Digging up green streets

Digging up green streets

Photo: Fairford Parkette, City of Toronto

Rights of way provide great opportunities for managing rain where it falls. These are publicly owned spaces that are regularly excavated for road reconstruction and other infrastructure repairs. Why not throw some green infrastructure in there while the road is being torn up?

It’s far from simple, but that’s exactly what the City of Toronto is trying to do. Toronto has been doing a lot of great work with green infrastructure, including retrofitting its parking lots, the Green Roof bylaw, Strategic Forest Management Plan and now Green Streets. Other communities can benefit by adopting or adapting the great resources the City is developing.

Late last year, Green Streets Technical Guidelines were launched, after a lot of hard work by dedicated staff and advisory committees. Now the work has begun to take those guidelines and translate them into operations. How will projects go from idea to reality?

A multi-departmental steering committee has been tasked with creating a green streets implementation strategy. Chaired by Transportation Services, the committee also includes executive director/ general manager-level representation from Engineering and Construction Services, Toronto Water, Planning, Parks, Forestry and Recreation. A broader working group also contains representatives from other relevant departments. The implementation strategy development is well underway, and will be presented to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee of Toronto City Council in 2019.

In the meantime, green streets are being constructed in the City – in the 2018-2019 construction season, there will be 10 new projects. But the goal of the Green Streets Implementation Strategy will be to move beyond working project by project, to a more systematic approach to runoff volume control including improving water quality and local community environmental conditions. It is expected that in the coming years green infrastructure projects will be ramping up.

The strategy will identify priority areas where green infrastructure would have the greatest positive impact, and then map out a screening process for capital projects to identify where it could be implemented. This will ensure that green infrastructure is incorporated early in the planning process, and not as a last minute addition.

Another main piece of the implementation strategy is asset management. Who will own and manage these green infrastructure assets in the long run? Green infrastructure designed to absorb runoff requires different kinds of maintenance than a lawn or a flower bed. The City is developing a comprehensive Green Street staff training program in partnership with the Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program (STEP) to bring awareness of green infrastructure initiatives in the City relevant to the job functions of staff.  Additional training or minimum qualifications required for maintenance workers will also need to be determined.

The City of Toronto’s work will help them find out how much water can be managed onsite in road rights of way – ahead of any guidelines from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change that may be released in the future. The Green Streets guidelines were also created in conjunction with the City’s Complete Streets strategy, with the goal of taking advantage of synergies where possible (for example, bump outs to slow traffic which also absorb runoff). Part of the work of green streets implementation will be mapping and promoting current and future green streets projects, and engaging the public about these projects.

Could a comprehensive green infrastructure strategy (as is being developed in Vancouver) be next?

This article was published in the Umbrella Stormwater Bulletin Issue #68 on June 8, 2018.