On-road bike lanes have been in the news quite a bit recently: the battle over Jarvis Street, the ongoing crawl toward lanes along Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue, and a patchwork of lanes approved earlier this month all have cyclists applauding. But Toronto's plans for the Bikeway Network consist of more than just bike lanes on roads: off-road routes form about a quarter of the proposed network [PDF]. A significant portion of those off-road paths won't pass through traditional parks, but will follow rail and hydro corridors.
The Belt Line trail that sweeps across the centre of the city is undoubtedly the best-known and most-used rail trail in Toronto. The first phase of a new favourite is nearing completion: last weekend, a group of intrepid cyclists held an unofficial opening parade for the West Toronto Railpath, a mixed-use path that will eventually stretch down to Strachan Avenue. The first section, running 2.1 km from Caribou Avenue to south of Dundas Street, is fully paved but landscaping work won't be completed until the fall. Cyclists are already looking forward to the next phase of the project, which will create a car-free route into downtown for west-end cyclists by bringing the path all the way down to Strachan Avenue.
A second rail-corridor project is in the pipe for this year: the Leaside Rail Trail, which runs just east of Leslie Street between York Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue. Completed, this trail would fill in the missing link in the Don Valley trail system, connecting E.T. Seton Park to the south with the Betty Sutherland Trail to the north, creating a near-continuous off-road route from Lake Shore Boulevard to Steeles Avenue. This year's capital budget [PDF] includes the completion of detailed design work on the trail, with construction expected next year.
At a meeting of east end cyclists last week, Daniel Egan, the City of Toronto's manager of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, also fingered two hydro corridors as being ripe for off-road paths: the Finch corridor that stretches clear across the city and the Gatineau corridor through the middle of Scarborough. Both of these routes would connect to other trail systems and help commuters or cyclists heading out of town to complete significantly longer rides without battling suburban traffic.
But what does all of this mean to the average cyclist? Joe Travers of BikingToronto created a Google Maps mashup of the major hydro and rail corridors in the city to show the possibilities. While all of the corridors on the map aren't necessarily being considered for bike routes, the map does show just how well-connected and far-reaching a network of off-road velobahns could be.
Photo of the Leaside Rail Trail by Val Dodge/Torontoist.