February 28, 2022

Reimagining Overlea with Hafeez

On March 2 (6:30 - 8:30 PM) and March 3 (12:30 - 2:30 PM), residents of Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park will have an opportunity to participate in public consultations regarding the renewal of Overlea Boulevard including the reconstruction of the bridge crossing the Don Valley. This proposal will improve safety for those who walk, bike, and take transit to access these neighbourhoods. To get a local perspective on why such residents should support the project, I spoke with Hafeez Alavi; a Grade 12 student at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute located at Don Mills and Overlea.

Rendering of Overlea bridge (via City of Toronto)

RZ: Describe your current experience of using Overlea Boulevard.
HA: My experience using Overlea has been subpar. While walking, there is not enough space even when it’s not busy with people barely able to pass each other. Biking is terrible with the road too dangerous to ride on, yet it’s the only way to get between Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park.

RZ: What issues have other Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park residents experienced with the bridge?
HA: Drainage has been a problem; especially when it’s raining and many people end up being splashed by cars. The bridge railings are a safety issue with some having taken their own lives on the bridge. Lighting is subpar which isn’t safe for people, while road conditions are pretty poor when driving or biking with lots of potholes.

RZ: What work has the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute team done to improve the safety of Overlea?
HA: The campaign for Overlea started when it was being considered as part of ActiveTO in 2020. Having lived in the area at the time, I was excited about the possibility. I was later introduced to the Cycle Don Valley Midtown group which was a key asset.

In addition to this rendering Hafeez prepared for the Overlea bridge, he prepared numerous other
streets renderings which can be found on his Twitter feed. One of his designs was featured on BlogTO.

Unfortunately, nothing happened since the local councillor was too scared to remove traffic lanes. The advocacy then shifted to a longer term program and getting Marc Garneau Collegiate (MGCI) involved. Kevin from Cycle Toronto and Tim Langford – a teacher at MGCI – helped hand out flyers. The campaign resonated with Mr. Langford who then brought in other teachers and students. We started our own club and met every week to work on the campaign, though we are now in overdrive with consultations coming up.

Image of flyer Hafeez and other volunteers distributed within Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park (via Hafeez Alavi)

RZ : I understand MCGI also presented to elected officials. Tell me more about that.
HA: We presented at the Infrastructure and Environment Committee on March 23, 2021 in which we asked why not do ActiveTO on Overlea. We also met with various elected representatives on another occasion, but wished the local councillor (Jaye Robinson) was in attendance.

The video of the March 23 Infrastructure and Environment Committee meeting features six speakers
from the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute - including Hafeez Alavi - starting at 32:37.

RZ: Based on the materials the City of Toronto released so far, what do you like about this project?
HA: There was not much I think I could’ve asked for because every single design feature is exactly what I wanted. The intersection design is great with protected intersections and turn separation. Overall, the City is learning from their past; making sure safety is top of mind.

Protected intersections are included at Overlea and Thorncliffe Park East (pictured) and at Don Mills (via City of Toronto)

RZ: Which parts of the project did you feel not get addressed or needed to be improved?
HA: The timeframe is too long (2026-27) which I would have liked to see expedited. There needs to be a focus on rebuilding the bridge in a way so it can last generations, as well as being safer and one that residents can call their own. There is a difference between the Bloor viaduct and the Overlea bridge in which the design for Overlea looks generic. Why not get cool lighting, arches, and public art which the Bloor Viaduct has?

RZ: How can the Overlea project better tie in with the overall cycling network?
HA: The City could consider extending bikeways on Don Mills to Gateway Boulevard or Eglinton Avenue. There is Metrolinx work planned at Overlea and Thorncliffe Park (western entrance), which may make it possible to have a bikeway under the Ontario Line. While the City of Toronto’s hands are tied, they should still consider extending the Overlea bike lanes west to Thorncliffe Park West or Millwood given Thorncliffe Park is too much of a detour. The City tends to lean too much on neighbourhood routes when ridership would come from major routes.

The scope of the Overlea project could have been extended west to Thorncliffe Park West or Millwood,
while the Don Mills bikeway could have been extended to Gateway or Eglinton. (via City of Toronto)

RZ: Why should residents of Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park support this Overlea project?
HA: Since Overlea is a key connector between Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park, you have to use the bridge and you have an opinion on using the bridge. Many people walk, bike, or take transit on the bridge, while we all want to see a better bridge we can call our own which will affect generations to come. Come make your voice heard at the March 2 and 3 public consultations.

Overlea from the bridge to Thorncliffe Park East (via City of Toronto)

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