East Don Trail Environmental Assessment

Environmental Study Report

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

ES-1 PURPOSE OF THIS MUNICIPAL CLASS ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT

The purpose of the East Don Trail Municipal Class Schedule C Environmental Assessment (EA) is to create a key connection in the multi-use trail system: provide safe access to nature and recreational opportunities for the public; and create a safe travel route, through an environmentally sound planning process. The City of Toronto’s Bikeway Trails Implementation Plan approved by Toronto City Council in 2012 identified the need for a trail connection in the East Don Corridor, while the East Don Trail Master Plan Update, completed in 2012, determined the trail connection was feasible and recommended that further environmental studies were necessary. The East Don Trail EA has assessed a number of options to facilitate this connection and has identified a preferred trail route and design concept.

ES-2 STUDY AREA

The East Don Trail EA Local and Regional Study Areas are shown in Figure ES2-1. The Local Study Area, also referred to as Study Area, encompasses an area where the proposed trail will be routed and where direct effects of the project may occur. The Regional Study Area a larger area where indirect effects of the project may occur.

ES-3 BACKGROUND

The City of Toronto, working in partnership with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has undertaken a Schedule C of the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA) process to facilitate the creation of the East Don Trail. The East Don Trail would provide a connection to the City’s multi-use trail network between the existing East Don Trail located east of Wynford Heights Crescent, the proposed Gatineau Corridor Trail and the Don Trail Systems located south of where the East Don River and West Don River meet (Forks of the Don). In addition, a section of the East Don Trail would realize one of the strategic connections of the Pan Am Path, a multi-use path connecting Toronto trails and creating an active-living legacy for the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

The key planning initiatives that supported the East Don Trail EA included the Bikeway Trails Implementation Plan and the East Don Trail Master Plan Update. Recommendations and resolutions made in planning documents such as the City of Toronto Official Plan, Accessibility Design Guidelines, Multi-Use Trail Design Guidelines, Natural Heritage Study, and Natural Environment Trails Strategy were also used to delineate the EA study area, identify problems and opportunities, develop project objectives, and identify and evaluate alternatives.

ES-4 STUDY PROCESS

The East Don Trail EA was conducted in accordance with the requirements of the MCEA, Schedule C, as amended in 2015. This process consists of five phases with mandatory points of public contact, with the focus being a comprehensive and traceable decision-making process. The five phases include the following:

  • Phase 1: Identify the problem (deficiency) or opportunity
  • Phase 2: Identify alternative solutions to address the problem or opportunity by taking into consideration the existing environment, and establish the preferred solution taking into account public and Review Agency input. Determine the appropriate Schedule for the undertaking and document decisions
  • Phase 3: Examine alternative methods of implementing the preferred solution, based upon the existing environment, public and Review Agency input, anticipated environmental effects, and methods of minimizing negative effects and maximizing positive effects
  • Phase 4: Document, in an Environmental Study Report (ESR), a summary of the rationale, and the planning, design and consultation process of the project. The ESR is filed with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and placed on the public record for a 30 day review period
  • Phase 5: Complete contract drawings and documents, and proceed to construction and operation, with appropriate monitoring (MCEA, 2015), conditional on the project approval following the ESR submission

As per the MCEA requirements, this ESR has been prepared to document the East Don Trail Schedule C MCEA project activities, correspondence, and decision-making process up to and including Phase 4 of the MCEA process.

ES-5 CONSULTATION

Public consultation was carried out in accordance with the consultation requirements set out in the MCEA document. Stakeholder groups included the public (interested persons and Community Liaison Committee), Indigenous communities, Review Agencies, Technical Advisory Committee, Key Stakeholders (agencies and businesses that own land or utilities within the project Study Area) and local politicians.

