Glen Murray’s departure and The RailPath Extension

Former Ontario Minister of the Environment, Glen Murray was in Mount Dennis in June, (along with Frances Nunziata and Laura Albanese) supporting their Net Zero initiative. His abrupt departure has left a few questions hanging about two important Mount Dennis initiatives, in particular their Net Zero push as well as the Toronto West Railpath cycle and pedestrian trail northward expansion.

This article covers the West Toronto RailPath.

The RailPath is a great idea that has been tirelessly promoted by people along the UP Express line and particularly in The Junction and Mount Dennis. Why a path along a rail line? Railway lines are built to smooth out hills wherever possible – trains don’t like inclines. For that reason, a bike / walking trail alongside a rail line is a perfect match because without hills and dips a bike / pedestrian path is easier and safer to use. Plans are to extend the trail southwards below Queen Street and beyond (under study).

In June’s meeting in Mount Dennis, Murray seemed to give an assurance that a northward Railpath extension would get the go ahead despite a previous firm no from Metrolinx. At the time of the meeting, Murray must have known that his future lay elsewhere. Attempts to contact his constituency office on the topic have not been successful.

Then Environment Minister Glen Murray (centre) at the June 12 meeting in Mount Dennis Library.

The new Environment Minister, Chris Ballard directed my inquiry back to Metrolinx Senior Media Manager, Anne Marie Aikins who tells me that “The City of Toronto is the lead on the Railpath project and is in a better position to answer questions about the project and its timelines.” Metrolinx has basically said that the RailPath must end at Black Creek Drive and the City has been tasked with finding a route.

Simon Chamberlain (recording secretary of the (ever awesome) Mount Dennis Community Association) is very knowledgeable on the issues around the possible northward extension. He says that this particular rail track passes directly through communities and could be be a link to stores and other amenities along the way. Unfortunately, without wide enough bridges, the rail path can only run north as far as Black Creek Drive and then exit the corridor at that point, continuing on a much hillier trail through the Black Creek Valley to Trethewey and westward into the back streets of Weston.

The rail corridor as it makes its way north-west from Union Station. Red dots indicate where the bike / pedestrian route might leave the corridor and where it could join Trethewey.

Simon explained that the main obstacles to continuing the trail northward are bridges which are expensive to widen after the fact. Sadly, unlike the builders of the Bloor Viaduct, Metrolinx didn’t seem to anticipate the need for a wider corridor. The MDCA unsuccessfully tried to get Metrolinx to only partially demolish the Photography Drive bridge that crossed Eglinton and thus leave room for a pedestrian / cycle trail. He believes that there is a possible route northward over the bridge that crosses Black Creek Drive and MDCA has been pushing Metrolinx to extend the RailPath north to Ray Drive and beyond, possibly as far as Denison.

Simon believes that Metrolinx is reluctant to alter any contracts that are under way because of the additional expense (think of home renos when you ask a contractor for changes during the job).

The City’s Railpath Senior Public Consultation Coordinator, Maogosha Pyjor says that,

“There have been questions about extending the Railpath further north west along the rail corridor. Planning for this extension would require its own Environmental Assessment…. the City has been informed by Metrolinx that due to their track expansion plans there will not be space in rail corridor for a trail going north. The City will have to  look at on-street connections.”

 That seems to be the way it goes for Weston / Mount Dennis. Two steps forward and one step back.
This might be a good time to remember that politicians will get to work on an idea if they think that people are behind it.
Updates when more news comes in.

Cyclist killed in Mount Dennis area.

The Star has the sad story of a cyclist killed in the Mount Dennis area last week. A motorist struck 70-year-old Gary Sim while he rode near Alliance and Jane. He later died in hospital.

The police recently released a 10-year data set on cyclist and pedestrian deaths and serious injuries, which your correspondent has mapped for Ward 11. The results are telling.

  • Four pedestrians and one cyclist have been struck at Weston and Lawrence.
  • 19 pedestrians and four cyclists have been struck on Weston Road.
  • Ten more pedestrians and four cyclists have been hit along Jane.

These data are certainly very conservative, and only report deaths and serious injuries.

Many of these accidents—I use the word loosely—happen because we have very poor cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

There is no way, for instance, to get to the Junction, and the bike paths from there to downtown, without riding on the hilly, fast, four-lane Jane expressway. Riding on Weston terrifies even me, a gigantic, fast, fit and ferocious cyclist.

In fact, not one path connects Weston or Mount Dennis with the downtown. This is crazy. The solution is simple and expensive: a dual-use railside path (and a lane along Eglinton).

The West Toronto Railpath is exceptional. It’s fast and safe, and good enough for downtown. Why isn’t it good enough for Weston?

Metrolinx could make this happen. They’re working on electrification, which will entail widening and moving tracks (again). Instead of wasting billions on hydrogen powered trains, they could build paths for potato-powered people.