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Starting the Process

In 1992, the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA) published Trail Planning and Design Guidelines: A Handbook for an Inter-regional Trail System in the Greater Toronto Area. Since that time, the Handbook has served as a guide to the planning, design, construction and maintenance of trails by the MTRCA, local municipalities and trail associations in the MTRCA?s watershed.

In 2009, The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) began the process of updating the 1992 Handbook so as to incorporate current best practices and to make it more useful for TRCA staff and other interested stakeholders. Municipal and regional partners and trail groups often inquire about the appropriate trail standards to use when planning and constructing trails. The updated handbook will serve as a reference manual and guide for TRCA and partners in the development of trails and trail plans across the jurisdiction.

In summary, an update to the existing Handbook was needed to:

  • Include user groups and trail types not addressed in the 1992 document.
  • Incorporate new recognized industry standards for trail design and construction.
  • Reflect new accessibility legislation in Ontario that will affect trail develop
  • Trail imagement and design.
  • Standardize practices relating to trail development on TRCA properties.

In order to assist TRCA staff in the development of the Handbook, a project AdvisoryCommittee was formed in the summer of 2009, made up of staff from local and regional municipalities within the TRCA jurisdiction. At the initial scoping meetings, the following feedback was gathered from the municipal staff as to areas of interest:

  • Linkages and intersections
  • Surfacing of trails
  • Number of users
  • Types of standards that will be included
  • The review and update process
  • User safety and liability
  • Accessibility
  • Trail maintenance
  • Signage
  • Coordination of information
  • Trail classification
  • Partners and funding

The TRCA Trail Strategy

In 2011 the document was re-branded as the TRCA Trail Strategy, to better reflect some of the new content being included. Previous strategic direction on TRCA trails had come from the 1989 Greenspace Plan and various watershed plans, but a current, comprehensive strategy and policy direction relating to trails was missing.

A TRCA Trail Strategy would address the following questions:

  • What types of trail uses are appropriate and where?
  • Where are strategic connections to inter-regional trails and local trail systems needed?
  • How will TRCA move to meet the requirements such as those of the AODA?
  • How can TRCA promote the availability of its trail systems?

Since 2011, TRCA staff have:

  • Done extensive background research and case study review
  • Met several times a year with: project Advisory Committee (staff from municipalities within the TRCA jurisdiction); Technical Advisory Committee (TRCA staff with specific technical expertise); Conservation Authority Partners (staff from many conservation authorities in the GTA); and Trail Partners (representatives from several partner trail organizations).
  • Presented on the Trail Strategy at:
    • Ontario Bike Summit (2012)
    • Conservation Ontario’s annual workshop (2012)
  • Created a draft trail classification system, with reference to trail characteristics and level of difficulty
  • Developed construction details for trails and trail amenities, including trail bridges
  • Developed trail maintenance and monitoring guidelines
  • Submitted formal comments to the Ontario Government for the Integrated Accessibility Standards under the AODA, and the update to the Ontario Trails Strategy
  • Submitted comments on the TRCA Living City Policies
  • Participated on the Working Groups for:
    • City of Toronto Natural Environment Trail Strategy
    • York Region Lake to Lake Trail
    • York Region Cycling Map
    • Greenbelt Cycling Route
  • Created a Trail User Survey, to gather information about who is using trails, the activities they are participating in, and the type of experience they are looking for.
  • Held visioning exercises and developed strategic direction content

The purpose of the TRCA Trail Strategy is to establish strategic directions for trails in the TRCA watershed, and provide guidance on trail planning, design, implementation, management, use and promotion.

The Strategy will contain three main sections:

  • Introduction and Vision for TRCA Trails
  • This section will provide the strategic directions for trails in the context of TRCA's Living City Vision and Strategic Plan.
  • General Planning and Design Guidelines
  • This section will focus on the development of a successful trail system. Design considerations, liability concerns, and approval considerations will be some of the topics addressed.
  • Implementation Guidelines
  • This section focuses on putting the plan into action. It will include construction details for trails and trail infrastructure, and maintenance and monitoring protocols.

Who is the Strategy being developed for?

  • TRCA - To guide the planning, design, implementation, management, use and promotion of trails on TRCA lands;
  • Municipal and Trail Partners - To support and compliment strategic trail directions within the TRCA watershed; and
  • Everyone - To act as a resource of best practices relating to trail sustainability.

What kinds of trails will the Strategy apply to?
The TRCA Trail Strategy will focus on all trails within the TRCA watershed that are used for recreation, nature appreciation, and active living purposes, including natural surface and treated surface trails in both rural and urban areas.

Where are we now?

We are currently in the process of gathering digital trail and active transportation data from our municipal partners, and developing a series of maps which illustrate both the current trail network within the TRCA watershed, and desired future connections.

The content of Section 1: Introduction and Vision for TRCA Trails is in development. Once a draft has been prepared, there will be several internal review meetings, followed by regional public open houses. Work will then continue on Sections 2 and 3 of the Strategy.

For more information on the TRCA Trail Strategy, contact us at

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