Three Public Events and seven meetings of the Community Liaison Committee were held over the course of the Study. Notices were issued in a variety of methods to advise the public of the commencement of the Class EA, Public Events, completion of the Class EA, and key project decision points. Copies of these notices were sent to project stakeholders. In addition to the notification and public event requirements set out by the MCEA, a number of mechanisms were used to provide an opportunity for meaningful engagement throughout the duration of the study, which included a regularly updated project webpage regular updates of a frequently asked questions document, and an email account providing for one-window communication opportunities between the public and the project team.

ES-6 PROBLEM/OPPORTUNITY STATEMENT AND PROJECT OBJECTIVES (PHASE 1)

The East Don Trail EA problem/opportunity statement and project objectives were developed and refined following review by City of Toronto staff, TRCA staff, and the public, and constitute the following:

Opportunity Statement

A significant gap in the multi-use trail network exists within the East Don Corridor between the existing East Don Trail (east of Wynford Heights Crescent), Gatineau Corridor Trail (at approximately Bermondsey Road), and the Don Trail System (Figure ES6-1). The East Don Trail will fill this existing gap in the trail network, thus creating a continuously connected trail network.

Project Objectives

The successful preferred solution for the East Don Trail will address the following six main objectives:

Connections

  • To provide a key connection route linking local and inter-regional trail systems

Public Safety

  • To provide a safe way for a broad spectrum of users to access the valley system
  • To provide safe off-road options (where possible) for cycling and recreational use
  • To investigate options to accommodate emergency response, city and utility maintenance vehicles/activities

Natural Environment

  • To assist in the management of informal trails by providing a single focused multi-use trail within the East Don Corridor
  • To be respectful of the natural environment through the alignment, design, and construction of the trail by aiming to avoid, prevent, or minimize negative impacts
  • To increase access to a range of users to discover and appreciate natural areas within the city

Recreation

  • To create trail and outdoor recreational opportunities for a variety of users
  • To provide trail and outdoor recreational opportunities for neighbouring communities

Transportation

  • To function as a safe travel route to everyday places and amenities

Supports Other Initiatives

  • To coordinate with other planning initiatives in the area allowing for future integration of the multi-use trail (e.g., Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit)

ES-7 EXISTING CONDITIONS AND DETAILED ENVIRONMENTAL INVENTORY

Review of the existing conditions of the East Don Trail EA Study Area provided the necessary information to support the decision-making process. The proposed alternatives were evaluated based on the impact on the existing environment.

The environmental inventory included the examination and documentation of existing site conditions concerning current transportation methods and existing trails, physical environment (particularly East Don River geomorphology, hydraulic parameters, and erosion hazards), biological environment (vegetation, wildlife etc.), cultural environment (archaeology, built heritage etc.), and socio-economic environment (local land uses, infrastructure, etc.). In the Alternative Solutions EA phase (Phase 2), existing conditions information was used to evaluate the alternative trail alignments in terms of their potential impact on the surrounding environment.

During the Alternative Design Concepts EA phase (Phase 3), a detailed environmental inventory was compiled and included; a topography survey, East Don River flood levels, and tree inventory. This information was used to develop, refine and evaluate the trail alternative design concepts.

ES-8 ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS (PHASE 2)

Alternative solutions are feasibly different ways of solving the identified problem or addressing the identified opportunity. In Phase 2 of this EA, a number of alternative solutions were developed and evaluated. The preferred solution addresses the EA problem/opportunity statement as well as project objectives.

To identify the preferred solution, a two-step process was undertaken:

Step 1: Alternatives To

Two functionally different ways of addressing the problem/opportunity termed “alternatives to”, were identified. The “alternatives to” included the “Do Nothing” alternative and the “Provide Multi-Use Trail Connection” alternative. To determine the preferred functional approach, the “alternatives to” were evaluated in the context of project objectives and potential impacts.

The “Do Nothing” alternative consisted of no action, and the “Provide Multi-Use Trail Connection” consisted of constructing a multi-use trail from the existing East Don Trail to the Lower Don Trail. A trail connection would also be constructed to facilitate a planned connection to the Gatineau Corridor Trail.

