dandyCommute series: Lower Sherbourne to Pharmacy and 401
Describe your commute
My commute is actually a number of different routes. My morning commute to work is pretty standard. I take Sherbourne north to Shuter, Shuter across to River, then up to Dundas across to Jones. I make my way up to Danforth, then up Donlands until Cosburn. From Cosburn, I make my way east, eventually moving onto O’Connor which takes me east to Victoria Park. Here I take a small path east again to Pharmacy and then all the way north to the 401!
I teach in a school for suspended and expelled students out there. The ride is about 19 km one-way, taking anywhere from 46-54 minutes, depending on what’s in my panniers!
My way back is determined in large part by weather, how my day went, and my timing. On a day where I just want to go home, I travel south on Pharmacy to the Danforth, make my way to Gerrard Street and take that west, eventually going south on Carlaw to the Martin Goodman trail, where I head home.
On days where I am feeling more adventurous, I go south on Victoria Park all the way to Lake Ontario and travel home west from there. On days where I am looking for something nicer to look at, I make my way to Taylor Drive just off of O’Connor, and take the Don Valley Trail south until the Esplanade. I still coach Parkdale’s junior soccer team, so on those days I try and find the most direct route to Parkdale, which can be tricky!
On other days, I just explore new areas to find new routes! I like exploring new neighborhoods in Scarborough and in the eastern part of downtown Toronto. I try to never take my morning commute back home – it’s the most utilitarian route, and it’s for getting to work on time. The ride home is anywhere between 20-23 km and takes me anywhere between 45-75 minutes.
The ride to work is much more fast paced, whereas my ride home is usually more relaxed. So in a day, it’s about 40 km, round trip!
Why do you commute by bike?
So many reasons! The first is that it’s fun – I feel much more engaged, much more awake when I ride, compared to taking transit. I really enjoy the little challenges I come across on my ride, whether it’s how fast I try to climb Jones Avenue when I have too much stuffed into my panniers, or if I’m very hungry and have to deal with the sweet smell of the Peek Freans factory on O’Connor. It’s interesting to see how I see myself in relation to other people and different areas of the city when I ride. I know that depending on what time I leave my apartment, I will come across bands of children heading to school, or I will be stuck behind garbage trucks on certain days on certain streets. Other times I know I need to step up my pace because I’ve seen a particular individual at a particular point on my ride – depending on where I see them (and if they’re on time to wherever they’re going!) I know I am running a bit late or a bit early.
I also do it for the exercise. I am pretty active in my life off my bike, but cycling just keeps everything running well, all the time. It helps me sleep better. It has forced me to eat better. It puts me in a better frame of mind to address the challenges that come up throughout my day. It’s two hours of my day I would otherwise be spending doing nothing, sitting on a bus or subway that I get to spend, instead, on a bike, being active and sweating (a lot!) I don’t need a gym membership.
I use a phone app that tracks my riding times and speed – I like to compete against myself, set new goals, and see how fast other people ride particular routes. Even if I have a bad day, I feel some sense of accomplishment knowing I rode 2 seconds faster that day.
I also tell my students it builds character, which I say, somewhat tongue and cheek. I guess on those days where I feel like I might be too tired, or maybe it’s too cold, or too windy, or it’s raining, the act of forcing myself to ride and deal with whatever it was that was discouraging me from riding, feels good.
What is the best part of your commute?
I like the little relationships that are formed along my commute. In some cases I’ve had conversations with other cyclists I come across on my ride, which gives me a nice sense of solidarity based on nothing more than the fact we are both riding bikes. I like seeing how many people take their children to school in bike trailers, and planning for the future when, and if, I have children and whether I would continue to ride as much, or even include them in the commute! Some of the best relationships are those I make with crossing guards. A lot of them smile and laugh when they see me, sometimes surprised to see a bike out in whatever weather is happening at that moment. One guard in particular always waves me through a crosswalk with a smile, waiting until I cross before he stops traffic for students.
What is the worst part of your commute?
Poorly planned intersections that lead to a lot of traffic crowding. O’Connor right before Woodbine, all the way to St. Clair, can be a difficult ride in terms of traffic. Traffic travelling eastbound backs up at Woodbine as the different lights cycle through. I find a number of trucks pass me a little bit too closely, regardless of whether I have taken the lane, after that portion.
I also try, whenever possible, to make left turns from the left turn lane. Depending on how much time is given to an advanced green, I find I am under a lot of pressure from cars behind me to move faster. I really dislike that.
The wind is also sometimes really terrible; particularly since my morning commute is all uphill. It can be very humbling!
What is the most surprising part of your commute?
I’m often surprised by how easy my commute can be. There are some days where it is very difficult and I arrive at work drenched in sweat, and legs burning. But there are just as many days where I am surprised by how efficiently my legs seem to be working, and how quickly I ascend O’Connor on the way to Victoria Park.
What infrastructure change would make your commute better?
Any number of things would make my commute better. Bike boxes would be really help with left turns. Well-planned bike lanes (i.e. not beside a parking lane) would give me a better presence on the road, particularly along areas like O’Connor. Roads should reflect the diversity of transportation methods people utilize. A number of roads in Toronto seem to be only made up of asphalt, some lines, and streetlights. That probably worked well when there was less activity on Toronto roads, but today there needs to be more thought and organization in their design.
I also believe a system of bike “highways”, kind of like how the DVP, Allen Expressway and the Gardiner function for cars, would work well for getting people across large areas of the city on a bike, in a safe and quick manner. I used to dislike trails like the Martin Goodman Trail or the Don Valley Trail because they weren’t anywhere near where I worked, shopped, or lived. But I can see how they would make commutes more practical and accessible, particularly for people commuting downtown from outside the core. If the Don Valley Trail extended further north and I was able to connect to another east-west type of trail, I would probably take that route to work rather than the wide assortment of roads I take in the morning.Luis exploring the waterfront with his noble steed
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Fun fact: dandy editor Tammy Thorne published a series of cyclist profiles on Spacing.ca and Luis was one of the first people she interviewed. Check it out here.
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