Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Snow Dump Watch

Snow dump in field off of DVP Bayview/Bloor offramp. The triangular building on the left is a salt storage facility across the road from the snow dump.

February 2008 has seen a record amount of snowfall in Toronto. Until recently, the city's policy has been to leave it in place where, in time, the sun's rays would take care of removing it for free. Unfortunately, there has been so much of it that the city has decided to remove it all. The snow has to go somewhere and the Don Valley is the unfortunate recipient for part of it. This site is just north of the the Bloor Viaduct and can be clearly seen by thousands of subway riders every day. The city also has about 7 other facilities where it can dump the snow including this one in the port lands.

While it may be nice to have clear roads for driving and parking, the environmental impact on the Don is severe. Accompanying the snow is a large amount of road salt. The salt when dissolved in water becomes toxic to aquatic life in the quantities contained here. In previous studies, levels as high as 4000 mg/l (milligrams per litre) have been found in melt waters after a spring thaw in the Don River. Provincial water quality levels call for no more than 200 mg/l of salt in water. Not too many things can live in water this salty.

In addition to the salt there is also other road pollutants such as oil, grease, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), and all sorts of other garbage that gets scooped up with the snow. These chemicals either enter the water or contaminate the ground where the snow dump resides. Many of the trees surrounding this dump have already died due to the toxic runoff from this dump.

This is the third time in the past 10 years this site has been used. In 1999 (the year of the Mel Lastman called in the army) the snow pile eventually hardened into a brownish-black lump of ice. It sat there until mid-August before it completely melted. The 2008 pile is already larger. I plan to take periodic photographs to plot its growth/shrinkage throughout this year's spring and summer. It should make an interesting photo study.

Previous snow dumps:

Snow dump - 2004. This 'small' pile disappeared by late June.

Snow dump - 1999. This pile didn't completely melt until August.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Don River Cam

View from the TRCA Camera (at 1:30 PM). Note the small hut just right of centre in the picture.

In addition to my own blogging activities I also like to read other people's blogs just to see what's out there. One of my regular blogs is Torontoist which covers a wide gamut of things happening in the city. Most of it is theatre, movies, and other social events, but now and then there is an interesting post that features the Don, such as today.

The content surprised me because I haven't heard anything about it. Apparently the TRCA has setup a live camera monitoring the state of the river. The camera is publicly accessible along with some current reporting data. I don't know whether there is any historical data such as the data kept by the Environment Canada (archived hydrometric data. To view the data for this location search for Station Number 02HC024) but that may be a future addition.

The camera is located just south of Pottery Road near the river monitoring station. The camera is positioned so it can see the station. This will likely provide a visual correlation with any water flow data that is being collected at the same time.

I watched the camera for a bit. The view appears to be static as there is not much movement to be seen. It is likely refreshed every five minutes or so. Not as exciting as watching fish in an aquarium but for armchair "Don watching" you can't get any closer than this.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Comments Requested for Mountain Biking Strategy

City's Mountain Biking Strategy - Call for Comments (Click to enlarge or view PDF here)

The city is swinging into action (slowly of course). They are trying to come up with a strategy to deal with mountain biking use of trails in parks and other natural areas. The creation of the strategy will take place over the next year or so.

One the first tasks is to collect input from the public on the issue. The comment period now ends on March 7, 2008 so you have about two weeks to submit something. If you need more information view the accompanying info sheet or PDF, all the contact info is available there. I hope to be submitting something and I might even post my own submission here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sneaky Bikers Build Railway Underpass

Map showing location of trail work

In May 2007, the city released a document entitled Crother's Woods Trail Management Strategy. This outlined methods for dealing with trail use in Crothers' Woods as well as other connecting areas. The Parks department hopes that the trail management techniques could provide a template for the entire city since the proliferation of bicycle trails is also a problem in other ravine systems such as the Humber and the Rouge.

Before the report was released a meeting was held with the various stakeholders to discuss the report. The bikers were generally supportive of the report but were dismayed to find that the report proposed to close a trail known as "The Flats". This trail follows the banks of the river from Beechwood Drive to the south end of E.T. Seton Park. The main reason for recommending the closure of this trail is that both ends of the trail require a crossing of the CN railway. At the south end there has always been a very low egress underneath the bridge (see previous post) but the north end of the trail there was no choice but to cross the railway, until now.

The Flats has always been a favourite route for the bikers because it forms a loop with the Ridge Trail that hugs the ravine slope. Together they allow for a nice run between Pottery Road and E.T. Seton Park. So closing the trail would put a damper on a well-used if illegally accessed route.

After the meeting there was considerable discussion about what to do about the report's recommendation to close "The Flats" trail. Ideas floated included digging a tunnel underneath the railway, building a bridge over the railway or across the river, or getting permission from the railway for a level crossing. All but one of these ideas are too expensive or just not feasible. The one idea with some traction was to build a ramp underneath the northerly railway bridge. So sometime this summer, just such an underpass was created.

Bike trail trestle constructed underneath CN rail bridge

I first discovered it all finished in early September. It consists of a wooden trestle about 15 m long and about 75 cm wide. It extends from one side of the bridge to the other. It is low enough for a biker but I had to duck my head when I walked along it. It is solidly built and creatively uses available space. the bridge is resting on poured concrete pilings that are sitting on rocks that were already there. From some of the comments I've read on the biker forums it took 40 bags of cement to build.

Footings of bridge are cement poured into forms and anchored on stone

The new underpass does alleviate the problem of crossing the railway to access this trail. There is still the problem of it being on railway land but CN doesn't seem to be interested in pressing this point. There is also an issue of flooding. The bridge is about 2m above the base flow of the river but a heavy spring flood could inundate it. If that happens it is unclear whether it will survive unscathed.

Sometime in 2008 the city plans to hire a consultant to look at implementing the report's recommendations. It will be interesting to see if this trail work affects their opinion on the status of The Flats trail.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Urban Design and Brick Works

The Don Valley Brick Works has been a fairly quiet place for the past ten years but in the next year it will become a hive of activity. Evergreen, a prominent urban environment NGO has developed a plan to restore the Brick Works as part headquarters, part eco-centre. This ambitious plan has attracted top architects and designers to transform the derelict industrial buildings into a new urban place that may be a hallmark for the Don Valley (it could also turn out to be a white elephant but I'm not going to make any predictions).

The design firm that ended up with the prize was Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes Inc. This firm has been in the news recently as the winners of a design contest for the Jarvis Street pier on Toronto's Harbour. The firm has an interesting tableau of pictures and conceptual drawings for the Brick Works site.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Black History and the Don River

The winter is always a period of slow activity for the Don so don't expect much action on this blog until late March. Now that February is here there is a sudden flurry of media activity because February is designated as Black History Month. Of course once March rolls around we won't here a peep about this subject until next year. I'm a little ambivalent about the designation, after all any day of the year is a good one to make history.

Even though I am fairly well versed in the history of the Don Valley, I was surprised to find a connection between the river and "black history". About 130 years ago, George Brown, the well-known editor of the Globe, a forerunner of the Globe and Mail was travelling south on Don Mills when something spooked his horses and they bolted. He found himself tossed into the Don River. It just so happened that William Hubbard was nearby and witnessed the accident. Hubbard promptly jumped in and rescued Brown. Thus started a friendship between the two that led to Hubbard being elected to Toronto City Council.

Hubbard, the son of a former slave made his mark on council and served as an alderman for about 20 years off and on before retiring in 1915.

And that's pretty much all there is to it.