The “Do Nothing” alternative does not meet or provides limited fulfillment of the project objectives while the “Provide Multi-Use trail Connection” alternative meets all project objectives.

The potential impacts associated with the “Do Nothing” and “Provide Multi-Use Trail Connection” “alternatives to” were assessed based on six broad criteria themes which included: Functional Value, Natural and Physical Environment, Social and Cultural Environment, Cost, Technical, and Support of Planning Initiatives.

“Provide Multi-Use Trail Connection” approach was identified as the preferred “alternative to”. This alternative provides access for a variety of users into the East Don Corridor and facilitates connection with existing and planned adjacent trails; provides recreational opportunities, increases public safety (trail use and access); connects adjacent communities and neighbourhoods, and supports a number of current planning initiatives such as the Bikeway Trails Implementation Plan.

Step 2: Alternative Trail Alignments

After the “Provide Multi-Use Trail Connection” approach was selected as the preferred “alternative to” (the result of Step 1), a number of trail routes termed “alternative trail alignments” were developed that supported the problem/opportunity statement and project objectives.

For the purposes of developing and evaluating alternative trail alignments, the Study Area was divided into three distinct areas (Area 1, Area 2, and Area 3) based on the overall Study Area size and complexity of existing conditions (highly variable topography, infrastructure, multiple land uses and property requirements). Unique alignments were developed for each Area, and were then evaluated relative to each other (e.g., Area 1 alignments were evaluated relative to each other, separately from Area 2 and 3 alignments). The preferred solution consists of three preferred trail alignments, one in each Area.

Conforming to the “alternatives to” evaluation approach, alternative trail alignments were evaluated in terms of their potential impact on the surrounding environment. In particular, positive and negative impacts were examined according to the following categories: Functional Value, Natural and Physical Environment, Social and Cultural Environment, Cost, and Technical. Based on the results of the evaluation, the preferred alternative trail alignment (i.e., preferred solution) was selected.

The alternative trail alignments and preliminary evaluation results were presented to the public and other project stakeholders. In response to feedback received on the alignments and evaluation, a number of Area 1 and Area 2 alignments were revised and evaluated. Area 3 alignments did not undergo revisions.

For clarification purposes, the original alignments presented to the public prior to revisions were termed original alignments, and the alignments revised and evaluated as a result of public and stakeholder feedback were termed revised alignments.

The original alternative trail alignments and approximate lengths by Area are listed below.  Trail alignments and Areas are shown in Figure ES8-1. 

Area 1

  • Forest Trail A (1.4 km) and Forest Trail B (1.4 km)

Area 2

  • Road Link A (2.9 km), Road Link B (3.3 km), and Road Link C (3.4 km)
  • River Walk A (2.7 km), River Walk B (2.8 km), and River Walk C (3.4 km)
  • Rail Trail A (2.1 km), Rail Trail B (2.2 km), and Rail Trail C (3.4 km)

Area 3

  • Access Route A (1.7 km), Access Route B (1.7 km), and Access Route C (2.1 km)

 

The revised alternative trail alignments and approximate lengths by Area are listed below. Trail alignments and Area boundaries are shown in Figure ES8-2.

Area 1

  • Forest Trail A (1.4 km) and Forest Trail C (1.0 km)

Area 2

  • Hillside Trail (2.1 km), Corridor Trail (2.1 km), and River Walk (2.7 km)

The preferred solution consists of Forest Trail A in Area 1, Hillside Trail in Area 2 and Access Route B in Area 3, and is shown in Figure ES8-3.

In Area 1, Forest Trail A provides improved access to existing city infrastructure and emergency vehicles and is more easily accessible by trail users, including those with limited mobility. This alignment also allows for a future connection to be made to the Victoria Village community. Located in an area characterized by multiple informal trails, Forest Trail A would provide the local community with an opportunity to enjoy the valley lands while minimizing impacts on environmentally sensitive areas and discouraging public access to potentially unsafe areas (e.g., high eroded river banks). Finally, Forest Trail A constitutes an aesthetically pleasing route that travels through a variety of landscapes and offers a diversity of user experiences.

