Guest blog series by Alix Aylen
SERIES: Exiting Toronto by bike – Ride from Pearson
The last time I went to Mexico, I got there by bicycle. It's very possible, but this year I didn’t have that kind of time (it would take roughly two months to ride comfortably to the Mexican border from Toronto). I can accept that in order to get to Baja California from Toronto with my bicycle and only three weeks to spare, I need to ﬂy to maximize my time there. It’s the awkward and expensive commuting in between that I dislike the most and would like to eliminate. So upon arrival back in Toronto on Sunday morning I decided to take the time to bike home from the airport and save the $50 that it would have cost me to get my boxed bike and myself home.
The online route research I conducted through the Pearson Airport website and by using the bicycle route function on google maps were not entirely successful or encouraging.
I ﬁgured I would just build up my bike, ride like a car, and just be sure to not ﬁnd myself on a 400-series highway (since bikes are not allowed on these).
First thing on my list however was to transform my bike and luggage from a box and a duffel bag back to its touring state. Generally, boxing up a bike for air, bus or train travel is easy as you don’t need to disassemble much and can easily ﬁnd boxes at most bike shops. Here’s a good guide.
I dragged it outside, to a corner of the outdoor Arrivals area with a bench and in a location where I would not be in the way of taxis or other people using that exit. I recently built this bike from the frame up and have boxed and rebuilt other bikes a dozen times so I know it very well, and it took me about 30-45 minutes to get it built and packed up.
While looking for a Tim Hortons for some much needed breakfast and coffee before building my bike, I took the elevator down to the ground level of the airport and ended up building my bike there. I wasn’t thinking strategically when I did this but it ended up saving me the pain of navigating the airport ramps to actually exit the airport. I noticed street lights just east of where I had been working and rolled my bike about 100 metres in this direction, essentially exiting the airport as a pedestrian. “Wait… that was too easy, is it true? Am I now out of the airport?” I wondered. Yes, yes it was. The activist in me wanted to ride on the off-ramps to make my cyclist presence known on the airport roads, but it was 6am, I was tired, and it would have taken me way longer than just taking the sidewalk for forty seconds. This option was simple and just made sense.
I exited onto American Dr. to begin my exit from Mississauga and the airport neighbourhood. The roads in this area are extremely wide with enough space for cyclists and motorists to easily share the lane. There were very few cars and trucks on the road while I was en route as it was 6-8AM on a Sunday morning, but those that did pass me did not seem to expect to see a cyclist in this area, speeding around corners and often looking very surprised. So although there was plenty of room on the road, a designated bike lane would make riding and driving safer for everyone.
In order to navigate around the terrifying mess that is the junction of highways 427 & 409, I took Northwest Dr./Zahavy Way up to Goreway Dr., and then south along Disco Rd. Again, being passed by very few trucks on very wide roads. It was a blast! Disco Rd. was almost as interesting as its name would imply as it leads you on a tour of signiﬁcant Toronto industrial warehouses and facilities such as the Disco Road Green Bin Facility, and the West Toronto Correctional Facility. I then took Belﬁeld Rd. to Kipling where I found it difﬁcult to resist the urge to check out the Provincial Sign Shop.
It was so interesting riding through an area not frequented by pedestrians or cyclists. There was more green space than I had assumed there would be and a good number of grassy patches you could use as resting stops or to ﬁx a ﬂat (which I took advantage of just outside of Pearson by a lilac tree).
After meandering through this area I made my way to Dixon Rd., which was the least pleasant road so far, but not any worse than riding along Bloor. Suddenly, I found myself at the Humber River, where Dixon Rd. meets Lawrence Ave. W. If you live in the west end, or downtown, this means that you’re essentially home-free at this point. You can take the Humber Trail all the way to Dundas West from which point you can use your regular urban cycling navigation skills to complete your trip.
I, however, do not live in the west end or south of Bloor, so it didn't make much sense for me to take the Humber Trail for more than the 10 minute detour I chose to enjoy. Instead, I ﬁlled up my water bottle at a public fountain and meandered my way along Lawrence Ave. W, Tretheway Dr. and Castleﬁeld Ave. until I reached the Key Gardner Beltline trail to make my way east and then home.
It was a beautiful summer day, the streets were clear and wide, the lilacs were out and I saved the $3-$50+ dollars that it would have cost to get my bike and myself home. I had been in transit since 2pm the day before, arriving in Toronto at 6am and wasn’t sure if I’d really feel like building my bike and riding all the way home. Soon after I started, however, I concluded that this was indeed an excellent idea and the best way to make my way home after being away on tour for three weeks. It took me about two hours, including some rest breaks, park pit stops, and a few breaks to plan my route.
Although it is currently absolutely possible to ride to and from the airport from anywhere in the city, there are a handful of things that the city could do to make it easier, safer and more efﬁcient for cyclists. I was able to ﬁnd a reasonably direct and safe route from the airport to my home using a combination of industrial avenues, residential streets and existing bike paths and trails, however, it was deﬁnitely awkward and lacking in connectivity. Extending the Humber Trail or the West end Rail Path north towards the airport would be such an amazing corridor for cyclists travelling north and an amazing way for visitors to enter the city. Imagine what a great impression it would be to land in Toronto and ride along the historic Humber River or along an old rail trail instead of paying a ridiculous amount of money or having to ﬁgure out local transit. Even some route signage to indicate a recommended route to the airport would be extremely helpful.
A lower cost and simpler improvement would be to add some indoor bike parking and signage at the airport. I called Pearson’s Parking department to inquire about bicycle parking options and the response was “Bicycle parking?! No, I’m sorry, we don’t have any speciﬁc parking options for cyclists”. As far as I could tell these were the only racks available, and were full of bikes that had obviously been there through winter:
I would not feel safe parking my bike here for more than a few days, however I’m so keen on riding my bike to the airport now that I’m going to do some more research and ﬁnd a better spot nearby whenever I need to travel through Pearson again. I don’t have a Bike Share Toronto membership since I like using my own bike in the city, but I would deﬁnitely invest in one if there were a station at Pearson as that would eliminate any worry about bike theft. Riding my bike home enabled me to decompress from my travels and not have to wait in another line, hand over more money or follow yet another transit schedule. It was a perfect way to get to know the city better and enjoy the rest of my trip home.
Here are some other great accounts of riding and walking to and from Pearson:
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