Etobicoke man's park staircase a hit with neighbours, but mayor warns against copycats

City officials say they are willing to work with a retired mechanic who has built a small set of wooden stairs in an Etobicoke park to help people make their way down a shortcut without falling.

Adi Astl says he built stairs on hill people use as a shortcut to prevent pedestrians from falling

A woman walks on a homemade staircase in Tom Riley Park, near Islington Avenue and Bloor Street West, in Etobicoke. (Greg Ross/CBC)

City officials say they are willing to work with a retired mechanic who has built a small set of wooden stairs in an Etobicoke park to help people make their way down a shortcut without falling.

Adi Astl, 73, built the stairs for $550. The stairs have enabled people to enter Tom Riley Park from a parking lot.

A few months ago, Astl approached the city about building a set of stairs down the popular shortcut. The response from city staff estimated the cost of solving the problem to be between $65,000 and $150,000. 

Last month, Astl took matters into his own hands, bought materials and built a staircase himself. 

Initially, city staff told Astl that he had violated a bylaw by building the staircase. 

But now, the city says it wants to find a solution by working with him, the local councillor and the community. 
Adi Astl and Gail Rutherford, Etobicoke residents, stand in front of the wooden staircase that has caught the attention of city officials. (Greg Ross/CBC)

After the steps were built, the city put up yellow caution tape and signs saying the steps are unsafe. The tape and signs have been torn down and people continue to use the stairs. 

Mayor John Tory said Wednesday the city needs to take a closer look at the issue. He said city estimates for the steps are "completely out of whack with reality" but he acknowledged that the estimates were for steps that would be made out of concrete and steel.

"We're going back to the drawing board on this to get a proper estimate. I think everybody will understand it's going to be more than $550," Tory said.

The mayor said that while he appreciates that Astl wanted to solve a problem, Toronto residents cannot be taking matters into their own hands.

"The other thing we can't do as a city is just have everybody decide they're going to go out to Home Depot and buy some lumber and build a staircase in a park," he said. 
Adi Astl, shown here with his wife Gail Rutherford, says he built these steps because 'there were just bare stones and just a slippery slope to go down there.' (Greg Ross/CBC)

Astl, who calls himself a handyman and an inventor, said the hill on which he built the staircase is a popular shortcut into the park from a parking lot, but the walkway was slippery.

"There were just bare stones and just a slippery slope to go down there," Astl told CBC Radio's Here and Now on Wednesday.

People would hang onto a rope that was there, he said.

Astl talked to Coun. Justin Di Ciano about the problem, received the city estimate, then built the steps.

Gail Rutherford, Astl's wife, said she was pleased that her husband built the stairs. 

"I have a garden plot down there and I spend hours down in that area. I see 30 to 40 people an hour coming down. I see moms with baby strollers trying to navigate their way. I see old people. I see soccer teams. There's a yoga club," she said. 
A photo shows how people used a rope to get down the hill in Tom Riley Park in Etobicoke before the stairs were built. (Greg Ross/CBC)

"All of these people have to scamper down this hill. And they have to go down sideways, hanging onto a rope and slipping and sliding. It's very, very dangerous without stairs." 

City determined to find solution

Matthew Cutler, spokesperson for Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, said the city is determined to find a solution that works for the community.

"Although designers try to design a park in the safest and most accessible way with pathways, we do learn that people want to take shortcuts, and they start to carve new paths into the grass or new ways down a hill, and we try to respond to that," he said.

"In this case, I think, with the stairs, with what Adi and Gail have done, it's just a sign again that we need to find a new way and better way for folks to get down there." 

Cutler said the city estimates, although they seem steep, reflect the fact that the city has to build steps that meet public standards, are safe and accessible and will not lead to lawsuits. 
The city says any stairs in parks need to be safe, accessible and not lead to lawsuits if people get injured. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"What's important to understand is that the city needs to build things that can stand the test of time, that are safe, that people don't get hurt using them, so things do cost a bit more when you are building them for the public realm."

He said the city put up signs saying the steps were unsafe because of liability issues.

"On our inspection of these stairs, there are issues. They are not built into the ground so they have no foundation to hold them still," he said. "The railing is wobbly. There are screws protruding."

Cutler said there is a proper entrance to the park about 120 steps from the stairs.

"Obviously walking that 120 steps is not working for everyone."