In Area 2, River Walk B scored highest in the evaluation. However, this trail alignment cannot be considered further at this time as the property (Flemingdon Park Golf Club) that would be required for trail implementation is not currently available.  As a result, the second-highest scoring alignment, Hillside Trail, was identified as the preferred alignment and moved forward to Phase 3, with the Hydro Corridor Connection facilitated via the B option. Hillside Trail allows for an easy connection to be made to Eglinton Avenue East, which, in turn, allows for a connection to future proposed Eglinton Avenue bike lanes and the Eglinton Light Rail Transit, thereby increasing access to and connectivity among transportation modes. Hillside Trail results in a low impact to aquatic habitat, river processes and hydraulics of the East Don River. In addition, this alignment results in the least impact on local business operations while providing an aesthetically pleasing route that will travel through a variety of settings.

In Area 3, the majority of Access Route B is located along an existing Toronto Water maintenance access route, which is to be formalized as a multi-use trail. Access Route B connects to the Don Trails and Taylor Creek Trail via the Taylor Massey Creek bridge. This connection not only allows trail users to access East Don Trail from the Lower Don, West Don, and Taylor Massey Creek trail systems but also provides an optimal access point to existing Toronto Water infrastructure.

ES-9 ALTERNATIVE DESIGN CONCEPTS FOR PREFERRED SOLUTION (PHASE 3)

Phase 3 of the Municipal Class EA Schedule C process focuses on  the examination of alternative methods of implementing the preferred solution, based upon the existing environment, public and Review Agency input, anticipated environmental effects (or impacts), and methods of minimizing negative effects and maximizing positive effects (MCEA, 2015).

To create the alternative methods of implementing the preferred solution, or design concepts, the preferred trail alignment selected in Phase 2 of this EA was divided into 12 segments delineated by watercourse or rail line crossings.

As shown in Figure ES9-1, two or more design concepts were developed for each segment, which included trail path sections (segments A to D, F, G, I, J, and L) as well as crossings (segments E, H, and K). Developing a range of viable alternative design concepts for some trail portions was impractical or infeasible. These areas were identified as preferred segments and will be included in the trail detailed design. Alternative design concepts were not developed for short sections of the preferred trail alignment, existing access routes, the majority of watercourse crossings, and transition areas (trail portions immediately adjacent to crossings).

Alternative design concept development was informed by the location of existing informal trails and directed by several technical constraints within the area.  Concepts were also considered against project guiding principles to ensure that only viable design concepts that met project objectives were brought forward for evaluation.

The three main technical constraints imposed by the area and associated with design concept development included topography, flooding frequency, and extent of existing urban forest. As mentioned in ES-7, a detailed environmental inventory consisting of topography survey results, East Don River flood levels, and tree inventory was compiled to develop, refine, and evaluate the trail alternative design concepts.

The guiding principles in developing alternative design concepts included the following:

  • Meet accessibility requirements, where possible
  • Maintain grades of less than 5%, where possible
  • Meet user needs (e.g., ensure adequate sight lines)
  • Route trail outside of the 2 year floodline, where possible
  • Minimize impacts to the physical and natural environment
  • Meet the needs of emergency and maintenance vehicles, where possible

Evaluation incorporated identification and assessment of the potential environmental impacts of each alternative design concept. Consistent with the evaluation approach used in the EA Phases 1 and 2, the evaluation criteria were grouped according to categories of impact: Functional Value, Natural and Physical Environment, Social and Cultural Environment, Cost, and Technical.

The preferred alternative design concept for the entire trail consists of the preferred alternative design concepts selected for each segment and is illustrated in Figure ES9-2. The preferred design concept selection was based on the alternative design concepts evaluation results as well as input from the public and other project stakeholders.

