Rolling out the West Toronto Railpath

At long last, the Railpath is coming! Well, construction will begin “later this year” according the press release (see below.) The West Toronto Railpath will be a linear park and the first bike trail* to be built in a rail corridor in Toronto. (*This is yet to be seen, but do take note of all the bikers in the pretty renderings.)

The images in this post are sneak peeks, provided by Scott Torrance Landscape Architects:

Date: Monday March 19th 2007
Time: 6:00 PM
Location: Perth Randolph Centre
21 Randolph Avenue (one block north of Bloor, west of Lansdowne)

This new park and bike trail will begin construction later this year and will stretch along the east side of the rail corridor west of Perth Avenue, from Dundas Street in the south to Cariboo Avenue in the north. If you can not attend but would like more information please email Adam Giambrone’s office or call 416-392-7012.

Some background:

The West Toronto Railpath (WTR) is a community initiative formed to facilitate the conversion of abandoned rail lines running between the Junction (around Dupont and Dundas Street West, at Cariboo) and Strachan Avenue (well, initially) into a linear greenway, creating a 6.5 kilometre-long active transportation artery running diagonally across the street grid in west Toronto.

The Friends of the West Toronto Railpath community group was initiated by Toronto residents with the goal of assisting the City in the creation and stewardship of this multi-purpose park. The Railpath idea had been discussed at resident’s association meetings in the west end for years. In 2001 some members of the Roncesvalles-Macdonell Resident’s Association formed a partnership with the Community Bicycle Network (CBN) and Evergreen and began working to make the project a reality.

The City of Toronto is funding the multi-use trail and it is being co-coordinated by the Parks and Recreation division. The City approved funding for the WTR back in 1997 and has allotted almost $3 million since. However, the acquisition process was not completed until 2003. The City now owns the 2.1-kilometre stretch of rail corridor, also known as the CP PS Spur Lead railpath. The City has not been able to procure the southern two-thirds of the original proposed railpath, which is part of the CN Weston Sub.

More capital funding was approved in 2005 to complete the detailed design and construction documentation. The City’s official Request for Proposal for this contract went out on January 26, 2006 and closed on February 8, 2006, and was awarded to Scott Torrance Landscape Architects. This firm is now completing the detailed design phase. The functional design was completed in the fall of 2004 by Harrington & Hoyle Landscape Architects, which established the design objectives for the trail development and funding requirements. The Railpath’s functional design parameters had the park at about ten metres wide with a four-metre wide paved path (two metres each direction) and a six-foot high fence separating the path from the tracks. I will report back on what the detailed design parameters are following Monday’s meeting.

The remaining 4.4 km of the originally proposed Railpath (from, roughly, Dundas and Lansdowne to Strachan and King) overlaps with a planned GO train service expansion, as well as the proposed Air-Rail Link. So, in reality, these rail lines are far from abandoned. These tracks are owned by CN, which jealously guards against any incursions and will likely never sell this property as it makes too much money from leasing it.

I will be interested to see if any progress has been made to extend the Railpath down to Strachan, as it was originally intended.

Dave Nosella, the City’s Capital Project Co-ordinator for the Railpath, told me last year that he expected construction would begin this spring, once the CN/GO Transit grade separation work north of Dupont is finished.


  1. The West End Railpath, although it took a long time, will be a community changing project that will alter perceptions of the area and how residents view their own neighbourhood.

    I believe that when the larger community sees the finished product there will be a groundswell of support for it to continue south. I believe that the air link to the airport will not happen anyway.

    Congrats to those that hung in so long to make this happen.

  2. Too right, Scott. It is, and will become even moreso a huge community building exercise. I also hope that once people fall in love with it that it will kickstart the push to complete an extensive network of rail and hyrdro corridor bikepaths all over (and around) the city. There is a LOT of potential, but more on that later… Also, there are some serious (safety and technical) issues with the originally proposed south bit, but I’ll wait to report more after Monday’s meeting. Like you, I still have some hope…

  3. This will likely be the most important piece of bicycle infrastructure in five years, if not a decade. Unlike most off-road paths, Railpath will actually connect neighbourhoods and provide a high speed link to downtown from areas to the north and west of the core, and I am excited that this is finally happening.

    The next phase should be up the CN Newmarket Sub (the GO Bradford line) which could go as far as York University and even into the 905, and connect to the Belt Line, the Finch Hydro ROW and other potential links.

  4. I should also point out what a curse Blue 22 has been – it has prevented serious discussion of different uses for the wide Weston corridor, including local and regional transit, all so business travellers can enjoy a $20-25 exclusve express ride to the airport. It has inflamed the Weston community, prevented more rail service to Brampton, resulted in what will be an overbuilt grade separation at West Toronto, and has messed with local needs, such as Railpath.

  5. As I say on my Perth-Wallace blog that I just started, If GO transit is doing an EA ( I quote from their site:

    “The Assessment will address the need for GO Transit expansion along the Georgetown Corridor to accommodate increasing passenger demand and growth. It will also consider alternatives for an Airport Transportation Link from Union Station to Pearson International Airport.”

