Plan for green pathway along Finch LRT gains traction with city

Despite skepticism from Metrolinx, urban planner Darnel Harris continues to push ahead his plan for interconnected paths and parks across the northwestern part of the city.

Planner says the 21 km of interconnected parks and multi-use path would form 'community backbone'

The Mobility Greenway plan envisions a 21-kilometer 'roadside linear park network' across Toronto’s suburban northwest. The new pathway would support a range of personal and commercial mobility devices. (Submitted by Mobility Greenway)

City hall has given a big boost to a bold proposal to build a series of connected green spaces and a multi-use transportation lane next to the Finch LRT which would would accommodate alternative forms of transportation in the Jane-Finch and Weston Road area.

Dubbed the Mobility Greenway, the plan would amend Metrolinx's design for the new LRT line by adding an extra lane between the sidewalk and road to run alongside the 21-kilometre corridor. The pathway would be wider than a bike lane and would encourage the use of other forms of transportation, such as scooters, motorized wheelchairs and cargo bikes, to get around the area.

Separating the laneway from the sidewalk would be a series of "raingardens," using plants, trees and a mix of mother permeable surfaces that Harris says would manage storm water and prevent flash flooding along Finch Avenue.

"Over the last couple of months there has been an outpouring of support from businesses, community groups and entrepreneurs who would like to see the project move forward," said Darnel Harris, the urban planner who came up with the plan as part of his master's thesis.

"The first step was having the city pass a motion."

Darnel Harris, executive director of the the Mobility Greenway, is a planner and community activist. ( Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

At its meeting on July 10, council's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee did just that, giving unanimous support to the idea and voting to refer the plan to the city's general manager of transportation services.

Plan aligns with city priorities

The committee's chair, Coun. Jaye Robinson, praised the idea for keeping with the city's priority to protect green spaces.

"As Toronto continues to grow, we must strive to meet the increasing demand for local green spaces," said Robinson.

"The Finch West Mobility Greenway proposal has been referred to transportation services for further analysis. The proposal will be reviewed by multiple city divisions relevant to the Greenway and will be considered as a part of the city's Complete Street Guidelines."

Harris, who has a master's degree in environmental studies from York University, won a "Green Talents" award from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research for his Mobility Greenway design.

"So now we're into a phase where we can properly consider what needs to be happening — having a conversation about the most appropriate model for the Greenway," said Harris. 

"We're looking at a conservancy model, similar to something like the Bentway, that would allow for working with the community, working with businesses and working with the city to ensure that proper programming is run across across the pathway."

The Mobility Greenway proposal would add 'raingardens' to manage storm water and larger paths for cargo bikes and other mobility devices. (Mobility Greenway)

Harris said the plan would increase transportation options for people in the northwest of the city. And he says the design will encourage the use of other types of vehicles — not just bicycles.

"It's not just a bike lane, but the mobility pathway that allows people from all walks of life to get around and do what they need to do on a daily basis," he said, adding the wider multi-use path would be ideal for cargo bikes, which are three-wheeled bicycles specifically designed to carry heavy loads.

"The cargo bikes, they really are truck and car replacements. So most importantly they can cover a lot short trips — a 5-kilometre trip, a 10-kilometre trip — somewhere within your local neighborhood." 

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins says Harris' Greenway proposal will be considered, but it's too late in the design process to make wholesale changes. Aikins say some of the Greenway design ideas have already been incorporated into the Finch LRT plan. (YanJun Li/CBC)

Metrolinx skeptical

Metrolinx signed a contract with Mosaic Transit Group to build the Finch West LRT, which will run between Humber College in the west to Finch West subway station. The line is now scheduled to open in 2023.

Spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins told CBC Toronto that Metrolinx met with Harris, but had concerns about his design and the timing.

"We'd already begun the design work and we were finalizing it when he brought the proposal in, and so at this point now we've awarded the contract," said Aikins. "But many of his the elements are already built into our project."

Aikins said the current design for Finch Avenue includes 11 kilometres of multi-use pathways, wider than a normal bike path. She added the vote to refer the Greenway design to the city's transportation manager won't change much from Metrolinx's perspective.

The Metrolinx plan for the Finch West LRT. (Mobility Greenway)

"What we'll do that is different is we will work with the the transportation chief to review [Harris'] proposal and he'll have to do that in conjunction with Metrolinx," said Aikins. "It's a bit late to change plans, but what the GM will discover is that many of his ideas are already incorporated into [Metrolinix's] design."

City staff won't report back on the Greenway Mobility plan until the new council term commences in 2019.

But Harris doesn't think Metrolinx's design goes far enough.

"Across northwestern Toronto, councillors, businesses, and the community agrees that this is something they want to see advanced. That deserves to be respected," said Harris.


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.


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