Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Trinity-Bellwoods Park - Response to City's Proposal for Multi-Use Paths

Recently on Biking Toronto it was asked if the proposed plan to add some multi-use paths was a good idea. I decided to bike around the park with the City's plans in hand and take a few photos. 
There appears to be an increase of cyclists going through the park to commute to work, which has created a bit of tension since there are many other people doing what people do in parks - strolling, playing, sitting, walking dogs, pushing strollers, etc. The City of Toronto is proposing to add some multi-use paths in the hopes there's room for all park users. However, the plan for more paths and widening existing ones has resulted in a group forming to oppose the plan. This group, "Don't Pave Our Park," is concerned about increased asphalt in the park and turning the park into a "high volume transportation corridor." 
     I'm not in agreement with this opposition group. I think there can be a way to provide for commuting cyclists and other existing users of the park. That said, I'm not sure either Option A or Option B [pdf] are the best options. It's probably best to have these 'Options' on hand for the rest of this post.


The City provides similar photos to those that follow. Here.


SOUTH WEST CORNER
This is the south east corner of the park, near Queen West and Gore Vale, looking west and a bit to the south:
The City is proposing to widen the narrow path off to the left. This would led to the lane-way behind the church, on to Bellwoods Ave and beyond as it's to be connect to a larger cycling route. The path to the right is to converted from asphalt to sod or wood chips.


Here you can see narrow path leading to the lane-way:
Notice the steep grade (hill) here. For commuter cyclists, this hill needs to be flattened a bit. While it's fun go down, it rolls you out onto Gore Vale Ave., usually quite busy. [Street View of path from Gore Vale]


Here's a shot to show just how narrow it is now:


I find it strange that the proposed plan is to send people down the lane-way, away from all the action. Queen Street West is what you see coming through the park and it's where we want to go, even if it's not our destination and we're just passing through. Yes, it's a busy street and intersection, but this is where people go. Queen, itself, isn't the greatest to cycle down, but crossing Queen and heading down Walnut provides a lot of options for cycling routes towards the core of the City, or where ever we're going. I'm skeptical that cyclists will choose the lane-way route.


WEST SIDE
Way over on the far west side of the park, a little north of the middle, is the entrance off Crawford Street:
Note the raised curb making it difficult for cyclists, though there is a curb-cut a few meters north of the entrance. Here it is on Street View.


There are two paths from the Crawford Street entrance, but it's to one to the right that interests me:
This path is a direct line (as-the-crow-flies) from the Crawford Street entrance to the south east corner (Queen and Gore Vale) discussed above:
Despite it being the beginning of a direct line through the park, this entrance is not heavily used by commuters. But with plans for bike lanes on Shaw Street, and Artscape's new location at the Shaw Street School (just west of this entrance to the park), perhaps coming to the park this way will become more inviting.
However, this path goes right beside a playground and a wade pool for children, and many children use these. There's concern about children being close to a bike lane, but it's pretty easy to set up the path with a 'barrier' (trees, long planter, etc.) to ensure children and cyclists don't collide. Currently, the path is right beside the playground and pool and things seem to be fine.


NORTH WEST CORNER
It seems most commuters, perhaps avoiding the playground, cut across the top of the park, the north west corner, where the park is also on the west side of Crawford Street.
Here is where they would cross Crawford (just north of the above entrance):
The 'WHOA!' is courtesy of the Urban Repair Squad - you can read here why they did this.
I'm impressed by how well used those raised concrete ledges are. Skateboarders have been having lots of fun there - rarely is there a ledge like this that isn't 'skate-proofed.' 
It's strange how Crawford Street narrows. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it to do so, and the sidewalk on the right inexplicably stops after the path-crossing. There are tell-tale signs that people cycle on this sidewalk and continue north beside the road on the grass. 


Turning to right a few degrees, we see similar 'tell-tall signs' that people are carving their own paths:
It's rare that this bench is empty. A great spot to sit and have a smoke or just relax. It provides a great view of the action on Dundas, though far enough away to deaden the sound of its traffic.


