Saturday, December 30, 2006

Linchpin of the Lower Don

Quick question - what’s the most interesting construction project currently underway on the Lower Don - is it the restoration of the river mouth? Is it the creation of the Don River Park and the West Don Lands?

If you answered yes to either of these questions you'd be wrong. The most interesting project is the reconfiguration of the railway bridge just north of Lakeshore. Officially known as the "Kingston Overpass", this bridge has caused many problems for the Don River. Not to say that it has been the instigator, rather it has been against this intractable obstacle that problems with the river have been revealed.

It all started about 50 years ago when Hurricane Hazel roared through Toronto in its history making path of destruction. While the main loss of life was in the Humber River valley, Hazel dumped record amounts of rainfall in the Don River watershed. All this water rushed down the valley. Whereas water in the Humber emptied unimpeded into Lake Ontario, the Don flood came up against the railway underpass. The flow of water was over 400 times the daily flow so there was not enough space for all that water to flow underneath the bridge. The water had to go somewhere and it overflowed the banks as far east as Leslie Street and as far west as Bay Street.

Since then the impact of the flood has set the benchmark for all future development. The main reason why the West Don Lands has remained derelict is mainly because the Toronto Region Conservation Authority has a veto over any development. They insist that any new building be floodproofed against a reoccurrence of Hurricane Hazel, something that a majority of builders find too expensive. The naturalization of the mouth of the Don has also been delayed because no one knew how much water would flow south if the bridge were ever reconfigured.

Then along came the Waterfront Revitalization Task Force and they made the mouth of the Don and the West Don Lands redevelopment two of their priorities. In order to accomplish this, they had to fix the flooding problem. Much to everyone's surprise this is now well underway.

Basically, the idea is simple - in order to eliminate the flooding north of the bridge all you need to do is give the river more space to flow underneath the bridge. A simple idea but a complex implementation. Not only do you have to increase the span length you also have to do it while the bridge is still in use. The bridge contains four separate tracks that carry Go trains and other trains every day.

New construction creates two new underpasses

The construction procedure has been straightforward but meticulously slow. They divided the bridge into two sections. The northern half of the bridge (two tracks) were closed down and torn up. They excavated a new underpass on the west side of the river and built a new span over top. Concrete was poured and new track was laid. This process was also complicated by the fact that the space where they were excavating is also occupied by a high power electrical conduit. This had to be relocated as well. To date the northern half is finished and they are now working on the southern half.

Boring new pilings. Construction continues while a Go Train passes by.

Pouring the foundation for the Kingston underpass.

Tight deadlines necessitated work at all hours. Here a girder is installed on the Kingston span.

Pre-poured railbeds installed on top of new span.

Installing the new track.

A second smaller tunnel is also being created underneath the Don corridor that will eventually connect the trail to the new Don River Park and the West Don Lands.

The new tunnel to connect to the Don River Park.

Excavation the tunnel. The round posts on the right are the original pilings from when the railway was first constructed.

Top view of construction on Bala underpass

For anyone wanting a more detailed report, please view the Lower Don River West News on the project.

The path is scheduled to be reopened in May. When this happens we will have a new at grade pedestrian tunnel (no more dipping down then up again). Even more so, we will finally have a river whose flow is encumbered by one less manmade obstacle.

Note: Normally I would take my own photographs but due to construction site rules visitors are not permitted onsite. My thanks go to Ken Dion, TRCA project manager and Tony Angelo at Totten Sims Hubicki on behalf of TRCA and TWRC for providing these pictures.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Path Reopens

As reported about two months ago, the Lower Don Trail between Riverdale Park and Queen St. was temporarily closed. This was due to bridge rehabilitation work at Queen St.

I am happy to report that the work has been completed and the trail has been reopened. Of course the trail south of Queen is still closed and won't reopen until some time in May 2007. They are still working on that section.

Reopened trail at Riverdale footbridge stairs

Stairs at Queen St. now open again

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Path Stays Open

At the back of the Brick Works is an informal path. It is a handy short cut to the Moore Park Ravine, one that I use on occasion. It travels through a small section of relatively untouched woods before joining the main (overused) trail. A couple of months ago someone in Parks decided that they would try to dissuade users from using this trail since it is not an official path so they planted a few trees and shrubs on the path (see 'Before' photo).

When I visited the Brick Works yesterday I happened to take a look and found that the plants had disappeared (see 'After' photo). It turns out that someone didn't take kindly to the hint and proceeded to cut all the saplings down. I found them piled to one side. This half-assed attempt at trail closure is a miserable failure.

So it's back to the drawing board for this plan. What's really needed is to implement a more comprehensive plan that addresses all of the informal paths that are creeping into the Brick Works. Maybe then we'll see some progress.



Wednesday, December 20, 2006

20 Million for the Brick Works

Ceremonial cheque being presented to Evergreen. (left-right) Lawrence Cannon, Ken Tannenbaum, Geoff Cape, George Dark, and Jim Flaherty.

Today, Evergreen announced that they have received $20 million in funding from the Federal government. This is in addition to the $10 million received from the province. This money will go towards the renovation of the Brick Works to create a mixed use environmental centre which will also act as Evergreen's national headquarters.

