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What’s Next for the Railpath?

The award-winning first phase of the West Toronto Railpath has us impatiently waiting for the results of the phase two feasibility study.

Phase two of the West Toronto Railpath awaits the completion of a feasibility study by the city. Photo by {a href=""}Subjective Art{/a} from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Undoubtedly, the first phase of the West Toronto Railpath has been a success. And the two councillors whose wards the linear park runs between will tell you as much. Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) praises the space as “beautiful and accessible,” and Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport) says the project has connected communities, bringing people together. Last month, a Toronto Urban Design Award of Excellence recognized the work of the project’s landscape architect, Scott Torrance. Naturally, we wanted to find out how the Railpath’s expansion is progressing.

“As any cyclist coming from the west end knows, there is no very good east-west connection,” says Perks, explaining the need for the Railpath. The linear park opened the first phase of the project in October 2009 and currently runs a little over two kilometres along the border of the Junction Triangle and Roncesvalles neighbourhoods.

The Railpath is an exciting addition to Toronto’s public landscape. It’s reclaiming unused space, situated in a corridor of abandoned railway beds that haven’t been put to use in over four decades, notes the website for Friends of West Toronto Railpath, a community group supporting the project.

Railway tracks can pose a problem for cyclists travelling into the core of the city, and Perks says the Railpath can help solve that. Bailão agrees that the park is a great and fast way to cycle. The city is “always short of green space downtown,” she says, noting that the Railpath also functions as a “great place to jog or walk, or to teach how to ride a bike.”

A Nuit Blanche installation seen from the West Toronto Railpath. Photo by {a href=""}Vic Gedris{/a} from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

The next stage of the Railpath’s construction would extend it another two kilometers along the railway beds reaching into West Queen West. Two years after the completion of phase one, phase two remains under consideration, contingent on the results of a feasibility study the City is conducting, expected this fall. Bailão is hopeful that after the study is complete, construction of the second phase can begin next year with a proposed 2014 completion date.

There are, however, difficulties in the plans, as the route would run along an operating GO rail corridor. “Getting bridges and properties to the necessary width for Railpath is a challenge,” concedes Perks. Metrolinx, the Ontario government’s transportation agency, concurs. “GO Transit will accommodate the bike path where possible; however, there are a few pinch points where there is simply not enough room to accommodate the bike path within the rail corridor,” spokesperson Malon Edwards tells us in an email.

Perks thinks Metrolinx isn’t doing enough: “The problem with Metrolinx is while they were helpful in the more northern portion of Railpath to Bloor, they are not helpful south of Bloor.” He says that the agency is “redoing bridges and when asked to accommodate extra width, gave a flat no.” Perks believes money played a role in their decision.

Metrolinx says that timing requirements attached to funding was the main concern. “It was not possible to include any Railpath bridge requirements within this construction timeframe,” explains Edwards, “because federal Infrastructure Strategic Fund (ISF) rules required us to complete the work in 2011.”

Friends of West Toronto Railpath hopes it will eventually run south to Union Station. Photo by {a href=""}Vic Gedris{/a} from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Still, Metrolinx leaves the door open for further participation. “GO Transit will make every effort possible to accommodate the Railpath where space is available within our existing Georgetown South rail corridor, including future structures that the City of Toronto may wish to construct on our existing railway bridge foundations,” Edwards writes.

For now, the dream of one day having the Railpath running all the way down to Union Station (as Friends of West Toronto Railpath would like) seems far off, and progress on the Railpath hinges upon the results of the phase two feasibility study. Slowly, stakeholders are reawakening to shepherd the next stage along. The Friends of West Toronto Railpath website, for example, has sprung back to life after a three-and-a-half-month hiatus. Perks suggests that people wanting to get involved with the Railpath would do so best by applying pressure to the provincial government.

Given the battles over bike lanes this past year and the politicization of cyclists, the Railpath will likely become a higher-profile project moving into its second phase. The project’s completion appears worth fighting for, especially given the positive effect that has come out of the similar High Line project in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. As the New York Times notes, the recently completed elevated park has “revitalized a swath of the city and generated $2 billion in private investment surrounding the park,” against a $115-million investment from the city.