BEHIND JOHN GIBSON HOUSE
Following the path into the park from here, we find John Gibson House. It has a small parking lot behind it, serviced by a short lane-way to Crawford Street. Bizarre that there is a curb, preventing cyclist from entering the park from the lane-way:


MULTI-USE PATH
Further along this path, we get to the 'showcase' - the type of path that the City is modelling its plans on:
The photo is looking north, with John Gibson House in the distance to the left of the path. 
While I was hanging around taking pictures, I noticed that most people stay on the paved part of this multi-use path. Very few people chose the gravel path, be they children or adults walking, cycling, pushing a stroller or walking a dog. I rode my bike on it and was glad to get back on the smooth asphalt.
However, this 'secondary,' gravel path (crushed granite?) lets cyclists safely go quicker. When you're riding a bike on the regular paths and come up behind a pedestrian, passing them can be a puzzle. I want to pass the pedestrian and not run into them, but I also don't want to startle them. I could ring my bell but that seems rude. With the secondary path, I can easily go around pedestrians.


RING-ROAD, SOUTHERN HALF
The multi-use path leads cyclists to the southern portion of the circular ring-road. From here it's a bit of a puzzle to get over to the south east corner, where that narrow path leads to the lane-way off Gore Vale.
Here's what that interchange looks like:
And the 'reverse angle':
Most, if not all, cyclists avoid the path in the foreground of the photo above and take the one just past it (you can see a person in yellow on this path). This is that straight, as-the-crow-flies path seen from the Crawford Street entrance (above).
Nearly all the cyclists I saw in the park who were heading from the north west to the south east of the park took the following route: south along the multi-use path, around the lower half of the ring-road, avoid the leaves and muck shown in the above photo and make a sharp right onto that next path where we see the person in yellow. What's interesting is that nearly all the cyclists going the other way (south east to north west) take a different route. They come into the park on the south east corner along this 'as-the-crow-flies' path (the one with the person in yellow) and they stay on the straight path. It's not really surprising, though. When you're coming south on the multi-use path, it'd be awkward to make a hard left and get onto the as-the-crow-flies path; you're led further south and suddenly on the lower half of the circular road. And when you come into the park from the south east corner, cutting a north-west diagonal, why would you make a hard left turn to the south? It seems the City could take advantage of this tendency of cyclists to take different paths depending on the direction they're going. 


INSCRIBED DEMOCRACY
This as-the-crow-flies path is well used. The 'wear' around the edges tells us it's not wide enough:
Just look at all the bicycle tire marks! I take this as evidence that many cyclists are passing pedestrians here - why else would they ride in the mud? I feel it is essential that this section of the path be widened for the simple reason that use demands it. The photo above is almost a poetic resonance of the kernel of democracy.
The 'reverse angle,' looking north west:
Look at those lines that cut into the mud. That's your 'path.'
Right beside this path, where it's near the tennis courts, is another 'democratic path':
The guy with the white dog wants to follow that muddy pathway but obviously avoiding it.


SOUTH WEST CORNER
Back to the west side, just south of the community centre is a lovely path:
The rise and curve, the smooth surface, the clear end-point, the painted centre-line and arrows indicating direction - all this is so reassuring, so orderly and yet so carefree. It's as though Ebenezer Howard drew it himself.
Those gables and dormers are buildings on Crawford Street, a few meters north of Queen [Street View]. This is a much better lane-way destination than the one proposed on the east side. This one takes you down Logie Place and onto Shaw. It seems room for cyclists on Shaw is central to this problem of Trinity-Bellwoods Park.
Bizarrely, this lovely path enters the park with this:
Why is the path at a higher grade? Why is this curb here?
I suppose this is a bit better:
But a meter or so down, we find this:


As a final point, I say "Open the gates!"

9 comments:

  1. Fantastic post Mark! As an east-ender, I'm unaware of a lot of the issues with Trinity Bellwoods. :) I linked to this post in that discussion you linked to at the top. :)

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  2. Great report Mark, it's great to see the parks used as commuter pathways, perhaps if the real environmentalist understood this takes congestion off the road / car use, the cyclist is safer and breathes better air they could see giving up the required grass for pavement.

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  3. To answer your question about Crawford street to the north of the "WHOA" it is narrow because it is a bridge. This was filled in as it was part of Garrison Creek. There was a fantastic photo post on Torontoist about the bridge.

    I think the big issue here would be materials used for surfaces. Plain old pavement is ugly, it cracks, it becomes a heat pad. But, it's great for cycling and walking. Maybe there is something that would provide a stable ride for cyclists near the playground but by nature requires you to slow down. Bricks or cobblestones possibly? The path could be raised in areas where it is crossed most often for access to the playground.

    No one wants to pave paradise. Great summary, Mark.

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  4. Relying on parks as bike highways is a ridiculous notion. Bikes are vehicles plain and simple and the proposed downtown West bike route should be based on streets - where bike commuters belong.

