These signs were being eaten by a tree until a crew came along a few months ago and chopped the tree down while clearing and marking a path above the pipeline. It looks like they couldn’t extricate the signs from the tree and chose instead to work around the obstruction, leaving a chunk of the tree still enveloping the signs.
In Taylor Creek Park near the forks of the Don, a raised pathway was installed a while ago so that pedestrians and cyclists wouldn’t have to contend with vehicular traffic on the park roadway. When you’re heading east into the park, the shared path beckons to cyclists, explicitly declaring that it’s “open for bikers [sic] and pedestrians”:
But at the other end of the path, cyclists heading west out of the park are sternly instructed to dismount:
To be clear, this is the same “shared pathway,” only about 100 metres long, and built with the express purpose of giving safe passage under the Don Valley Parkway away from cars on the park road. And although it’s signed as a shared pathway at both ends, it seems that only eastbound cyclists are actually allowed to ride their bikes.
If the pathway is too narrow to allow cyclists to ride in both directions while mingling with pedestrians (an assessment I wouldn’t disagree with), or if there’s a blind corner that makes riding full-bore unsafe, why weren’t those issues addressed during design and construction? Or better yet, why not just mark it as a pedestrian walkway and encourage cyclists to just take the road, which is the route still chosen by the vast majority of cyclists anyway?
Ironically, the raised path would be of most use to westbound cyclists because it doesn’t dip as low under the bridge as the roadway does, making the short hill on the far side easier to climb. Yet it’s westbound cyclists who are singled out for dismounting. Personally, I think that if the city wants this passage to be safer, it should instruct drivers to get out of their cars and push. After all, there’s a blind corner and the lanes are a little narrow…
The strangest thing in Cottonwood Flats is what my fellow Don Valley explorer Rudy Limeback calls “Slab City.” That’s as good a name as any that I can think of, so I’m going to run with it. Slab City is a series of concrete and asphalt slabs piled about 5–7 feet high that runs along the bank of the Don River in Cottonwood Flats. A very short portion of Slab City is visible in this view from Bing Maps as the jumble of big square rocks near the middle of the frame. I don’t know anything about the origin of the slabs, or when or why they were placed along the river. I do know that their placement predates my first bike ride around the site sometime in the late 80s. They are all reinforced concrete and some have a layer of asphalt on top of them, so I’d speculate that they were part of a bridge deck at one point. The Leaside Bridge was rebuilt in the 1960s and is close enough that this site would have been a convenient dumping ground. That’s just conjecture, though. A more fanciful conjecture is that they’re the remnants of the Bayview Ghost. Note that I don’t actually believe this to be the case, but wouldn’t it be awesome if it was? Check out the short gallery of Slab City below the fold.
Cottonwood Flats [PDF] in the Don Valley is no stranger to industrial degradation. Before being used as a snow dump by the city, the site was home to a series of mills and factories beginning more than 200 years ago (here’s an interactive map of Cottonwood Flats, Crothers Woods, and adjacent areas). I remember tooling around the trails on my bike and navigating around the big sloppy pile of dirty ice and garbage that still towered overhead in the middle of the valley floor as late as June some years. Recognizing that it’s not really a good idea to use a site that drains directly into the Don River as a dumping ground, the city finally ended its use as a snow dump in 2009. It has since been renaturalizing and there is supposed to be a new management plan that I haven’t been able to find online.
As you can see from the picture above, Cottonwood Flats in winter is very much a reflection of Toronto itself at this time of year: flat, barren, and relentlessly brown. With the DVP just across the way, the Bayview Extension at the top of the hill, and two railways nearby, there’s no mistaking this for a bit of pristine wilderness in the middle of nowhere. At first glance it seems like little more than an overgrown field beside a noisy highway, but the site’s edges, especially along the river, are filled with winding paths that carry you to a variety of interesting nooks and crannies. In the last few years, it’s also grown to be a much more popular destination for cyclists, families, and especially dog walkers. I’ve seen more people on my two recent visits this winter than I ever used to during the summer. Read below the fold for the first of two short galleries (or second of three, if you include the one from a couple of weeks ago) looking at a few of the interesting sights.
