How to Improve Access to Greenspace With Sustainable Transportation

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Earlier this summer, the City of Toronto announced it would replace its ferry fleet, which are between 60-80 years old. In addition to being more environmentally friendly than the current ferries, the new ferries will also be able to carry more passengers.

Unfortunately, they will be replaced over the next 15 years, with the first new ferry expected in 2024, but that is subject to change.

If you have tried to visit the Toronto Islands on the weekend, you know there is a lot of demand for a seat on the ferry, especially over this past year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Toronto Islands are arguably one of the best greenspaces in the city. The long lineups to board the ferries are just one example of the importance of greenspace, and the challenge City of Toronto faces in providing equitable access to its parks.

There is plenty of greenspace both within Toronto as well as in nearby areas outside the city. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of nine square metres of greenspace per individual, with 50 m2 of greenspace per capita as the ideal. Toronto nearly meets this ideal, with 44.33 m2 of greenspace per person.

However, access to greenspace is not distributed evenly across the city. Downtown Toronto has less greenspace per person than other areas of the city. Furthermore, 55% of downtown residents do not own a vehicle, demonstrating a need to improve sustainable transportation connections to greenspace both within and outside the city.  

With an increasing number of people living in dense urban centres, ensuring sustainable and equitable connections to nature is essential. There is a certain irony in having to drive to enjoy nature, and this shouldn’t be the norm.

Improving access to greenspace through sustainable transportation would make access to greenspace more equitable and more environmentally friendly, as well as helping boost our economy.

How can Toronto improve connections to greenspace?

Connecting regional transit to greenspace

The way we think about transit planning has largely been about getting people to and from work. With more offices planning on a hybrid approach with a combination of remote and in-office work or going fully remote, there is an opportunity to change how we think about transit routes and who they serve. A recent Metrolinx survey found that work is no longer the primary reason for riding GO Transit or UP Express, with customers indicating that they will use transit to explore Ontario, among other reasons.

With its far-reaching network across the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, there is an opportunity to use GO Transit to connect Toronto to surrounding greenspace. With the expansion of two-way all-day service, this could be more possible in the coming years.

Toronto is also serviced by ParkBus, which offers a free shuttle connecting to Rouge National Park, as well as buses connecting to provincial parks and conservation areas, and guided day hikes for a fee. However, these services can tend to get booked up quite quickly, demonstrating a need for more transportation options.

Planning for active travel connections

Currently, GO Transit offers weekend train service to Niagara in the summer, with a train car dedicated to bike storage for people looking to enjoy cycling in the Niagara region. Their weekend Niagara service also offers $25 packages including access to WEGO, a hop-on, hop-off bus service connecting riders to Table Rock Centre at Horseshoe Falls. GO Transit also recently ran a bike car pilot on their Barrie train on the weekends. Expanding services like this and making it clear how GO Transit can connect with local transit or cycling trails can help more people get outside.

Including nature destinations and hiking trails on transit maps and route planning apps can be helpful in informing people about their transportation options both within the city as well as beyond city limits.

Integrating nature into active travel routes

Park People has recommended Toronto plan more linear parks and other connected pathways, such as the successful West Toronto Rail Path, which runs along the Kitchener GO Train line from Dundas and Sterling Road to Cariboo Ave in the Pelham Park neighbourhood.

These spaces serve a double purpose of providing safe walking and cycling routes that can connect to larger parks as well as providing a small pocket of nature in the city.

Providing adequate bike parking

Shawn Micallef, a columnist at the Toronto Star and cofounder of Spacing, has written about the lack of bike parking at Woodbine Beach and Hanlan’s Point, which are both very popular summertime destinations. Connecting people to nature within the city requires considering how people will access these spaces and providing infrastructure to allow people to access these spaces by bike.

Why does this matter?

Greenspace provides a host of benefits, from reducing our stress, reducing the urban heat island effect and improving air quality.

Greenspace can also help people live longer by providing space for physical activity and reducing air pollution.

Expanding sustainable transportation connections to greenspace could further reduce mortality rates by reducing the number of cars on the road, which is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Sitting in traffic is also linked to poor health outcomes.

Improving sustainable transportation access to greenspace is also important for the economic recovery of our tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. For instance, cycling tourism is growing in popularity, which has economic benefits for Ontario. According to Ontario’s Cycling Tourism Plan, cycling visitors spend more on average per trip than other visitors and tend to stay longer.

Expanding sustainable transportation options to greenspace can help encourage more tourism by making travel easier.

Ontario’s population is projected to increase by almost 5.3 million over the next 26 years, from an estimated 14.7 million on July 1, 2020 to over 20.0 million by July 1, 2046. With more people living in dense communities without access to private greenspace, improving sustainable transportation access to greenspace is essential in creating a more environmentally friendly, equitable and vibrant province.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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