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  5. Steve: One of my biggest pet-peeves is inflammatory rhetoric. A "bike highway" isn't a real thing. And when you suggest that the plans for the park are "ridiculous," you insult the intelligence of the many people who've worked very hard drafting plans, consulted with the public and have earnestly sought to make the park available to many users.

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  6. Mark - the city's 'bikeway' concept is designed to double the number of commuting cyclists by 2011. Complete with highway-like blue signs with route numbers and run through an increasingly busy park, it is hardly inflammatory to conceptualize it as a high-speed thruway for bikes. It is a sad day when then the Division of Transportation and the Toronto Cyclists Union are driving decisions about park usage as the limited green space space in this city is subject to increasing demand.

    You are hardly above rhetorical devices yourself including euphemism only a myopic cycle-advocate would love. What most would characterize as bad behaviour (riding on park grass and creating mud tracks) suddenly becomes a exercise in democratic expression. It's the Democracy Trail!

    Let me quote from the city's 'trail etiquette' guidelines for the bikeway system: "avoid widening existing trails and don't make new ones." Whose intelligence is being insulted here?

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  7. Hi, Steve. Thanks for commenting. I'm flattered you feel my little blog is worth your time. Just to be clear, I have no vested interest in the proposed plans for the Park. I don't work for the city and don't use this path to commute. I am, however, a citizen of Toronto and I am a student of 'urban space' generally and social and political theory more specifically. You can see my research interests on the little bio of my Twitter page. From this capacity, I offer my opinions and perspective. I thought it might be fun to do a little photo essay on the Park in light of the proposed plan. As I mentioned at the outset of this post, I was asked my thoughts on this on the Biking Toronto website, but I wasn't clear that it was from "HiMY SYeD" who I understand is running for councillor in Ward 21 (which includes Trinity-Bellwoods Park).

    In any case, I suggest there is a difference between 'inflammatory rhetoric' ('bike highway,' 'ridiculous') and a bit of 'theoretical flourish' I put in my post (the cuts in the ground as materialized democracy). In most cases (certainly not all - and this limit is intriguing), I think users of a space should be the ones deciding how that space is planned, altered, changed, etc. I think we have finally come out of an age where urban space had been designed with a grand vision in mind and little regard given to its users. I'd call this the 'modernist mindset' or something, and it still exists - we see it in the 'trail etiquette guidelines' you quote. But I understand why they include this 'suggested behaviour' - they don't want all that mud at the edge of the paths. And yet, I believe that rather than trying to dictate how a space is used, the very shape of that space should dictated by it's use. So, if pedestrians are continually cutting a corner, rather than erecting a fence or barricade, some surface (wood chips, sod, whatever) should be put down (I'm thinking of the north west side where a path crosses Crawford - the 8th photo above). Yes, there's the designated path very close, but I believe *both* paths should exist. Of course there's a limit to this, and I think this limit is fascinating - when does a park become used *too much* or when are there *too many* cyclists?

    So, rather than insult me (you called me "myopic") consider that in my post I tried to 'give voice' to the evidence left by users, I tried to observe what users of the park were doing, where they were going. Something I didn't include in the post, though perhaps I should've, was that there were many truck or car tire tracks where the mud was the worst.

    And just so you don't think I'm insane, check out Jan Gehl's book Life Between Buildings or William H. Whyte's The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces - both these books present very similar methods for their studies.

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  8. That's what they did with the quad-like area at the University of Victoria, which is now the site of their First Peoples House. They paved an X in the middle of this big patch of lawn, people wore out some shortcuts that were more feasible, considering where people's classroom buildings were located, and the school eventually paved those shortcuts. And, if I'm remembering correctly, there were considerably fewer additional shortcuts forged after that, beyond minor contouring of existing paths, aka mud city in the corners of the quad. One example, perhaps, of the limits of democratic path-making; if people don't need better paths, they'll stop making them.

    I think, too, of the bike lane that runs through Parc La Fontaine in Montreal. It's segragated, I do believe, and most people walking through the park know they have to look both ways before crossing that path. And, as a biker, you know you're sharing the space with strollers and ball-throwers, so you're watching, and it's lovely to have a nice lane through a shady green park and not on a sticky, grimy road, at least for a small stretch.

    And so, in conclusion, nice post! Looking forward to the next one!

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  9. Just discovered this post about 'emergent planning.' Interesting as it relates to putting paths where people walk:
    http://discoveringurbanism.blogspot.com/2010/03/some-limits-to-emergence-or-why.html

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