There’s an interesting sight on the Don River north of Pottery Road. Just across the river from Cottonwood Flats, a series of icicles dripping from the hillside create an ice curtain that curves for about 200 metres along the river bank.
Although a few of the individual icicles can be traced to water channels that trickle down from the top of the hill, most seem to sprout from the hillside just a few metres above the river:
Given the extent and uniformity of the ice, my guess is that most of it comes from groundwater seeping into the river at this location.
I spend a lot of time looking at wayfinding signs. It’s not because I don’t know my way around, but because a lot of other people don’t. If I had a nickel for every time that I tried to explain to some lost soul on the Don Valley trails how to get to a particular destination or back out onto the street, I’d have at least $2.65. Unless you already know your way around Toronto’s ravine trails, you’re almost certainly going to get lost at least once the first time you try to get somewhere new.
Just a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the wayfinding signs on the new Gatineau hydro corridor trail were much improved over previous versions elsewhere in the city, but could still benefit from maps to display connections to other trails and attractions. Well, it looks like the city is continuing its incremental improvement of cycling wayfinding signs by incorporating the improvements seen on the Gatineau trail and finally adding a map onto each sign. The first one of these I’ve seen is on the Lower Don trail at the newly reconstructed intersection with Pottery Road (more about that next week). Here’s a closeup of the info on the new sign:
Name of road at current intersection? Check.
Distance to next exit? Check.
Map showing current location? Check.
Map showing connections to other trails? Check.
Map showing nearby destinations? Sorta-check.
Although the map lists upcoming parks, shows route options, and names streets at egress points, it still doesn’t really show any attractions along the way. It does point the way to Todmorden Mills, which is just around the corner from this sign, but doesn’t show the Crothers’ Woods trails just on the other side of the river, the Brick Works a quick ride away down Bayview, or—most importantly—the Dairy Queen at the top of Pottery Road. The map could also orient cyclists in the larger street grid by showing the closest main streets, not just ones that cross the path. Also, the map curiously omits the access point at Don Mills Road that goes up to Flemingdon Park, even though it does show the access road into nearby Thorncliffe. The omission may be because the Don Mills access is more informal and you have to climb a very short staircase to get to it.
Still, despite this niggling on my part, these signs show that the city of Toronto has made huge improvements to its wayfinding signs in just a couple of years. Gone are the days when the city seemed to assume that everyone carried a cycling map at all times to find their way around the mostly unsigned paths throughout the city. I liked the improvements on the hydro corridor signs (where present), and appreciate this additional step forward as well. It compares well to the cycling signs I saw in Austin, Texas last year:
The Toronto signs are less cluttered and present the information more clearly, but I think they could use a bit more detail. I look forward to seeing more of them along the trails.
I noticed this beautiful new wayfinding sign in E.T. Seton Park today, just behind the Ontario Science Centre. It’s everything you could want in a sign: bright and easy to read with clear directions. Unfortunately, it’s backwards. The “south” arrow is pointing north, and the “north” arrow is pointing south. Oops. It was probably meant to be mounted on the other side of this post or on one of the still-signless posts nearby. I guess it was a long day for the sign-installing crew.
The older sign above, just metres away from the first, doesn’t fare much better. It points the way to Don Mills Road, but directs lost souls up a pathway that was removed and barricaded after being replaced by a nearby link.
1) Canoeists on the Don River:
2) A cyclist crossing the DVP (and not getting killed in the process):
Both of these pictures were taken at about the same time, looking north from the Queen Street bridge. The first was made possible by the annual Paddle the Don event. The second came courtesy of the weekend closure of the Parkway. This guy had actually been riding northbound (in the southbound lanes!) but was chased over the barrier and off the highway by a works crew that passed him a few seconds before I took his picture. Hey dude! The Ride for Heart is next month.
There seems to be a rather ambitious beaver at work in the Don Valley.
He still has some work to do before toppling this 30-footer at the forks of the Don, but he’s getting there.
I’m reminded of the fossilized giant beaver tooth found at the Brickworks. Whether this modern beaver eventually succeeds or not, I’m pretty sure this tree has seen its last leaf. I wonder if Parks and the TRCA would allow a beaver to dam up the West Don at the forks. Probably not, but it would be something to see.
