SERIES: Exiting Toronto by bike – Ride to Rouge Park
Story and photos by Alix Aylen
As I continue to look for bicycle corridor exits from the city, I find myself zooming out from my home on a map and looking for green veins radiating from my area outwards, indicating potential park-based exit routes. It’s very easy to find the Humber and Don Trails this way, but there are also other patches of cycling corridors indicated by green veins that don't follow natural features of the landscape. These are usually long stretches of urban infrastructure that cannot be developed in any traditional residential or commercial sense due to the awkward shapes and sizes of Hydro towers or the narrowness of old railroads. As I tried to plan a northeasterly route out of the city I found somewhat of a green corridor that I wanted to explore. There are several uncomfortable interruptions along this route, but the green refuges that you pass through along the way are great places to catch your breath. I found myself both tremendously at ease and horrendously uncomfortable on this route. Weaving in and out of well-planned cycling corridors, and then through what must be some of the least friendly streets for cyclists in the city. Just another example of the poor connectivity of bike infrastructure in Toronto. But I have faith!
I left my office around Queen’s Park and Bloor at 5 pm on a Friday, hoping that this would give me enough time to get to Rouge Park before dark - it’s about 35km from there and I’m not a speedy rider. It looked like the trip would consist mostly of meandering around residential neighbourhoods in the east end before taking Kingston Rd. the rest of the way into the park. I rode along Bloor East to Broadview then east on Cosburn Ave, O’Connor Dr. which eventually curved up north and brought me to Eglinton Ave. and Victoria Park where I stopped to stock up on Roti and Ginger Beer at Charloo’s. I turned around, and caught a glimpse of the downtown core, seemingly distant already.
So far, the trip seemed just like my regular commute home during rush hour - wiggling north through Toronto’s grid of mixed-use neighbourhoods, avoiding main streets as much as possible. As I reached the old City of Toronto city limits at Victoria Park I assumed that the streets would start to get wider, and the cars, faster. This definitely happens, but as I made my way east on Eglinton my map told me to enter the “Gatineau Hydro Corridor” just north of Eglinton. What a pleasant surprise THAT was. For about 5km I was riding freely along rolling hills and fields of green, with urban farm plots and public art murals scattered along the way. At just about every intersection I found cyclist specific traffic lights and distance and direction markers making it ever so easy to navigate and situate.
I was so comfortable on this trail, and hoped that it would lead me all the way to Rouge Park. But it did end, and rather quickly, leading me to my only option at this point - Lawrence Ave. East. The complete and utter opposite of the magnificent Hydro Trail. It made me, once again, swallow my pride and ride on the sidewalk a bit without getting in the way of pedestrians or attempt to take the lane with oncoming traffic coming up behind me at 70km/h. I rode along Lawrence for approximately the same distance as I did on the trail, but it took me double the amount of time since I had to ride with extra caution. The road was so much wider than any of the streets downtown, but it was made apparent that there was no space for someone on two wheels. I was not wanted or expected, or understood as a vehicle, which makes for a very dangerous environment.
Eventually, I found myself at the entrance to Morningside Park, where I entered on an insanely steep hill, descending into the cool relief of the park along the river. I instantly felt at ease again. This time it wasn’t a trail made specifically for cyclists, but a multi-use park that welcomes cyclists and provides a meandering detour around the river and through Scarborough. It may have taken me some extra time to get through the park as it was far from direct and full of distractions, however it was certainly the least stressful and safest way to ride through that part of the city.
The wildflowers were in bloom, it was an incredibly hot day, and all I wanted to do was get off my bike and wade in the river. However I had to continue on to meet up with my camping partners Bobby and Ray who had ridden up earlier, taking the Kingston Rd. route.
I exited Morningside Park onto Old Kingston Rd., which transitioned into Kingston Rd., and led me all the way to the entrance of Glen Rouge Campground. This stretch of Kingston Rd. feels kind of like a road plan dumping ground, where scraps of other road plans get thrown out. There was one sole block of a bike lane, a sidewalk that started and stopped under an underpass, and randomly enough one of those “Walk Your Wheels” signs on the sidewalk underneath the overpass. It was all very confused.
According to google maps the northeastern limit to the city is the eastern side of Rouge Park. According to signage in the real world, however, Durham region begins just before Rouge Park. I felt that this was close enough to consider this an acceptable entry for the “Exiting the city” series. The urban grid of Toronto ends abruptly on the eastern side of Rouge Park with no major highways to cross, and mostly long concessions and rural roads leading you through the Greenbelt and into more rural areas.
The trip to Glen Rouge Park took about 3 hours, including snack breaks. Hoping to stumble upon other car-less camping folks, we camped in the “backpackers” section of the campground, but found ourselves wedged in between cars and RVs of all kinds. How you can pack a car into a backpack, I do not know. It wasn’t the most rustic of campgrounds, but it was a great place to stay to explore the many parks and wildlife in this area - salamanders, woodpeckers, toads, frogs, crayfish, and loads of brown eyed susans. Ray enjoyed it so much and is enough of a bike nut, that he did the trip by bike three times in one weekend.
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