Detroit. St. Thomas was a stop on the London and Port Stanley Railway, a busy electric railway that ran regular passenger services until 1957. On the edge of town is the Jumbo monument, near the site where the famous Barnum and Bailey circus elephant was killed during a train stop.

IMG_1330-001Jumbo Monument, at the westerly entrance to Downtown St. Thomas

IMG_1310-001The 1873 Canada Southern Station. The tracks it once served have disappeared.

Today, most lines into St. Thomas are abandoned, including the once-mighty Canada Southern; major rail customers such as Ford Motor Company closed local factories. The last passenger train, Amtrak’s Niagara Rainbow, departed from St. Thomas in 1979. The Port Stanley Terminal Railway runs tour trains along part of the old L&PS route, but its trains — for now — only board in Port Stanley.

Despite the loss of the railways, St. Thomas has retained much of its railway heritage. The Elgin County Railway Museum has made its home in the old Michigan Central shops. The station building still stands too — built in 1873, it is one of the longest stations in Canada, extending 108 metres. It was recently renovated and houses offices and retail businesses. A replica of the LP&S station was built downtown, with the hopes of accommodating Port Stanley-bound tour trains. Just west of Downtown St. Thomas is the Kettle Creek Viaduct, which is slated to become a new signature park.

IMG_1326-001Kettle Creek Viaduct, the future St. Thomas Elevated Park, in August 2017

Categories
Cycling Infrastructure Parks Toronto Walking

The ravine run around

IMG_2475-001Wilket Creek trail closure, September 2017

Last week,  my wife and I went for a walk through the Toronto Botanical Gardens, Edwards Gardens, and Wilket Creek Park, all part of Toronto’s wonderful and extensive ravine system. The ravines are one of Toronto’s greatest assets, and many are connected by multi-use trails, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to experience nature, close to home. Some trails, like the Lower Don, are also important commuter routes for those who walk or cycle to school or work.

Unfortunately, several of these trails are closed for long periods for construction, and they do not get the same attention that roads and highways get.

The Wilket Creek Trail, between Edwards Gardens and Sunnybrook Park, has been closed since Spring 2017, and will remain closed until Spring 2018. The Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) is repairing damage caused by erosion, and restoring the local ecosystem. The same trail was closed two years ago for similar construction work.

The pedestrian detour on Leslie Street is straightforward, and does not deviate too far from the route. However, Leslie Street is busy and motorists drive at high speeds, so it is not a good safe route for cyclists. To the City of Toronto and TRCA’s credit, at least, the detours are well mapped and construction notices are signed well in advance. (I’ve experienced trail closures without any warnings or suitable marked detour routes.)

IMG_2476-001Advance warnings and a detailed detour map on the Wilket Creek Trail

Further south, the Lower Don Trail between Pottery Road and the footbridge at Riverdale Park will re-open on September 23, 2017, fourteen months late. That work was done to replace an underpass at a disused rail corridor owned by Metrolinx.

As Metro reporter David Hains points out, that re-opening was re-scheduled several times between July 2016 and August 2017 — unexpected soil conditions and wet weather were blamed for the delays.  Pedestrians and cyclists were directed to use either Broadview Avenue or Bayview Avenue to get around the closure; both are busy roads, and Broadview Avenue is at the top of a steep grade from the Don Valley.

Other major closures included the Humber River Trail under Highway 401 near Weston Road, which was closed for several months in 2016 so that trail users would not be in the way of construction vehicles. The suggested detour, a 3 kilometre long circuitous route, followed Wilson Avenue, a busy suburban road.

This year, the Etobicoke Creek Trail under Highway 401 in Mississauga is also closed for two years for bridge work. There are no safe alternatives for crossing Highway 401 in that area.

Humber.jpgThe circuitous and dangerous 2016 Humber River Trail detour at Highway 401. Source: MTO.

The long and dangerous closures of major pedestrian and cycling routes can be compared to the way road repairs are prioritized. Mayor John Tory announced $3.4 million to speed up construction on the Gardiner Expressway in 2015, when the elevated highway was reduced to two lanes in each direction from three. In August, Tory announced additional funds to speed up watermain and streetcar track construction on Dundas Street between Yonge and Church Streets, perhaps not coincidentally a route many city councillors drive to get to City Hall.

If only there were some additional money and attention given to projects affecting pedestrians and cyclists in Toronto. It would also be nice to ensure any detours were well signed, and made as safe and comfortable as possible.

Categories
Cycling Parks Toronto Walking

Wandering the Waterfront Trail in Scarborough

IMG_8897-001At the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs, west of Bluffer’s Park

Lake Ontario, like all five of the Great Lakes, is more a freshwater sea than merely a lake. It’s over three hundred kilometres long, from Hamilton to Kingston, bordering two countries, with several inhabited islands, and features a varied and fascinating landscape. Lake Ontario’s vastness is best appreciated from its shore, whether it be the Toronto Islands, on the east side, on the beaches at Presqu’ile or Sandbanks Provincial Parks, or from the top of the Scarborough Bluffs.

The Waterfront Trail, at least in theory, is a wonderful way to explore these varied shorelines of Ontario’s vast Great Lakes on foot or by bicycle. Founded in 1995, the trail now extends from the Quebec border, west along the St. Lawrence River, through Niagara, along the north shore of Lake Erie, and up the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers to Lake Huron. I cycle the Waterfront Trail between Toronto and Hamilton several times a year, an 85-kilometre trip. GO Transit’s trains and buses follow the Waterfront Trail from Durham Region to the Niagara River, making it easy to walk or cycle one-way, returning by train and/or bus.

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The Waterfront Trail crosses Highland Creek in eastern Scarborough. (2015 photo)

But the Waterfront Trail is dependent on municipal infrastructure, or the lack of it. Most of the trail’s route winds through rural areas, following country roads and highways where segregated multi-use trails aren’t built: in many places, the Waterfront Trail is neither close to the water, nor is it a ‘trail’ of any kind. At least in Northumberland County and Niagara Region, paved shoulders and bike lanes are found along the busier country roads. But this is not always the case.

In urban areas, though, like the City of Toronto, there is both the demand and the resources for safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure along the waterfront. In the old city of Toronto, the Waterfront Trail follows the Martin Goodman Trail, and is nearly completely segregated from motor traffic.

But in Etobicoke and in Scarborough, much of the trail is routed via on-street sections; in sections, pedestrians must follow sidewalks next to busy sections of Lake Shore Boulevard and Kingston Road; for cyclists, there aren’t even any bike lanes — they have the choice of either riding with traffic, or illegally riding on the sidewalks.


Route of the Waterfront Trail within the City of Toronto