ES-10 PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE DESCRIPTION

The preferred alternative is illustrated in Figure ES10-1 and a description of key elements is provided below.

  • General route: The preferred trail alignment is approximately 4.8 km long, and includes 10 watercourse crossings (bridges) over the East Don River and Taylor Massey Creek, two bridges over tributaries of the East Don River, five crossings of the Metrolinx rail line, and extends through properties owned by the City of Toronto, TRCA, and Hydro One (Infrastructure Ontario).
  • Trail design: An asphalt multi-use trail, approximately 3.6 to 4 m wide, is recommended by the City to accommodate typical two-way pedestrian and non-motorized uses (bike, rollerblading, etc.) as well as occasional City of Toronto maintenance or Emergency Medical Services vehicle access while maintaining a reduced footprint through the natural environment. The trail design will follow the Toronto Multi-Use Trail Design Guidelines (2014) and City of Toronto Accessibility Design Guidelines (2016, draft) where feasible.
  • Watercourse crossings: Although multi-use trail crossings do not have the same potential to impact flood levels as major road crossings of a watercourse, to ensure that the required longevity of the crossing structure is not inhibited from a geomorphic process perspective, watercourse crossings would be placed perpendicular to straight and shallow riffle sections along straight and stable sections, where possible. Specific sizing of the crossings will be completed in the detailed design project phase. Typically, a minimal allowance defined as a 25 year erosion threshold is applied to bridge abutments beyond the channel top of bank to allow for natural creek tendencies such as erosion, migration, or enlargement.
  • Rail line crossings: A total of five crossings of the Metrolinx rail line are required to facilitate the preferred alignment. At two of the rail line crossings - Metrolinx 1 and 4 - constructing a tunnel through an elevated embankment is feasible. Both tunnels will be designed and built based on current conditions (i.e., current rail line right-of-way and embankment dimensions). At the northern most rail line crossing (Metrolinx 5), an existing rail line infrastructure bridge spans the East Don valley with sufficient room for the trail to extend underneath. Here, an underpass will be constructed. At Metrolinx 2 and Metrolinx 3 crossings there is not enough separation in grade between the rail line and adjacent lands to tunnel under the track, therefore level crossings and bridge crossings were explored.  Though the level crossings were evaluated the highest, the bridge crossings have been selected as the preferred method following discussions with Metrolinx. All rail line crossings require the approval of Metrolinx prior to implementation.
  • Road Underpasses: The trail will require crossing (underpasses) of two roads, the Don Valley Parkway and Eglinton Avenue. The Don Valley Parkway underpass exists as part of Toronto Water maintenance access route.  To facilitate the trail under Eglinton Avenue an elevated structure will be implemented along the east side of the river.
  • Aesthetics and Design Elements: Improvements to the landscape within the East Don corridor are proposed as an integral component of the trail implementation. Where possible, landscape improvements will be designed to achieve a number of parallel objectives, including the following:
    • Mitigation of impacts on vegetation communities anticipated to occur as a consequence of trail construction
    • Restoration of existing degraded landscapes within the valley in the vicinity of the alignment of the proposed trail
    • Enhancement of user comfort and experience
    • Enhancement of user safety and security
    • Integration of interpretive narratives
    • Establishment of a unique and recognizable aesthetic signature that binds components of the trail together

The proposed materials to be utilized in the construction of the features and amenities along the trail include naturally weathering steel, concrete, and natural stone. The trail, associated landscape features, and amenities will be designed with the objectives of improving accessibility and enhancing public safety. The design will be guided by the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation Guidelines (2014) Part 4.1 Design of Public Spaces Standard and the City of Toronto Accessibility Design Guidelines (2016, draft).

