The West Toronto Railpath is a great addition to Toronto’s limited inventory of car-free transportation routes. The dedicated group of citizens that took up the cause and transformed neglected scrubland along a rail corridor into a new recreational trail that runs southeast from the Junction to Dundas Street deserve our thanks.
The railpath officially opened last Friday. On the weekend, thrilled local residents cycled, skated and ran up and down its 2.1-kilometre length. The path, built next to railroad tracks that have historically divided the city, is now alive with new trees, naturalized plants and the kind of sculpture that will make for animated dinner table conversations.
If there’s anything sobering about this linear park it’s that it took a decade to realize. The idea of the city purchasing the surplus rail land and turning it into a car-free corridor originated with two citizens from the Roncesvalles neighbourhood in the late 1990s. One of those citizens, lawyer Tom Timmins, brims with enthusiasm at the prospect of one day seeing the railpath extended further south and east into the heart of downtown.
“If the southern piece is acquired this will become the 401 of bike traffic going downtown and that’s a pretty powerful idea,” he says. “If it connects to the Wellington Street bike lane, it will change the city.”
Timmins and the other early railpath champions were part of a well-connected bunch that included at least one staffer from a city councillor’s office, lawyers, a skilled web designer and landscape architects. It was a group, in other words, that knew how to make things happen.
The group sought and found strategic partners including Evergreen, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to greening cities. And it was pitching an idea attractive to city planners and local councillors.
“This was a project that really didn’t hurt anyone so really nobody opposed it, and for politicians that was a good — and rare — event,” Timmins recalls.
And still it took 10 years.
Timmins’ advice for other communities with great but unrealized ideas is to seek as many natural allies as possible. Netami Stuart, a landscape architect and spokesperson for Friends of the West Toronto Railpath, said the other great challenge is sustaining enough energy, enthusiasm and pressure on politicians as time drags on.
“I guess patience would be my main message. Patience, patience, patience and more patience.”
In this case it was worth it.