One of the key strategies for a greener and cleaner Toronto proposed in the City’s new clean air plan, Change is in the Air, is to complete the Bikeway network by 2012 and begin implementing a pedestrian plan.
The focus on improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure in Toronto has been mainly on the streets — expanding bike lanes, adding and beautifying sidewalks. But there is a whole other part of these networks: trails, pathways, and bridges in Toronto’s extensive park/ravine system. By contrast to streets, this side of the bike and pedestrian network has been largely neglected, and in fact has decayed in recent years.
An example of this neglect can be found in this year’s capital budget for Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division. This capital budget is split between funds for new projects and funds for keeping the existing infrastructure in decent shape — “State of Good Repair” (SGR). The estimated accumulated backlog of SGR needs for ensuring that park paths, trails and bridges remain in good repair is just over $20 million dollars — a quarter of the entire “state of good repair” requirements for parks — and yet the amount budgeted in 2007 for accomplishing this required maintenance was less than a million dollars ($800,000). By contrast, indoor arenas require about $12 million and were given $4.5 million in 2007 — over a third of their need.
The big winner, though, was park parking lots, which need just over $2 million in state of good repair work and were assigned $1 million in 2007 — half of what they need, the highest proportion of any item in the Parks SGR budget. You heard that right — the biggest priority for maintenance in Toronto’s green spaces is the asphalt parking lots. Cars in parks get more “state of good repair” money than the entire network of trails for cyclists and walkers, despite the fact that these trails need ten times as much money just to stay in decent shape.
(I am grateful to Martin Koob of Bike Toronto for these numbers. They are buried in the detailed line-by-line analyst’s notes for the Parks budget, which are not available online and were only available in print at the barely-publicized capital budget open house).
Meanwhile, the Bikeway Network Expansion budget line item for building new Bikeway Network Projects in parks has been reduced to $400,000 for 2007, down from the already modest 2006 level of $500,000. According to an analysis by Martin Koob of Bike Toronto, that’s enough to build a whole 2 km of new trails. At the current rate, there is no chance that the parks portion of the Bikeway strategy will be completed for decades to come.
One of the key problems is that there is no one person in Parks, Forestry and Recreation who is responsible for paths and trails, can analyze their situation, and champion them in discussions of budgets and priorities.
That is why the Toronto Cycling Committee, supported by the Toronto Pedestrian Committee, has called for the creation of a Senior Trails and Pathways Planner position — a Trailmaster — within the Parks Division. They would have specific responsibility for maintaining and planning the expansion of pathways in Toronto’s parks. They would also provide a link with the Transportation Division to help ensure that pathways were well-connected to sidewalks and bike paths so they become part of a coherent network for cyclists and pedestrians. This position might also prevent problems such as the recent controversy about the West Toronto Railpath, by anticipating the need for separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians before the design process begins.
The city’s 2007 operating budget does not provide funds for this position, unfortunately, but it’s possible it could be created by re-organizing within the existing Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division.
With someone taking on this role, the missing parts of the Toronto Bike plan and the city’s pedestrian network — pathways, trails and bridges — would get the attention they need if the City of Toronto’s environmental goals are to be met.
photo by Joe at Biking Toronto on Flickr