The announcement was held at the Brick Works, outdoors. Fortunately, it was relatively mild. It attracted quite a few journalists and TV cameras, more than I've ever seen in the valley. Media stories so far, are spinning this as an environmentally positive announcement from the Federal government. The Toronto Star, managed to put in an anti-Miller dig who wasn't present today. Other reports that I've read include the CBC, and a widely available Canadian Press article.

According to Evergreen, they hope to start work in the summer of 2007 with some sort of opening by 2008-9.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Guided Tour Through Glendon Forest

After Wednesday (last exam) I'll be able to post more (gotta keep my nose in the books for two more days). Until then you can peruse this site that I found. Someone has posted some pictures of Glendon Forest as well as describing a self guided hike that you can take starting at the north end of Sunnybrook Park. The site titled "Toronto Hike - Glendon Forest and Crother's Woods" although there are no hikes listed for Crothers' Woods yet. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Recent Wildlife Sightings

Exam time sure puts a crimp in my blogging time. Still I have been following this discussion on a local mountain biking website called DropMachine. Turns out that the bikers have been stopping to smell the flowers, er... take pictures of wildlife. So far they posted pictures of hawks and deer, two common residents of the valley (a recent article in the Toronto Star told the story of a deer that was hit on Bayview but taken to an animal shelter to be nursed back to health. Just don't release it back into the Don).

There was also this photograph of a paw print made in an area nicknamed "The Flats" by the biking crowd. This is an area in Crothers' Woods beside the river that they use mostly for building stunts. There has been some fanciful discussion about what made it (do you believe -black bear?) but my guess is it's likely a dog paw print. If anybody knows different, let me know.

Unknown paw print

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Don River in the News

I follow a cycling blog called BikingToronto. Periodically it publishes a summary of traffic accidents, especially those involving bicycles, of which there have been quite a few recently. For some reason they also publish all the other accidents - maybe they have a morbid curiosity.

Anyways, this accident was listed which details a crash on the DVP where a drunk driver veered into another car. A female passenger in one of the cars was ejected from the vehicle and flew over the side of the road and into the river. Personally if I had a choice between landing on pavement and landing in the Don, I'd choose the latter, even if it is a little yucky. She escaped with a broken arm and a few cuts.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Designing a River Mouth - with an Elephant on Your Back

In the case of the Don River mouth, the elephant is named Hazel, after Hurricane Hazel. That one event set the benchmark for the maximum flow that needs to be planned for. The analogy they gave at the latest public meeting for the Don Mouth Naturalization & Port Lands Protection Project was that the base flow of the Don River is about 3 teaspoons. A 10 year flood is about 1 large jug of water while flows measured during the hurricane were about 6 large jugs. Quantifying those,
  • base flows - 4 cubic metres/sec,
  • 10 year flood - 250 cubic metres/sec,
  • Hurricane Hazel - 1694 cubic metres/sec!
So you can see what the planners are up against.

The meeting was well attended. Many of the faces (and opinions) I recognized from previous meetings. The presenters took us quickly through what has happened to date, then they went into detail about the various options.

First, there are five different channel profiles that could be constructed from a lacustrine marsh to a created wetland. Then there are six different vegetation communities that could exist in and around the channel. Eliminate the obvious losers and tie the remaining ones to the four exit options gives 14 viable options.

Five alternatives for river channels

Six different vegetation communities

The next step in the process will be studying the various alternatives in detail and narrow it down to a short list of 2-5 options. Based on the presentation, it seems that they are already leaning towards the dual channel option. This would have the base flow directed towards the harbour or the ship channel with an alternate channel that is mostly dry. The dry channel would accommodate heavy floods which would normally overflow a single channel.

14 viable alternatives

They also talked about the criteria that they need to evaluate and it is a daunting list:
  • naturalization
  • flood protection
  • operational management of the river
  • integration with infrastucture (roads, railways, sewers, etc)
  • recreational and cultural opportunities
  • coordination with other planning efforts
There were two other presentations but I'll save those for a another blog.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Don Mouth EA meeting

The TRCA is holding another meeting in an ongoing series for the Don Mouth EA. I've blogged about this several times and you can read past notes by searching Don Watcher (use search tool in upper left hand corner).

This notice has been widely circulated but in case your not in the loop, here it is:

The Rise of a New Don
Public Forum #3
Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection Project

In August 2006, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) approved the Environmental Assessment Terms of Reference (TOR) submitted by Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) for the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection Project (DMNP Project).

Toronto and Region Conservation, on behalf of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC), is proceeding with the Environmental Assessment. The study will identify the alternative that will best transform the existing mouth of the Don River into a healthier, more natural river outlet to the lake, while reducing the risk of flooding to 230 hectares of urban land east and south of the river, and incorporating opportunities for public use and enjoyment.

Join us at a Public Forum and Open House where you can:
  • View the results from the technical screening of alternatives
  • Learn about how the alternatives will be further refined
  • Comment on the proposed evaluation criteria that will be used to select a short list of alternatives
  • Speak with the project team
  • Be updated on related projects

This event supports the TWRC’s mandate to renew and revitalize Toronto’s waterfront.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Registration: 6:15 p.m.
Open House: 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.
Presentation/Public Forum: 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Metro Hall, 55 John Street, Rooms 308/309 and 304

For more information, contact Michelle Vanderwel at 416-661-6600, ext. 5280, or send her an email.

For more information on the project, please visit the TRCA website. The TRCA has also published a newsletter for the project which you can view here.