    Then Blue22 is dead.

  6. The EA has a curious history. The original EA, a quickie Class Environmental Assessment, was being conducted by the same firm that wanted to operated Blue 22 – SNC Lavalin. If that wasn’t a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is. The people of Weston made this one of their main points when they fought Blue 22, so GO had to go with a full EA (which has delayed everything), by another firm, McCormick Rankin.

    Yes, the word on the street is that Blue 22’s dead. But until Union-Pearson Rail Group officially throws in the towel, it will be assumed that it is still a possibility. That is largely why CN still owns the tracks – it wants to share in the money going to Blue 22. Other tracks have been sold to GO, like the nearby CP line between West Toronto to Union, or the Newmarket Sub.

    I think GO as owner would be more approachable than CN about the continuation of Railpath, as long as GO has room to operate its trains.

  7. I love this idea, and not just because it goes through my backyard. It is the right way to use this space, although it makes me think of this kooky guy:

    He makes pedal-powered 2-4 person rail vehicles 🙂 Also Google the Fairmont Speeder if you haven’t heard of them.

    Apparently CN will let you take a trip to BC in a personal rail vehicle. All you need is a $24 license. Who knew?

    The WTR also reminds me of the High Line in NYC:

  8. I’ll be going to that meeting. Should be fascinating but then again I still remember those heady early days of the bike master plan … whew!
    Go railpath go.

  9. i know this is totally off topic, but if one were to build a personal rail vehicle that was compatible with TTC streetacr tracks, would it be legal to drive it around town using TTC track?

  10. Well, the Belt Line Trail that goes from around Yonge & Davisville to around Allen & Eglinton W is actually a bike trail (which I have used very often), so I’m not so sure you can call this one the first bike trail to be built on a rail corridor in Toronto. It’s still great, though. Riding the Belt Line is beautiful, and hopefully this one will turn out well too.

  11. Why is Toronto so slow on things like this? Guelph has done it for years – I think it has the best system of bike paths on old CN Tracks anywhere.

  12. Green belts of various use are popping up in cities everywhere and more often than not along former rail lines. This one sounds pretty cool!

  13. This looks like a mixed-use recreational path like the ones in Ottawa. There’ll be wandering pedestrians, swoopy rollerbladers, and dogs on leashes: agreeably bikeable, but not in a head-down, maximum-output kind of way.

    They’re good things to have, and the more use a path like this gets, the better.

  14. is anyone hatching a similar plan for the CP line which runs parallel to dupont street? i really hope so.

    i think there is a demand, because people frequently use the dirt pathway beside the tracks already, despite heavy freight train traffic and the fences installed by the railway.

    in my view, it would be an excellent east-west route across the g.t.a. in fact, this is probably what the railway wanted when they built the line (well, CP was also tired of waiting for CN to build union station, but that’s another story).

    the gentle grades of railway lines are also perfect for those of us who are happiest when bicycling, and unhappiest when fearing for our lives and lungs in traffic.

  15. I guess criticism of pet projects is verboten and there’s censorship?
    This marks the fourth time I’ve tried to post some critical points about this project. Namely, it isn’t really good value for the money, we need the on-street way more than the off-street ahead of the easy-to-do off-street, the higher and highest use of the corridor is likely for transit, and maybe we can have it all, and maybe more, but maybe we’re getting a bit sucked in to a bit more hype than reality.
    I don’t mind not being listened to, but I do mind being stifled.
    I’d heard Tammy T did well at pressing Mr. G at the meeting on it tonight. Thanks.

  16. hamish> You complained about this before, but we haven’t deleted any of your comments. We approve everything that isn’t spam (which I explained last time is the most vile stuff, and we get a surfeit of it) or drastically non-topic irritating. I think there’s a very good record on this blog of people complaining about a post, or something we say, that demonstrates our non-stifle-ness policy. And as I explained before, there’s a small chance we accidentally deleted a good post from time to time that gets lost in, say, 40 or 50 spams, but it’s rare. And that you’ve tried it four times has me thinking there’s a short in technology somewhere. Though we haven’t had any other complaints about lost posts, so it could be your system. Try firefox.

  17. I went to the meeting last night. Sobering.

    The design seems sound but it also speaks volumes about how disconnected the railpath will be to other bike infra-structure. The southern extenions prospects are bleak. The city does not own the land …

    As for connecting say a Bloor Bike Lane to the path, according to Giambrone that’s a ‘political issue’ and the political will is just not there … go figure. No huts no glory?

    The path should be open within the next two years give or take.
    Funding can still be cut in the next budget but for now the first construction work is slated for spring. There is an underlying message
    here … but I am sure you can imagine what it is.

  18. I think off-street bike paths should be the priority, because it is safer and faster not having to deal with all the stop lights. On-street bike lanes do help, but I find they aren’t that much better for cycling then a regular downtown street.

    Off-street bike paths are like freeways, without all the land wasted, neighborhoods splits, massive pileups and traffic jams.

