Urban Planner, community advocate hope Greenway plan for Jane-Finch corridor will gain traction

Community led proposal to build wide pathways for cargo bike and mobility devices to mitigate disruption during LRT construction along Finch West is getting rough ride from Metrolinx and lukewarm response from city.

A network of parks along Finch LRT would allow low-cost movement of people and goods

Residents and businesses near Finch Ave. West near Weston Rd. wonder where all the traffic will go once construction on the LRT finally begins. A proposed Greenway envisions connected parks and pathways would still allow people to get around. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

An award-winning urban planner and a community activist are pitching a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly green space that would run next to the Finch West LRT, but are not having much luck getting the province and the city to climb on board.

The proposal, called the Mobility Greenway, is a 21-kilometre roadside linear park network across the city's northwest that would help people in the area of Jane Street and Finch Avenue to Weston Road get around on foot and by cycle and mobility device in an area barely hospitable to anything right now but cars and trucks.

Urban planner Darnel Harris has already won a Green Talents award from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research for the Mobility Greenway. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)
Darnel Harris, who has a masters degree in Environmental Studies from York University, came up with the design, which has already won a Green Talents award from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research for its balance of urban living, sustainability and transportation needs.

"It would allow people to get through a lot quicker accessing businesses and avoiding the disruption that the businesses are justifiably concerned about (with the construction of the LRT), having seen it on Eglinton and St. Clair," he says. "It would allow people and their goods to get around quicker and cheaper."

Mobility Greenway is a 21-kilometer roadside linear park network across the city's northwest that would help people in an area that is currently not very bicycle or pedestrian friendly. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Harris says the pathways would be wide enough to accommodate commercial trikes and cargo bikes as well as electric mobility devices such as wheelchairs and scooters.

'This would unlock a lot of opportunities'

Keegan Henry-Mathieu was the former co-chair of the Toronto Youth Cabinet and a community activist in Ward 7. He is also running for a seat on city council in the fall.

"We've been talking to businesses and residents here who want to continue the flow of goods and services in this area," said Henry-Mathieu. "There are a lot of people concerned about the disruption. And this would unlock a lot of opportunities for people in this neighbourhood."

Keegan Henry-Mathieu says he understand that Metrolinx wants to continue the project as planned, but the community is coming together around the idea of reimagining the public spaces in the area. ( Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

He says people of all ages and abilities would be able to travel across the northwest part of the city without needing a motor vehicle or waiting for transit to be built.

Henry-Mathieu says the wide, rain-garden-lined pathway would be a "green spine" open for use as soon as each section is completed, years in advance of the completion of the Finch West LRT, which is now delayed to 2023.

But it's been a tough sell to Metrolinx, which has concerns about the design and the timing.

Metrolinx cites 'competing interests'

"Sometime ago we met with Darnel Harris and reviewed his Greenway plans. This was after the design and procurement for Finch LRT was already underway, but we gave his ideas full consideration and discussed with the city as they own the assets," said Metrolinx spokesperson, Anne Marie Aikins in an email to CBC Toronto.

"Many of his ideas weren't feasible given other competing interests such as storm management and emergency services. However, the Finch project will have a number of similar green design concepts."

The Metrolinx plan for Finch West LRT. (Our Greenway)

"I understand their desire to continue the project as planned, but I think the community process is really important. We are seeing a lot of residents, BIA, businesses coming together around the idea of re-imagining our spaces and building something that will bring immediate benefit to the community," says Henry-Mathieu. "It's difficult to residents to travel this stretch of Finch right now."

Aikins also points out  Metrolinx and the City of Toronto included a 11-kilometre cycle track and multi-use path  that will help pedestrians and cyclist travel along the busy truck corridor. 

City hasn't yet taken a position

But Harris says the current Finch West redesign includes a low-volume cycle track, not wide enough for cargo trikes and wider cargo bicycles and that it would put cyclists in the blind spots of trucks and oil tankers.

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

"We understand that this project has been in development a long time, but the community concerns have to be taken seriously," says Harris, who adds emergency vehicles could easily use the Greenway if necessary and the rain gardens planned along the route — which uses plants, trees and a mix of permeable surfaces -— would be more effective at containing storm water than conventional sewers.

"The concerns they have are easily refuted by the evidence," Harris says. He adds that the Greenway was designed to be eligible for the federal government's merit based $2-billion disaster mitigation and adaption fund, so the project would have minimal cost to the city and province.

The City of Toronto has not taken an official position on the proposal says Mayor John Tory's spokesperson Don Peat, but the city wants avoid delays and keep public transit projects on track.

"Mayor Tory looks forward to reviewing this idea," says Peat. "The Mayor supports getting on with building transit in Toronto, including the Finch LRT. He will be working to ensure we maximize the transit and public realm benefits for the local community around the Finch LRT."

In the meantime, Harris and Henry-Mathieu have started a petition and fundraiser to promote the Greenway project and hope the city and province will come around.


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.