Backgrounder: Rail Deck Park (August 3, 2016)
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The City of Toronto is developing a Parks and Public Realm Plan as part of TOcore: Planning Downtown (http://www.toronto.ca/tocore). Taking into consideration input received from the public, the plan is creating a blueprint for a connected, expanded and diverse parks and public realm system in the Downtown that maintains liveability in the face of continued population and employment growth. The work completed under TOcore is pointing to the urgent need to address park provision in one of the most park-deficient areas of the city.
Currently the rail corridor is a physical barrier between the King-Spadina neighbourhood, City Place and the Waterfront. It is a “missing link” in the Downtown urban fabric. Knitting these two communities together will increase accessibility to the community assets each neighbourhood provides and will offer a seamless transition from north to south.
Just as Millennium Park in Chicago has become a destination park for locals and visitors, this new legacy park has the potential to be bold and innovative, drawing residents from around the City, and those visiting the City, providing them with an experience that is unique to Toronto.
The western rail corridor is the last opportunity to secure a large park Downtown to serve the local community and the entire City. Rail Deck Park is a long-term, civic project that likely would be phased to align with population growth, creating a legacy for future generations.
Initiating an Official Plan Amendment will lead to the establishment of principles of development and a clear prioritization of land uses. The priorities for any decking of the rail corridor must consider the pressures that have resulted from the surrounding growth and will include parkland, connections between the adjacent neighbourhoods and the opportunity for an RER station at Spadina and Front.
Decking is feasible – the development application at 45 Bay includes decking the rail corridor for open space, while projects completed and under construction in New York (Hudson Yards) and Chicago (Millennium Park) demonstrate the feasibility of decking an active rail corridor.
Size of rail corridor study area
Total Area Bathurst to Blue Jays Way – 21 acres (8.5 hectares)
Total Area Blue Jays Way to York – 5 acres (2 hectares)
Rail corridor ownership
- Air-rights (upwards from 27 feet from top-of-rail) are privately owned (by CN and Toronto Terminal Railways)
- Metrolinx owns the at-grade rail lines, up to 27 feet from top-of-rail
- Metrolinx also owns a separate parcel of land at the southwest corner of Front and Spadina which has permissions for a non-residential building
- Downtown residential population projected to double in the next 25 years to almost 475,000 people
- In the last five years, downtown population has grown by 50,000 residents
- In the neighbourhoods immediately adjacent to the rail corridor – King Spadina and CityPlace – combined population has gone from 1,000 in 1996 to just under 40,000 today with an additional 30,000 expected through future development (approvals and applications)
- According to the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow Survey, approximately 830,000 people come into downtown every day. Today, this number is likely much higher
- 121 parks covering 100 hectares (247 acres), approximately 6 per cent of the land area (excluding the Toronto Island Parks)
- Seventy-five percent (75 per cent) of these parks are less than 0.5 hectares which is considered a parkette
- Between 2005 and 2015, City added 14 new or expanded parks (23.1 hectares) downtown
- Purchasing new park land is difficult in a competitive Downtown real estate market where land prices are high
Comparable park sizes
- Allan Gardens – 13.2 acres (5.4 hectares)
- Corktown Common – 17.7 acres (7.2 hectares)
- Trinity Bellwoods – 37 acres (14.6 hectares)
- Toronto Island Parks – 417 acres (169 hectares)
- Christie Pits – 21.8 acres (8.8 hectares)
- Eglinton Park – 22.5 acres (9.1 hectares)
Existing planning framework
- Railway Lands West (1991) and Central (1994) Secondary Plans provide policy guidance
- Both Secondary Plans contemplate decking, but this is only permitted through Official Plan amendments that would establish appropriate land uses and decking considerations
- Existing zoning – “T” Transportation, height limit of 15 metres
- Metrolinx owns mixed-use parcel at the southwest corner of Front and Spadina which permits a non-residential building up to 76 metres in height. This is where the RER station could be located.
Similar projects in other cities
- Millennium Park (Chicago) – total area 24 acres
- Hudson Yards (New York) – total area 26 acres
- Federation Square (Melbourne) – total area 8 acres
Downtown family demographics
- In a recent survey as part of the City’s GrowingUp study, families noted that the three most important qualities that they are looking for in a neighbourhood when raising children in high rise communities are:
1) Schools and child care (62.5 per cent)
2) Easy access to green spaces and playgrounds (51 per cent)
3) Availability of recreation activities. (47 per cent)
- 18,020 households with children live in the downtown
- 66 per cent of households live in mid-rise or tall buildings
- 56 per cent of households with children live in 2-bedroom homes
Downtown residents’ mode of travel to get to work
Connecting and improving accessibility in the Downtown is critical to supporting the travel patterns of Downtown residents and workers:
- 75 per cent walk, cycle or take transit