Happy Trails is a subway map style breakdown of Toronto's multi-use trails. It's not meant to replace a conventional map of the trails, but is meant to make it more apparent where the trails go, where they stop and why. If we understand why the trail network looks the way it does, we can better understand opportunities for growth and improvement.
The trails are good fun. They're also very popular, at least when the weather is pleasant and they provide an important respite from the noise and chaos of the city. Getting out on the trails is a great way to get some exercise but it's also in some places the fastest way to get around and a good way to alleviate some of Toronto's notorious congestion.
Unfortunately, the trail network isn't quite ready for prime time. Development, highways, railways, and golf courses all slice up what should be connected network. Golf courses are particularly bad: they're land hungry and typically built in the ravines, replacing natural riparian zones with lawns and restricting public access to the most important natural areas the city has to offer.
Despite these challenges, Toronto has the potential to become a world-class cycling city. The hydro corridors that run East-West, coupled with the numerous creeks and rivers that run North-South to the lake, offer ample opportunities for trail building. Additionally, railways, both in use and abandoned, provide additional opportunities for expansion. The best trails are in the ravines, which are relatively untouched by development due to the danger of flooding.
Historical attitudes towards nature in Toronto are evident in places like the Lower Don River, where the Don Valley Parkway has been built right up to the river's banks on one side, while a railway occupies the other side. This historical contempt for nature is hard to understand-- did people in the 1950s not enjoy water? Fixing these things will be difficult to rectify without major disruption but the good news is that in the Lower Don at least, a major re-development will correct some of these historical wrongs.
The challenge now is to overcome the historical encroachment in the remaining natural areas, and turn the fragmented mess of trails into a coherent network that is greater than the sum of its parts. Some areas will be more difficult than others, such as the lower part of the Humber River, which is encroached upon by residential development dating back to the 1800s. In other places the solution is easier. It's not unreasonable to expect that golf courses provide space for the trails to bypass in the ravines. This would be a simple solution to connecting many trail fragments.
Cycling is becoming more popular than ever before, and there are several major trail projects currently underway in the GTA. For example, the East Don River project will create kilometers of new trails and link up with another ambitious project called the Meadoway, which will eventually extend as far as Rouge Park. While closing tricky gaps and building necessary bridges and tunnels will be expensive, progress is being made, and the city is slowly moving in the right direction.
It's worth taking a moment to imagine what the multi-use trail network would have looked like if it wasn't such an afterthought, squeezed into natural areas that were mostly left unpaved because they were unsuitable for development or were freed up when a railway went bankrupt for example. Imagine if the paths were part of city planning from the early days. Bikes have, after all, been around as long or longer than cars and have always been popular. It's safe to assume that the value of a nature walk is not a new discovery as well.
Happy Trails seeks to illustrate the existing trails and the barriers to expansion, while also proposing opportunities for improvement. The site offers a clear picture of the challenges faced by trail builders, such as golf courses, highways, and railways. By using the "Trail Fixes" button on the individual trail pages, users can toggle between proposed solutions, helping to create a vision of the city's future.
While this project is a hobby, its creator is passionate about cycling and believes in the power of well-planned and interconnected trail networks. With continued support and advocacy, Toronto can become a world-class cycling city with a network of trails that is safe, accessible, and extensive.