The Waterfront Regeneration Trust, which manages the Waterfront Trail along the length of Lake Ontario, is expanding it to include the Lake Erie shore starting next year. This has probably been in the works for a while, but the news seems to be flying below the radar so far.
I don’t expect the trail to emerge next spring as a finished entity along the entire Lake Erie shore, but adding 620 km of signed on- and off-road trail is a huge step forward. A lot of cyclists in Ontario (myself included) salivate at the thought of our own Route Verte connecting the corners of the province. A lot of the infrastructure is already in place, with numerous long-distance trails radiating across many regions of the province. Some of them are already managed as pieces of larger trail networks like the Waterfront Trail, the Central Ontario Loop Trail, and the Trans Canada Trail. Still, completing a provincial network wouldn’t be trivial: some trails would need to be need to be improved to be suitable for casual cyclists and filling in the missing links would need to be prioritized. Closest to home, Toronto suffers from relatively poor connections to out-of-town trails. The Waterfront Trail is nice, but won’t get you to the numerous bike routes that start north of the city. That’s one reason I like the hydro corridors so much: they’re quiet routes through the most car-centric parts of the city and have tremendous potential for linking to trails beyond Toronto’s boundaries. We need more of them.
With the Lake Erie extension, I hope that the Waterfront Trust has learned some lessons from 15+ years of wrangling the trail along Lake Ontario. Here are two improvements I’d like to see applied to the trail on both lakes:
- Follow an obvious and sane route. I’ve ridden the Waterfront Trail through Oakville a number of times and have never been able to follow the official route. It seems to constantly duck onto short side streets for one or two blocks before coming right back up to Lakeshore Road. The route may travel one block through a park that is otherwise two blocks away from the through-route. The little jogs just add distance and confusion to the overall route and make it incredibly easy to get lost. The situation is the same in parts of St. Catharines, Toronto, and probably elsewhere. I’d much rather just have a relatively straight route than one that takes me two blocks out of my way so that I can ride for one block on a quiet street that’s still nowhere near the water. A cyclist shouldn’t need to consult a map to follow a signed route, any more than a driver should need a map to drive straight on the 401.
- Have more visible and more consistent signage. One of the reasons it’s so easy to lose the trail as it zigzags from street to street is that many directional signs are so small that they border on invisible. The small size is compounded by the fact that many directional arrows are pale orange on a tan background and don’t exactly call your attention to them. You’ll never see one unless you’re actively looking for it. I understand that there was some NIMBY resistance in the early days of the Waterfront Trail, but surely it’s well-established now and can push communities for better signage. Signs have improved in a lot of areas, but there’s still much work to do.