The Tales of the Rail Trail

St. Catharines City Council recently approved the construction of a 3-metre (10 foot) wide, 3.7 km asphalt trail along the old Grantham Rail Line running between Parnall Road and Roehampton Avenue at a cost of $1,565,000. Unfortunately, SEA only learned of the proposed approval at the 11th hour. We made a last-ditch effort to defer approval to allow time for residents to comment and the construction materials to be revisited, but the request for deferral was not successful.

There are those who have asked why an environmental organization would want to delay the improvement of a city trail. It is a good question, and let us explain.

First of all, we want to be clear that we are in favour of refurbishing this trail. We are behind any effort to provide space for outdoor activities.  To clarify our concerns:

  • We are opposed to the use of asphalt instead of stone dust. The production, loading, transport and installing of asphalt releases harmful materials into the air. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states “Asphalt processing and asphalt roofing manufacturing facilities are major sources of hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. Exposure to these air toxins may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems and skin irritation.” After installation, asphalt continues to release hazardous air pollutants into communities, especially when hit with extreme heat and sunlight, according to research published in the journal, Science Advances.  Researchers from Yale University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry found that “asphalt-related products emit substantial and diverse mixtures of organic compounds into the air” and that “asphalt emissions from roads and roofs may be a bigger problem than emissions from all petrol and diesel-powered vehicles.”

Asphalt is non-permeable, which increases run-off to our already overburdened storm sewers.

Asphalt is made up of approximately 95% aggregate (quarried materials). In addition, it requires a gravel base. So, we are we are not avoiding the use of quarried materials by using asphalt.

The Grantham Rail Trial currently acts as a heat sink that helps to offset the effects of climate change. However, that process will be reversed with an asphalt pathway, and the trail will instead become a heat incubator.

  • Active transportation networks provide connections between people and destinations (urban centres, shops, libraries, business offices, restaurants). The Grantham Rail Trail is not part of an active transportation network. One of the stated purposes of this expenditure is to transform this passive recreational trail into an active transportation route. However, since much of its length is bordered by privately owned residential properties, this corridor has few connecting points feeding into it other than main roads. This, therefore, makes it impossible to offer the accessibility required to be a functional active transportation path that is part of a larger active transportation network.

This type of trail does not require an asphalt surface. A properly constructed stone dust trail is the best option.  It requires minimal maintenance and can be constructed of environmentally friendly materials.

  • We feel that neighbours in the area, especially those with yards backing onto the trail, should have been notified and allowed the opportunity to comment.
  • A stone dust trail can be constructed for a fraction of the $1,565,000 cost of this asphalt trail. The difference in cost could easily pay for the most up to date equipment to be used to maintain, not only this trail, but all of the stone dust trails in the City. And, we would still have money left over.

This trail may see more recreational use going forward, but it will not be because of its ability to connect them to amenities, but because of its rehabilitation.

We hope that, in the midst of this declared environmental emergency, when future projects such as this one are proposed, the residents will be given the opportunity to provide input and the environment will be at the forefront of the decision-making process.

3 thoughts on “The Tales of the Rail Trail

  1. What comes next ,park benches,lighting. Is it still going to be no automotive eg . MTV’s, dirt bicycles, motorcycles and how are we going to police the area. I am always yelling at motorcycles on the path now. Nobody checks the area.

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