Story and photos by Jeff Carson
As someone who lives in the east end of the city, I can’t help but think of the Lower Don Recreation Trail as a bit of a tease. From the north end at Taylor Creek Park to where it ends at Lake Shore Boulevard, the trail offers beautiful views, a nicely paved path (for the most part) and a feeling of separation from the city. It’s a great trail, but it feels oddly disconnected.
I know, it’s a recreation trail, not a commuter path — but why can’t it be both? Many people do use it to commute north, to Sunnybrook hospital or the Glendon campus at York.) If trails are being promoted as where cyclists should be riding then these trails must connect, not only with each other, but with on-street bike lanes too.
I hopped on the trail at Riverdale Park, just west of the bridge crossing the Don River and the Don Valley Parkway. A short set of stairs dropped me on one of the rougher sections of the trail. From Pottery Road to Lakeshore, the trail is loaded with potholes and buckling pavement. Many of the trouble spots are marked with signs and yellow paint, though on a road bike, all bumps are impossible to not notice.
Once I hit Pottery Road, the trail started to smooth out. It’s also where I noticed its first major flaw: the north end is nice and level, but just west and within sight, is the Evergreen Brickworks and the Moore Park Ravine. I decided to go off-trail and head west to the Brickworks. (I can't help thinking that this is a major flaw... should not the paths and trails on both sides have better connections, and I have heard that a bike lane on Bayview was proposed as part of the original Bike Plan.)
Over the last few years, Brickworks has become a major attraction. One of its newest residents is Sweet Pete’s bike shop. This is Sweet Pete’s third location and the store is open on Fridays and weekends.
Tim Ellis, an employee at Sweet Pete’s, said the shop’s first year at Brickworks has been good overall and that the area has a relaxed atmosphere, except Fridays tend to be quiet. Ellis said Brickworks is a “destination spot” and doesn’t benefit much from local commuter traffic.
The shop is tucked into a small brick garage beside Cycleworks, a DIY bike repair shop run by Evergreen. Sweet Pete’s sells bike and gear, and they also rent out bikes and offer demos. Ellis said the demos have gone well and he hopes to do more, especially of the burly full-suspension Kona he was working on when I visited the shop. Taking a similar bike out for a proper demo means hitting trails made for mountain bikes, which Sweet Pete’s is lucky to have just a few minutes away across Bayview Avenue near Pottery Road.
The closeness of the trails at Brickworks is great for mountain bikers and for anyone renting bikes because it’s only a few minutes ride to get to the Lower Don Recreation Trail. But those few minutes can be a little harrowing, as I found out. There is no dedicated bike path from Pottery Road to Brickworks. The only obvious way to get between is to hug the shoulder of the Bayview Extension, next to traffic often moving at 70 to 80 km/h.
There are two wonderful recreation trails running parallel on either side of the Don Valley, but there’s no easy way to get from one to the other. With a connection between the two near Brickworks, you could ride from Moore Park to Cherry Beach on mostly dedicated trails. Or, beginner cyclists could go from Taylor Park to the Beltline Trail without ever having to worry about seeing a car. A minor connection would bring together two significant trails and position Brickworks and Sweet Pete’s as a cycling hub. That hub could be on its way soon — as part of the Pan Am preparation includes working on trails through the Don (more dandy news on that to come).
After checking out Sweet Pete’s and seeing remnants of a farmer’s market pack up, I headed back across Bayview to the Lower Don trail. The rest of the trail north stayed mostly flat, so I rode the remainder at a leisurely pace, enjoying the fall colours and smell of fallen leaves.
When I came to Taylor Creek it was time to turn around and head back.
I’ve always loved the Don Valley, but I’ve also always felt like it could be so much more a part of day-to-day life for many Torontonians. With the Brickworks continuing to develop and the Pan Am Games bringing money for infrastructure, it may soon become a reality.
Stay tuned to the dandyBLOG for our upcoming story about the fabulous Pan Am Path initiative and what enhancements that might bring to the Don trails and beyond!
Related on the dandyBLOG:
Bike to the Brickworks: test ride for the minidrome event
Brickworks Bike Works: with Shah Mohamad