  • Infrastructure/Utilities: Utilities and infrastructure which may be affected by the trail include, but are not limited to those owned by Metrolinx, Hydro One, Toronto Hydro, Enbridge, Bell, and Toronto Water. Each of these stakeholders has specific standards to be met throughout design and construction. In addition to the utility companies mentioned above, Flemingdon Park Golf Club has been involved in the Study as Key Stakeholder since the trail is routed in close proximity to this golf course. Pending approval of this EA, these stakeholders will continue to be engaged throughout the East Don Trail Project detailed design and implementation phases.
  • Construction: Construction of the East Don Trail will likely be undertaken in three phases:
    • Phase 1: Phase 1 extent and key features are illustrated in Figure ES10-2. This section of trail is approximately 3.1 km in length, including the Hydro Corridor Connection The key elements include one tunnel crossing of Metrolinx rail line (Metrolinx 1), one  bridge crossing over the Metrolinx rail line (Metrolinx 2) (pending approval), four bridges over the East Don River (Bridges 2 - 5), and one over Taylor Massey Creek (Bridge 1). The construction of this segment would be initiated in 2017.
    • Phase 2: The second phase of construction is planned to extend from the existing East Don Trail south to Eglinton Avenue East, as shown in Figure ES10-3. This phase involves extending the trail segments over five bridges (Bridges 6 – 10, as shown in Figure ES10-1), Metrolinx underpass (Metrolinx 5), a tunnel crossing (Metrolinx 4) and a bridge crossing over the rail line  (Metrolinx 3). This section of the trail is approximately 1.4 km long. The construction of Phase 2 would potentially commence in late 2017/early 2018.
    • Phase 3:  The third phase of construction would connect Phase 1 and Phase 2, extending east of the rail line corridor along the base of the valley slope (Figure ES10-4). While this section is relatively short (approximately 900 m), the trail here traverses the most challenging topography due to significant grade changes and presence of low lying wet areas as well as areas of impingement where the rail line right-of-way  extends into  the valley slope. Phase 3 construction start date is to be determined.
  • Cost: The total approximate cost to implement the preferred design concept throughout the entire Study Area is $26 million (not including applicable taxes).  The cost provided should be indexed and adjusted to market conditions at the actual time of construction.

ES-11 ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS AND MITIGATION MEASURES

Minimizing or eliminating environmental impacts was an important aspect considered in the selection of the preferred alternative trail alignment and the preferred design concept. However, due to the location and scale of the project, there are environmental impacts that may require mitigation through the detailed design. Potential impacts associated with routing a trail through a valley system in an urban setting include impacts to vegetation (existing urban forest), species of concern and wildlife habitat, archaeological resources, existing informal natural surface (dirt) trails, safety and accessibility, user conflict, electromagnetic fields, geotechnical conditions, fluvial geomorphology, and surface erosion and overland flow. The trail detailed design phase will include a number of detailed assessments (e.g., geotechnical investigations) to inform the design of the trail so that these impacts can be prevented or minimized.

Furthermore, specific construction techniques (e.g., best practices for sediment source control and pollution protection), set protocols (e.g., spill control plans) and other measures developed in advance as part of the construction, monitoring and restoration plans are intended to mitigate residual impacts and impacts that may arise during trail construction.

ES-12 PERMITS AND APPROVALS

City of Toronto, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and/or the party responsible for the trail implementation will secure necessary permits and approvals for the implementation of the proposed East Don Trail in order to comply with the various Acts and Regulations such as the Railway Safety Act, Ontario Heritage Act, City of Toronto Ravine and Natural Feature Protection By-law etc. As well, approvals from a number of Key Stakeholders and property owners (e.g., Hydro One) whose properties abut or are intersected by the proposed trail will need to be obtained in order to proceed with implementation.

ES-13 COMMITMENTS TO FUTURE WORK

East Don Trail EA commitments to future work include the following:

  • Finalization of the trail detailed design
  • Development of construction management plan, monitoring plan, and restoration plan
  • Development of the trail operations and maintenance plan
  • Finalize Stage 2 Archaeological Assessment