Harbord and Shaw streets by bike for the first time

Harbord and Shaw intersection on a beautiful sunny fall day.

Harbord and Shaw streets for the first time: destination Trinity Bellwoods park

This is the fourth story in a continuing series about being a new cyclist in Toronto.

Story and photos by Jenna Campbell

I knew Harbord Street’s bike lane was popular and that it has been going through a series of modifications. The only thing I was told about Shaw Street was that the road is a wee bit bumpy.

I have never travelled either, and my first time riding in this bike lanes was on a recent sunny Sunday. I’m lucky to have snagged the good weather when I did, sandwiched between all these rain-filled days.

To start, I took Charles Street. It was slow-going and filled with construction and four-way stops. After that I took, what felt like, a gigantic left turn (across four lanes of traffic) to head south down Queens Park. As I zoomed along, continuing down the "Crescent" and curving with traffic, I missed the right turn to Hoskin Avenue.

Off my bike, I walked it across to the east side of the road and started back up towards Hoskin. Seasoned cyclists may roll their eyes at my mistake — but it didn’t sink in that Queen’s Park Crescent was a one-way until a herd of vehicles hugging the curb started to stampede my way after a light changed. I ran to a gravel path against the grassy area of Queens Park to quickly get out of the way.

Some construction cones and a sign indicating cyclists should... I'm not sure what, go into the park?.... near the starting gates of Hoskin Avenue, branching off Queen's Park Crescent.

I figured the rest of my ride would be easy. I would pass St. George Street (which I have travelled on and has a nice bike lane) and Hoskin Avenue would turn into Harbord Street and my next task would be simply riding in a straight line until I reached Shaw Street.

Riding Harbord was nice and simple.

Stretching down yonder past the intersection at Spadina.

It was straightforward, literally.

Then: a crook in the lane. It was only the beginning.

I started to realize that Harbord's bike lane is a bit of a zigzag: Dipping in at intersections and back out again around parked cars.

Past Bathurst, riding on Harbord was… unlike any bike lane I’ve been on before. At first I thought it was neat how the lane shot out diagonally, allowing me to ride in my own lane between traffic and parked vehicles.

But then, the lane would shoot right and I would be riding against the curb again. The zigzag pattern continued.

I found the paint along Harbord wasn't consistent. What do the painted boxes mean?

At some parts, the bike lane disappeared and I was following painted bike stencils that were stamped in a similar non-linear fashion. But drivers appeared to only accept the stencils as a guideline — their tires partially drove along the stencils, pushing me dangerously closer to parked vehicles’ side view mirrors (and the horror of being doored).

I thought the majority of Harbord’s bike lane past Bathurst was a bit zigzagged by design, however I did like how it had both motorists and cyclists in mind. My only criticism is that it isn’t consistent. It appeared as though each stretch along Harbord had a particular quota of parking spaces to meet, particularly in the bit past Spadina where there were only stencils and no actual lane. Some stencils appeared to have been scrubbed out and moved over as well, but the scrubbed out stencils have left a bumpy and uneven surface.

But a bike lane on Harbord, albeit a bit crooked and slightly bumpy, is better than no bike lane at all.

Then I hit Shaw. I had heard about contraflow lanes in Toronto and this was my first ride along the longest one in this city.

Buddy to my left and I are about to head down Shaw (even though his wheel wells indicate he is veering right, towards me). Whoever is faster out of the gate at the green gets the right- of-way, right?

What an interesting little road Shaw is. Its bike stencils indicated I was to ride right down the middle of the street.

I followed the stencils, slowly rolling over speed bumps and potholes thinking, “Well, this is new…”

I thought the road was rough to ride — and my bike is pretty cushy. I couldn’t imagine how it must feel for cyclists on rigid road racers.

With parked cars lining the west side and the occasional cyclist passing (northbound) on the east side, I realized that if there was a car coming from behind who wanted to pass me, there was no where for me to pull over.  Only once did a car pace behind and I could sense the driver growing impatient. Then, as soon as the first opportunity arose, the driver revved loudly as he quickly passed.

Half way down Shaw, I had a chain malfunction. Maybe it was from changing gears or going over a speed bump too quickly, but my chain got caught and my pedals wouldn’t move.

I panicked and phoned a friend ...who had no idea how to help. I winged a few DIY tries, messing with the chain and gears, and soon I was rolling again. Whew!

I knew Queen Street was coming up ahead, which I was dreading, but when I turned east on Queen, I only had to bike for one minute or two until I was at the iconic gates of Trinity Bellwoods Park at Queen and Strachan.

The park was full of fall colours and well-dressed hipsters. I picked a tree stump, flipped out a blanket and wrote a few notes for this story. I was hesitant to take photos because wherever I pointed my camera, I was making eye contact with somebody through the lense. From where I sat, I could see a small group of 20-somethings tossing a hacky sack back and forth, a couple walking side-by-side watching their dog run wild and a man on a park bench sipping coffee.

When I started getting cold from the wind, I headed back the way I came, except I left through the north end of the park (dodging Queen Street) via Dundas.

Riding north up Shaw, I was grateful that I had the safety of my own bike lane. It’s funny, on the way down, I hadn’t notice I was letting gravity take me for a ride. Heading back up, I was fully aware I was getting my exercise for the day.

Harbord felt smoother on the way back, perhaps because I knew what to anticipate. And I could have imagined it, but I thought there was less “zigzagging” and fewer parked cars on the south side.

Both streets are not alike, but both have bike lanes: And that's a really good thing. Harbord was a bit patchy and you could tell the bike lane wasn’t made in one go (and may still be under construction?). The bike lane’s paint wasn’t consistent.

But if I wanted to visit Trinity Bellwoods Park again in the future, I would probably to shoot down Shaw from College (which I rode last week on my trip to the railpath). I think it’s a great alternative to say, taking Queen Street West. I would definitely take Shaw again, despite the many bumps.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Biking to work: the good, the bad and the ugly 

A new cyclist's review of the West Toronto Railpath

A new Torontonian’s first bike ride

A new Torontonian’s first bike

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2 responses to “Harbord and Shaw streets by bike for the first time”

  1. Sean says:

    Why do you have so much trepidation about Queen Street???
    I know it doesn’t have bike lanes, but east-west it is easily one of my favourite streets to ride. The cars are rarely going fast at all and I have usually found awareness of cyclists on Queen St. is pretty acute.
    Harbord is annoying.. never count the parked cars, it will make you realize how insane this city is (30-40 empty cars (35-45ppl) more important than hundreds of cyclists!).
    All said, SO awesome you are delving into cycling as a mode of transportation!

  2. ron freeman says:

    I completely wiped out after crossing dundas while riding south at about 16 to 20 kph on shaw on the new commercial e-trike I’ve been riding while delivering organics for fresh city farms one early evening late in october…. it was due to the lack of repair on the pavement surface about 20 feet south of the intersection but more crucially I could not adjust my line to prevent the incident due to the lack of city lighting on that part of the road on a dark night at about 8:20 pm… yes the trike has an excellent and quite bright lighting system front and back but due to the dip in the road my light could not pick up the crevices … bruised my elbow quite badly and almost had the vehicle itself fall over on top of my body….. anyway no serious injury, but a more in-experienced rider could have been badly hurt …

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