As Metrolinx works on the GO Expansion project, which includes engaging with community members around Toronto’s Small’s Creek ravine, Gretel Green, manager of Environmental Programs and Assessment for Metrolinx, offers up a perspective born from trekking in Toronto’s important green spaces with her family.
As a recent transplant to Toronto’s east end, it’s been a treat to explore the city’s ravines, and alongside my husband and daughter. We frequently hike them and remove invasive plants wherever we travel.
Having worked in the environmental field for more than 20 years as a terrestrial ecologist, it’s also part of who I am to have an eye on the environment around me.
My work and my personal life are coming together as Metrolinx prepares to expand the rail corridor from three to four tracks along the Lakeshore East rail line, work that will impact the Small’s Creek Ravine.
During recent meetings about the plan to add the fourth track the community asked me if the restoration plan is enough. At the time I couldn’t say yes.
I took that back to our team because I knew we could do better.
After meeting with the community, we did re-evaluate tree removal and replanting plans. We will plant as many additional trees and shrubs in the ravine as can fit there to enhance the restoration plan. We are working with the City of Toronto on the possibility of additional plantings within Small’s Creek.
More than two thirds of the trees to be removed are extremely invasive, including Manitoba and Norway maples. I’m proud to say the restoration plan will significantly improve the ecological functioning of the ravine for both wildlife and visitors by replanting only native species.
We have engaged with the Save Small’s Creek community group at several technical meetings and ravine walk-throughs with our experts, as well as during a larger community open house. We will continue to engage with the community and have committed to walk through the ravine with community representatives and the contractor to see if some of the larger oak trees can be avoided during construction.
Adding the fourth track does mean widening the rail corridor on the north side. The new, wider slope will be secured by a retaining wall, to limit the impact on the slope to Metrolinx property and reduce tree removal.
The community asked us to review two options – a wider slope without a retaining wall, as well as a secant pile wall. We made our engineers available and sat down with the community group to review. Both options would have required the work area to extend much further into the ravine, resulting in more tree removals. A wider slope would have resulted in parts of the creek being buried and would require significantly more tree removals.
A secant wall would still need to be placed on the slope, several metres from the current rail, to make space for the new rail and electrification infrastructure. But the equipment needed to build that type of wall must operate on a level surface, which would require an access road and dirt platform to be built. This option would have had the most significant impact on tree removals and the ravine.
Instead, a retaining wall was selected as the least intrusive option. It limits the work to Metrolinx property instead of city ravine lands. I believe this option is the best balance of improving transit, while reducing the impact on the local environment.
Trees on the slope in the Metrolinx right of way still need to be removed and cannot be replaced in this location, because they infringe on the clearance required for the safe passage of trains as well as clearance required to support the future electrification of the railway corridor.
We have learned a great deal from this project. We know we need to engage communities more frequently throughout the project design.
With more frequent two-way, all-day GO Transit service, I hope to see a reduction in greenhouse gases – and leave an improved environment for my daughter.
Are we doing better? I truly believe we are.
Story by Gretel Green, manager of environmental programs and assessment for Metrolinx