Granted, the scenic vantage points of New York from the High Line means it has a different (read: tourist) appeal than the Railpath. However, Perks thinks the Railpath would create more benefits than the High Line. “I’ve walked the High Line, and the Railpath is even better,” he says, pointing out that “while the High Line is recreational, the Railpath would also act as a transportation corridor.”


  • Rpeirson

    I use the railpath at least 2x per week. I absolutely LOVE it. And i just got back from NYC and couldn’t get enough of the HIGHLINE. Let’s set our sights high and make our PATH beautiful, inviting and sustainable!

  • Jacquilynne Schlesier

    Hey, look, it’s my building in that first picture. Except it’s done now!

    I don’t think the railpath park is ever meant to run that far along those particular rail lines, though. Stage 1 is a little East of there, and I don’t think it’s meant to come any further West.

    • Crimson Cass

      Yes, the first picture portrays the wrong railway.

      • Crimson Cass

        It’s called the Junction, because two major rail lines junction. The railpath is east of Heintzman Place; the photo shows the tracks running immediately north of Heintzman Place.

        Apparently, a lot of residents read Torontoist :)

    • bruce g ward

      it is planned to go down down southEastward, and further to the north.

    • Honger

      Where does the rail path begin, East of Heintzman Place? Thank you.

  • Antony Hilliard

    The railpath doesn’t have to go to Union Station, just to King St. / Liberty Village. With separated bike lanes on Adelaide/Richmond, the 10-15% of cycle-commuters in the adjacent wards will have a safe way to work.

  • Donald Simmons

    I’ve taken my bike group onto it a couple of times this year, usually hearing from people “I had no idea this was here!”. It’s a great route.

  • Crkr_jck

    With RF as mayor it’s never going to happen!

    • Scott

      Actually Ford like bike routes and Railpath2 was moved up to priority status in his bike plan.

  • bruce g ward

    and tomorrow, saturday 29 October there will be a gathering to officially open the new Rio Tinto supplied storage shed, in honour of Hilary Bell a recent loss to City advocacy including the friends of the TOwest railPath group.
    Please join us @ the Wallace/Dundas pedestrian overPass; includes minor bike tuneUps!

  • Joseph Byer

    I use this from time to time getting out to the Junction. But if Phase 2 gets completed I’d use it DAILY – I commute by bike coming from the east on Harbord or College (depending on my ambition) and need to get down to work in Liberty Village. Options now are treacherous at best; do I bomb down the patchy nightmare that is Dufferin, or head south further east and risk it under the train bridge?

    I’d easily go a few blocks out of the way further west to get on the path and end up down on Liberty. The existing section is awesome for blasting off from Dundas to Dupont in just minutes.

    Also, taking into account the amount of traffic that will be generated by condo-owners in the new developments popping up in Liberty, and given the fact that there’s barely room for 2 cars on the narrow roads, biking is going to be the best option getting in and out of there in the next year.

    I am concerned with Metrolinx and GO Transit holding the keys. If it were up to them would they prefer more cyclists or more train fares?

    • Eric S. Smith

      I am concerned with Metrolinx and GO Transit holding the keys. If it were up to them would they prefer more cyclists or more train fares?

      It’s hard to see how bike commuting is much threat to GO ridership; I guess you might even say that if there were lots of bike commuters Metrolinx could point to its infrastructure moving some people with zero operating cost. But really, widening a bridge is just an expense and potential complication to them, with no payoff in sight.

      • astronautalison

        I think it has more to do with the space not being available than not wanting to lose ridership to cyclists. The rail corridor is x feet wide, and each track requires x feet, leaving x available for the bike path between the neighbouring properties and underneath bridges. If there’s no more space, there’s no space.

  • Kevin

    to be honest, I’m kind of surprised Metrolinx has even given away land… I’d think they’d want to save as much as possible for the future expansion of train services (especially considering how many people Brampton and Georgetown will have in the next 20-30 years).

    I’m not opposed to the expansion by any means, as I’ve used the path on an almost daily basis in the summers to connect from Dupont to Dundas/College, I’m just surprised they’re giving away this limited space is all.

  • Scott

    The feasibility study noted in this story is incorrect. It refers to the land along the rail corridor and covers many topics including Railpath. There is a separate study underway specifically about Railpath 2 that was initiated by the Cycling dept. at City.This study is consulting stakeholders including MX and Friends of west Toronto Railpath.