dandyCommute Series: High Park to the University of Toronto

This is the eighth installment in dandyhorse’s new dandyCommute series, which will continue with more stories and photos of your favourite utilitarian cycling routes through 2013. Send us your super commute story today and win bike swag.

dandyCommute #8: High Park to the University of Toronto (approximately 9 kilometres)

Story and photos by Jun Nogami

I commute year round, except for the handful of days when the snow is too deep. Depending on how much I am out of town from year to year, I average upwards of 210 round trips a year. I ride to U of T from High Park, about 9 kilometres each way. I'm obviously a wimp compared to Hannah Spence, since the scope of my entire commute is covered by the first line of her route description!

It takes about thirty minutes, perhaps forty-five in the winter. At any rate, it takes about the same time as the subway, and this way I get an hour's worth of exercise every weekday with no cost in time.

Why do I commute by bike? It has become a routine part of my day; part of the day that I can't do without. On the way into work, it is a time for me to relax and not think about anything in particular. On the way home, as I ride, I can feel the workday stress slip away. By the time I'm home, I'm prepared to be relatively civilized. There are also the benefits of daily exercise, but if you saw the pace at which I ride, you would understand that it doesn't do much for my aerobic fitness. At the same time, my commute provides most of the exercise that I get any given week.

What is the best part of my commute? In addition to stress relief, my riding ties me more closely to the city. I like observing the little day to day changes along the route. I also see a surprising number of fellow commuters that I know "by bike" if not necessarily "by face".

What is the worst part of my commute? The few days when the snow is too deep and I decide to take the subway instead. It always feels overwhelmingly crowded and stuffy.

What is the most surprising part of my commute? I could mention the two times I was hit by a car or doored.

Here is a pictorial guide of my route. I'll start at the east end of the Annette bike lane where it ends at the complicated five way intersection with Dundas Street West, Old Weston Road, and Dupont.

Just east of the intersection is the piece of bicycle infrastructure that has had the biggest impact on my commute: the bike lanes under the railway underpass. This is also where the West Toronto Railpath crosses Dupont.

The confusing Annette/Dundas/Dupont intersection facing east towards the underpass

You can see that a simple line of paint on the road makes a huge difference when you are riding under the bridge.

Just past the underpass I usually turn right on Edwin Ave. About ninety percent of the bike traffic continues straight along Dupont. At this corner, I've seen at least four or five different restaurants or bars give it a go over the last eight years. The latest is the Farmhouse Tavern, which was featured on the Discovery Channel's Junk Raiders TV show. It features local produce, and I'm been meaning to give it a try.

Dupont and Edwin. Note the long line of cars on Dupont at rush hour.

City Council is now reviewing options for the bike lane along Dupont. One of the possibilities is that the bike lane (including the section under the bridge) might be removed, and four lanes of traffic restored. Obviously this would be a disaster for cyclists in the west end, as the bike lane is a vital link for many points west (the Junction, High Park, Bloor West Village) to downtown and the Railpath.

The south end of Edwin dead ends at a lot that used to be the Glidden Paint Factory. This land was remediated over several years, and now it is going to be developed into townhouses. I turn left here and thread my way to Wallace Ave. If you turn right, you can get onto the Railpath.

Just around the corner is a house that always has handmade wooden decorations that rotate with the season: currently in Xmas finery.

At the corner of Wallace and Perth is another church that is going condo. The tree obscures the slightly blasphemous tagline: "Praise the Loft".

Just a bit further east on Wallace on the other side of the tracks you see the water tower that is emblematic of the neighbourhood. There is a newish building on the right that sits on what used to be a lumber yard. It looks like a row of live/work spaces that has taken about two years to be fully occupied.

The Edwin Avenue development is also supposed to have a row of similar units backing up against the Railpath.

One of the aspects of this particular route is that there was several places where there can be a lot of car traffic dropping off kids at schools. I often get delayed at this school on Wallace, between Landsdowne and Dufferin.

St. Sebastian on Wallace near Dufferin

At Dufferin, my route takes a short jog south to Shanly. I usually wait for a gap in traffic and then take the left hand lane so that I am properly positioned for a left turn at the light at Shanly. If you want to avoid traffic altogether, you can turn right one block short of Dufferin on Russett, and then look for a narrow alleyway that lets you cut across to Dufferin about even with the traffic light.

Russett Ave alleyway

The next major crossing is Dovercourt. I turn right just beforehand on Westmoreland, and then left on Northhumberland. There is another church-condo conversion at the corner. It was depressing to see them replace lovely, if chipped, slate roofing tiles with shingles that have roughly the same colour.

Church-condo conversion at Westmoreland and Northumberland

Here at Ossington and Northumberland, I turn right and then left through the Green P parking lot, just short of Bloor.

Ossington at Northumberland

At the other end of the parking lot, I continue east on Irene. The main distinguishing feature of this very short street, other than the lovely parkette with playground on the south side, is that with the on street parking, it is too narrow to plow during the winter, and so it can be particularly treacherous.

Irene Avenue

At the stop sign, make sure you look to the left, as there are many cars and bikes that come screaming down Shaw, rolling through their stop sign. Here I turn right, cross Bloor, and make my way to Harbord.

Irene approaching Shaw

At Harbord St, I turn left. The induction loop does not always trigger reliably with a bike, and so I often have to mount the sidewalk and push the pedestrian crossing button on the left side.

Shaw and Harbord

I wish that the city would put a second button on the post in the foreground at the left so that a cyclist can reach it without blocking the sidewalk. Vancouver has lots of push buttons situated for cyclists.

Heading east on Harbord, it is a straight shot to campus. Lately, there seems to have been more turnover than usual of businesses, especially on the west end of Harbord. Just this month, this used car lot finally closed down. It is right beside another lot that used to be a gas station.

Preston Car Lot on Harbord

Just a little further along, the Montrose Variety is gone.

Montrose Variety on Harbord

We used to drop by here for jumbo freezies when I was carting kids back and forth to summer camp.

At Grace St, the Linux Caffe went under a while ago, and since then, the owners of the building have had a running battle with taggers to keep the property looking presentable.

This traffic light was installed very recently at Clinton Street. There are now three lights in close succession that have slowed traffic quite a bit along this stretch. The next block is one of my favourites along the entire route. I often see friends at Sam James Coffee on the right, and of course the Bike Joint is on the left. At the corner is the ICI Bistro, which at one point was the #1 restaurant in Toronto according to Trip Advisor. I see now that it has slipped into the top 20, but that is still pretty good, since we are talking around 20 out of 4019 places.

Harbord and Clinton

Past Bathurst, there is a stretch running up to Spadina where the bike lane is downgraded to sharrows. This is where the bike lane ends. You can be the judge as to how effective the sharrows are.

Harbord and Borden

The bike lane appears again past Spadina, and there is a bike box at the intersection. The gap in the bike lanes stems from the fact that the business owners along this short stretch have historically opposed bike lanes, in particular the Harbord Bakery.

Harbord is now being considered as part of an upgraded bike lane. The bike lanes as they are seem to work pretty well. However, I am looking forward to seeing the segregated bike lane connections between Wellesley, Queen's Park, and Harbord. Making a safe, smooth connection across Queen's Park will make Harbord St. even more important for cyclists than it is now.

Jun Nogami works at U of T. His blog about "Biking in a Big City"
can be found here.

This story is part of a new series about commuting by bike to work.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

The last story from our dandyCommute series here

The first story from our dandyCommute series here

Send us your dandyCommute story here and get free reflective tape on your bike courtesy of 3M and Sweet Pete’s.

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