A new cyclist’s review of the West Toronto Railpath

Photo credit goes to the kind stranger I met on the trail.

Story and remaining photos by Jenna Campbell

A new cyclist's review of the West Toronto Railpath

I just recently learned about the West Toronto Railpath. What people have told me has been mostly positive. They’ve said it’s great and it's beautiful — but it just doesn't go anywhere.

On a warm afternoon, I grabbed my helmet and headed on my longest bike ride yet in Toronto to check out the railpath.

To start, I biked west on Wellesley Street. I wasn't more than five minutes into my ride when I had to come to a full stop and get off my bike, west of Yonge Street. The situation was a little awkward.

I was in no rush really, so I hopped off my bike and was going to walk it along the sidewalk, but then I saw what other cyclists were doing.

For this small section of road, the sidewalk seemed like a cyclist free-for-all.

After, I headed south on Bay Street where the traffic intensity picked up. I followed the painted sharrows that "separated" me from the cars beside.

I then turned west on College Street — a bike lane I've heard to be both loved and hated by cyclists.

At first, College was a smooth ride. I felt like I was travelling fast, I had a lot of space and I didn't feel uncomfortable when other cyclists passed me.

However, as I travelled westbound down the College lane, the landscape began to change.

Photo taken while waiting at a red light.

I was entering into the door zone. I started paying even closer attention...

...to avoid hitting suddenly turning cars...

...or parked delivery trucks in the bike and/or curb lane.

I rode carefully through the door zone on the "bike path" (using the sharrows as my guide) until I hit Lansdowne Street. I was thankful I was turning south to Dundas Street because Lansdowne looked like it continued up a big hill.

Thinking back to the route I configured on Google Maps, I remembered the trail’s turn looked a bit finicky so I thought turning south was the right thing to do.

I continued west on Dundas for what felt too long a time, but I had not seen any signs advertising the path.

I pulled over and randomly entered Belljar Cafe. I first bothered a customer for directions who had no idea what I was talking about. I then tried two individuals who were working behind the counter. Turns out, I had missed the turn on the bridge.

Great thanks to the Belljar Cafe employees for pointing me in the right direction (and for letting me take their photo!)

I had imagined the West Toronto Railpath to be a large and quiet "street"-like passage that's off limits to motorized vehicles and stretches alongside railroad tracks. (Although I've heard e-bikers sometimes use the path illegally.)

Back on the bridge, I got off my bike to look for the darned trail, but I still didn’t see any roads stemming from the bridge that fit my mind's description.

I am lost. Why is it so hard to find?

I waited for a man who was walking in my direction and asked him where it was. He looked at me like I was an idiot and pointed across the street.

"It's over there where those kids are walking out."

A group of teenagers were coming out of a clearing beside a black fence. From where I was standing, it could be mistaken for a driveway. I walked my bike across at the light, to the clearing and hopped on the path — finally.

Not what I had pictured. 

I whirred down, veered right and stopped in front of a memorial nestled against the fence's black posts. There were a row of jars lined neatly before pink, white and yellow flowers. I'm not sure who the arrangement commemorated.

Onwards I experienced what I later decided were the West Toronto Railpath's most prominent elements that tickled the senses: graffiti, foliage and, of course, construction.

The path was beautiful. Art, mostly in the form of big murals, was everywhere, from under bridges to on signs and cement walls. The path was green, it smelled good and there were trees! I actually heard crickets on and off throughout the path, a sound none too familiar while living downtown. But the loud construction vehicles were a constant reminder I hadn’t completely escaped the city.

My head was in the clouds as I kept riding and stopping to look at graffiti or to take photos. When I reached the trail’s end, I was confused. It was so abrupt — I was looking at a metal workshop across the road. The railpath was indeed beautiful, but it didn't seem to connect with any on-street bike lanes. That was my experience, anyway.

That's it?

When I turned around and went back, I didn’t stop along the trail and must have reached the Dundas entrance in less than ten minutes. I had more of a relaxed ride home along College because I knew where I was going (and that the bike lane would eventually re-appear) even though rush hour traffic was building.

If I had to describe the West Toronto Railpath in one word, "peaceful" would be it. I only intermittently crossed paths with other cyclists, joggers and a group of school kids who I guessed were responsible for the couple of positive messages chalked on road. I think the path would be a great place to go if you needed to get away for a little while and gather your thoughts, that is, if you knew how to get there. Now that I know where it is, I do hope to visit again in the near future.

"Have a 'suntastic' day!"

Related on the dandyBLOG: 

A new Torontonian's first bike ride

A new Torontonian's first bike

Troy Lovegates rolls through Toronto and leaves his mark

Bike Spotting on the West Toronto Railpath

Railpath expansion coming soon

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3 responses to “A new cyclist’s review of the West Toronto Railpath”

  1. Ben S says:

    Great blog! The railpath is a good concept, and a great start towards something bigger, but as you note it’s not terribly useful for most commuters at the moment. I live on the West side of the pedestrian bridge that crosses the tracks, so when I’m in the mood I take it home and lug my bike over. It’s not terribly cyclist friendly though despite a “ramp” for pushing your bike up.

    Your missing the entrance to the path is indicative of something else that’s a problem all over Toronto, both for cyclists and others — lack of proper signage. To my knowledge there is literally no prominent sign telling cyclists where to turn onto the path. With all the money spent on building it, maintaining and decorating it (with the official art on the path) it’s amazing no one thought to do this!

    Lastly, next time just take Dundas all the way, or if you do take College go straight across. No need to deke down Lansdowne the way you did. It’s really a simple ramp up onto the Dundas bridge!

    Happy cycling!

  2. hamish wilson says:

    A nice piece, with apropo pics and reactions.
    I may send out more about this – but having worries that the Smart Track scheme of Mr. Tory may be a possible threat to the Rail Trail in this scenario. Tory is elected, and has a mandate to do what he says he’ll do in 7 years. But devil’s in details, and gee, there are complexities with GO Transit that aren’t so resolvable. But he has to do something! So rather than push buttons with the provincial Liberals and maybe spend another few hundred million on readjusting the UPX line to match the potential of the corridor ie. highest/best use as transit with more frequent stops, since the City already owns the land of the Rail Trail and extension and it’s only a batch of weeds and a bit of a neighbourhood facility, would we see pressure to repurpose it all?
    Trying not to be too alarmist – some indications that there are wrinkles in the Tory scheme here:
    which is also good for other transit commentaries/analysis, not just this aspect of things.
    I may send out an email, or another one…

  3. Robyn says:

    The north end of the Railpath does connect reasonably well with the Dupont/Annette bike lane, albeit the particularly hairy-scary bit of it that goes under the bridge. You just need to hop off the trail one exit before the north end, onto Osler, and it’s just a few metres south to Dupont.

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