  19. Thanks Shawn – it could be the operator too, and I am using Firefox, but I mighn’t have it all configured well enough.

  20. It would be great to have it all.

    But in the meantime…

    It is somewhat gauche for people to show up and be critical of a project that has wider implications than just being a bike path. Its part of a larger rejuvenation of the Davenport triangle, an area that has from day 1 been defined by the rail lines that surround it. Its about healthy spaces, and greening of former industrial land. And I cant over sell the impact this path will have in my area in terms of getting people to think about greening, bike paths, and how great reclaimed spaces can be (despite the Planning Department). Some residents, so used to bad news came to the meeting angry thinking the RailPath meant the City was putting a new rail line in!

    I agree that to some extent the bikepath aspect has been oversold but if this is completed all the way, which I believe it will be, then I for one will have no problem using iit to commute just as I have on the Goodman trail.

    The West End RailPath may not be the best news for everybody but it is one of the most important civic projects in the area in at least 40 years. Thats a long time to get some love from City Hall. I support bike lanes and will fight with you but please don’t rain on the RailPath.

  21. Hi Scott – I’m sorry you found my questions impolite (if you are, in fact, referring to me.) And I dare say, I don’t think you’ll like my follow up post on the WTR that will be up soon.

    As a cyclist who has been told for years now to expect this great bike highway, I think I have every right to be very disappointed AND to express this disappointment at a meeting to which the public has been invited to, to provide feedback.

    It’s a great park and I certainly do not intend to diminish the fantastic design work or any of the hard work of all those who brought it to fruition. I agree that it will be a huge boon for the ‘hood.

    But, you can’t act surprised that cyclists feel let down when we are being TOLD that this is cycling infrastructure when it is simply not. In fact, I think it should be removed from the bike plan.

  22. Tammy, I look forward to your follow up post. I was unable to attend the meeting. Without knowing any details of what was said on Monday, I am curious to know why cyclists won’t think this is cycling infrastructure.

  23. >to mkm
    the cp line you refer to is the CP North Toronto Sub and is a low priority for conversion because it is so close to the Davenport bike lanes.
    I agree with you (and Darwin) tho – that it would be super fine to have a lot of safe lovely (relatively cheap) off-road commuter bike paths throughout and around the city… a helluva lot more people would be biking, that is for sure!
    I think it would really help focus and expidite the work if we had a City staffer dedicated to trail work with in the parks and rec division.

  24. I live just north of the proposed Cariboo entrance so I’m pretty excited about this project and I don’t recall this ever being touted as bike use only path. I’ve always been under the impression that it was to be something multi-purpose like the Don Trail and while I can empathize with some of the cyclists concerns (being a cyclist myself) I fully agree with Scott’s commentary about much needed green and naturalized space in this neighbourhood for everyone to enjoy, especially as it’s only likely to be usable by bikes during the months when it’s clear of snow and ice so to restrict it to cyclists only doesn’t make sense.

  25. I don’t think taking the CP line at Dupont would be a good idea – even if CP would give it up which is unlikely. Eventually we won’t be able to squeeze any more trains into Union even with the track upgrades and it would be useful to send some GO Trains there for midtown commuters. A bike path is nice but getting 1200+ cars off Toronto streets per GO train is nicer.

    The reality is that even abandoned heavy rail alignments may end up being needed one day (Dublin, Ireland is running LRT on a line closed for 50 years) but once converted to a bike lane is pretty much gone for good.

    I would like to see a bike lane integrated into the Don Mills LRT proposal if as Steve Munro says a new crossing of the Don Valley is likely. If Lakeshore GO was electrified then perhaps it could be decked over in places to create linear park/bike paths, whereas exhaust would be a problem doing so now.

  26. Looking over the present pathway being bulldozed at the end of Wallace, I, for one, and now sorry and disappointed. It was my impression that the path was going to retain natural plants and wildlife that have grown up along the right or way for years, and it was going to get us downtown without cars. I did not realize it ends at Dundas and Lansdowne, and I did not think the builders were going to tear down so much to build it. Now it’s a broad stretch of mud, and two trees. I don’t hear any of the birds that used to live there, or see any of the butterflies, and native plants, just preparation for fences and yet more paving. Maybe thats what man is; the species that paves stuff. It would have been certainly worth it, environmentally speaking, to create a bike path that goes into the heart of the city, but for now, I am stumped as to why we are spending so much money on this truncated piece of asphalt.
    I’ll wait and see, and maybe what I need to do most is get in there and work for the rest of the path. However, as it is now….well, go take a look and tell me what you think. It used to be green there, which we have little enough of as it is in this neighbourhood.

  27. Time for a status update: the path is coming along nicely, with lots of new planting/seeding happening. The brutalist street markers are in place with designations like ‘ERN’ for Ernest Ave. The path looks to be about ready for paving with all of the grading complete(?). Looking forward to it being completed!

  28. Hey – the Railpath is open and amazing! This needs some much deserved updating a press.

    Viva la Railpath!

  29. It will only take another 10 years or so to get to Strachan.

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