(The tree is visible from the park bridge that runs under Don Mills Road near the entrance to Taylor Creek Park. From anywhere on the bridge, look across the river toward the forks. You could also approach the tree directly from the eastern end of the Crothers’ Woods trail in the Flats.)
Landscape Architect David Leinster of The Planning Partnership presented his group’s recommendations for the future management of Crothers’ Woods at a public meeting last night. The meeting was attended by about 30 people, less than half of the number that attended the initial consultation in November. I suspect the lower turnout was because the meeting wasn’t widely publicized — I only found out about it from a post on the Don Watcher blog and couldn’t find any mention on the City’s web site.
Map of Crothers’ Woods
- Pottery Road trail head
- The Flats
- Trail head behind Loblaws
- CN tracks
You have to cross these tracks to get to the Flats
- CP tracks
These mark the western edge of Crothers’ Woods.
Crothers’ Woods is an environmentally sensitive area in the Don Valley bounded roughly by Pottery Road & Bayview Avenue to the south, the CP tracks to the west, Millwood Road to the north, and the Don River to the east. Although it has no formal access points, it is a very well-used park. Identified users include hikers, dog walkers, trail runners, orienteers, school groups, and birders, but mountain bikers are the primary users of the park by far. They have created an astounding array of trails complete with ladders, teeter-totters, and other constructed elements to make the trails more interesting and challenging. Unfortunately, they’ve also created a looming ecological problem because the current trail system increases soil erosion and instability.
The primary issues that the master plan addresses are restoring the natural environment where it has been degraded by human activity and invasive species, and mitigating the further negative effects of human activity. It sets out a variety of common-sense measures to meet these goals, including native species plantings and “manual” plant control (which I took to mean “weeding”).
As for the trails, they’ll be realigned in many places and closed in the most sensitive or degraded areas. Of approximately 10 km of existing trails, 1.8 km are slated for closure. The rest will be realigned along natural contours of the land where necessary and will be managed along sustainable trail building principles as identified by the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
Also included in the plan will be new directional and wayfinding signage on the trails. This will help cyclists like me stay on the beginner trails and go in the right direction at a fork in the trail. Access to the park will be upgraded from about 10 informal access points to a half-dozen formal trail heads with information kiosks, community bulletin boards, trail maps, and other information. Two of these trail heads, at the base of Pottery Road and behind the Loblaws on Redway Road, will include parking.
Most of the above is non-controversial. The same can’t be said for the plan to close off access to the area known as “the Flats.” A Don Watcher entry provides some background detail about the Flats, including pictures. The study identified this area as among the least ecologically sensitive, so why is it being closed off? It’s all to do with the railway. The area is in a bit of a no-man’s land, requiring users to cross the CN tracks that run along the bottom of the Valley. Unfortunately, the crossing is illegal. CN has been unresponsive to the idea of installing a legal crossing in the area, so the architects of the master plan felt they had no choice but to cut the Flats off from the rest of the park.
End of story for the Flats? Well, it could have been if not for the public consultation. A couple of people at the meeting asked why it wasn’t possible to put bridges across the river, joining the Flats to the main paved Don pathways near Beechwood Drive and Don Mills Road. This would effectively do away with the troublesome railway crossing and enhance access to the Flats.
The answer from the City’s representative, Garth Armour, was that it had simply never occurred to them. He added that he’d look into the possibility, and that there might even be money in the budget for it. So the Flats may be saved after all.
I mention this incident not to condemn the City or the master planners, but to underscore the value of public input into the process. Sometimes, it takes an outsider to point out a painfully simple solution to a room full of experts. It’s not that the experts are stupid, it’s just that the process can become so focussed on one aspect of a problem (how to join the Flats to the rest of Crothers’ Woods across the railway tracks) that they can’t easily see an external solution (join the Flats to the rest of the Valley park system instead).
I’ve been in similar situations myself, where a group of like-minded professionals are concentrating on solving an intractable problem. Then someone else comes along with a dead-simple suggestion and we feel like complete idiots for not seeing the obvious. It’s the professional equivalent of ranting at technical support because your computer is broken, only to discover that you forgot turn your monitor on.
We won’t know until the final master plan is delivered to the city in a few weeks whether the bridge idea or some other idea for the Flats is considered feasible. Either way, implementation of the plan is slated for 2008.