Follow Peter Harte as he commutes from one end of the city to the other through all seasons and shares his recommendations on the safest, smoothest, and fastest routes in this dandy series.
Peter's Commute Part 1: City Place to the Upper Beaches
Photos and words by Peter Harte
Commute #1: CityPlace (Bathurst and Fort York) to Upper Beaches (Coxwell and Danforth)
Total distance 10.7 km
I’ve been taking this route from my place downtown to the Beaches, back and forth, at different times of the day for the last two weeks as I am taking care of a sweet cat called Indy that belongs to two good friends of mine. There are a lot of options to get from Bathurst and Fort York to Coxwell and Danforth, but I always prefer taking the waterfront trail when heading east or west to avoid busy streets in the core largely because I really dislike having to start and stop at intersections. I mean, some intersections within the city I swear can take two minutes before the light turns green. Doesn't seem like a lot of time when I write it, but when I have a great pace going and feel like I'm flying, it can be unbearably annoying – especially on a hot summer day and there's a car next to me blowing exhaust in my face.
Plus it’s safer than riding with all of the [car] traffic during rush hour and (party-time!) weekend nights. This route via the waterfront takes approximately 45 minutes and allows me to sprint on some sections of the Queen’s Quay bike path, and it gives me a short but challenging hill right as I’m getting close to my final destination. Here’s the full, detailed route - and why I love it.
From my house I take Dan Leckie Way south to the beautiful Queen’s Quay bike path and I can take that all the way east to Parliament Street. Sometimes if I get the traffic lights right, I don’t even have to stop once. I rode the bike detour route for nearly three years while this new boulevard and bike lane was being constructed, and now that it’s done I consider it my reward to ride along the lake and smell the scent of flowers in the air.
It really is a smooth and pretty bike path that is completely separated from [motor vehicle] traffic, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay close attention. This is a very busy area especially in the summer with tourists, large school groups, and families enjoying Toronto’s gorgeous waterfront.
Although the bike path and the sidewalk are different pavement colors with a few planters to help separate the two here and there, there are not many clear designations from a pedestrian’s perspective on where the bike lane and sidewalk are distinct. As both a cyclist and as a pedestrian in this neighbourhood, I have witnessed unsafe behavior from both. It takes is some vigilant behavior – that is, you really do have to pay attention – to use this path safely in these high-traffic parts. If there’s a red light or a STOP sign painted on the road, it’s probably for a good reason.
It is important to note that there are some sections of the path that are very high traffic with pedestrians crossing and walking into the bike path all the time, such as near George Brown College between Jarvis and Sherbourne streets.
There are several transit stops near here where groups get off the bus and can enter the bike lane without realizing where they are. This area also has the Corus office building and Sugar Beach with its adorable pink umbrellas, and it is also a common meeting point for outdoor city events. If you find yourself taking this path when pedestrian traffic is not as busy, you still need to be very careful of cars crossing into the bike path pulling in and out of the new condo buildings and aforementioned businesses that have recently risen here, as well as transport trucks pulling into the Redpath sugar factory.
As a side note related to the sugar factory, I was once confronted aggressively by a Redpath truck driver. He pulled up from the road onto the sidewalk and nearly hit me on the bike path. The issue was that he expected me to stop at a stop sign that is positioned in a very confusing way. The sign faces neither the bike path nor the trucks pulling into the factory, and is at a height that is higher than any standard stop sign in the city. I cannot say whether this is a city posted stop sign or a Redpath initiative, or if it’s meant for cyclists or for the transport trucks [considering its height], but either way: Be cautious on this section of the path. You can never expect a driver to stop for you, even if they are entering a bike lane. A good rule of thumb when on a bike is to always expect the unexpected.
One small, still problematic area on this path that I hope gets fixed soon is the sudden change where the bike lane and the sidewalk are positioned. For the majority of the path the sidewalk is south of the bike lane. However, just before you reach Parliament, the two lanes switch sides and the sidewalk is suddenly north of the bike lane.
The curb only slopes down in a small area at this crisscross point, and if it’s dark or you’re watching where that pedestrian in front of you is going, you can easily miss the slope, hit the higher curb and potentially fly over your handlebars. It’s also problematic when a cyclist is approaching this section at the same time as you heading in the opposite direction.
If even one of you is inexperienced with this crisscross, you could easily collide with one another if you aren’t paying close attention, and are ready to yield.
Once I’ve reached Parliament, I cross Lakeshore Boulevard and continue east on to the (perhaps, unofficial) bike path (above) that is on the north side of Lakeshore Blvd. I question how official it is because it is quite unkempt (and extremely icy in the winter), but it allows me to get onto Cherry Street without having to go through the Distillery District, which is always full of traffic. I then head north on Cherry and take the first right heading east on Mill Street and enter the brand new Canary District which was the previous Pan Am Athlete Village. I do have to be careful riding through here at night as the “World Cup of Hockey Fan Village” is here and the streets are full of taxis and drunk hockey fans.
Underpass park features these awesome images by Troy Lovegates.
If you haven’t been through the Canary District yet you really need to. Corktown Commons is a huge and beautiful park with tons of greenery and wildlife, there are several sculptures scattered throughout the streets, and there are very wide bike lanes everywhere. You’ll go through Underpass Park, which is full of commissioned graffiti and has lots of playground type things to climb on. Mill St. naturally curves into Bayview Ave., and then I take a quick left on Lawren Harris Square and a quick right onto River Street, and up towards Dundas.
OPTIONAL ROUTE Break: The Don River recreational path option.
Before I continue with my usual route, I wanted to stop and say that if I could not go north on Parliament, but instead continued on the waterfront path, I’d eventually get on to the Don River Trail, which is a scenic tree and bush lined recreational path along the river. I’d get off my bike at the staircase leading up to Queen Street and continue heading east. I do love this path and occasionally take it, but at night it’s very dark and there are often a lot of bugs that fly into your face. My salty sweat disintegrates them on contact, but their bodies remain stuck until I get home and shower them off. Add to that, that Queen east is often busy and doesn’t have a bike lane like Dundas does (see below) on my usual route.
River is currently undergoing some construction, and so this is the least favourite section of my route. But despite the street being reduced to one lane in each direction, the lanes themselves are wide enough to feel safe even if a car passes me. When I’m faced with this kind of a road or if there are cars parked along the side reducing my space, I often will take up the entire lane so motorists don’t think there is enough safe space to pass and so possibly hit me. I find that not many cars are using this section of River right now because of this construction, so I find myself sometimes having a bumpy, dirty, pylon-lined road all to myself.
Once I reach Dundas, I hang a right and continue my trip eastbound. I prefer taking Dundas over other streets because it has a nice and wide bike lane pretty much all the way until I need to start heading north on Greenwood Ave. Plus, crossing the Don Valley bridge on Dundas feels safe to me with the marked bike sharrows and wide car lanes.
Dundas also gives me the opportunity to check out the progress of the development at Carlaw Avenue. There was a time years ago when I’d often be at this intersection to rock climb at Rock Oasis and I can’t remember anything being here. In only a few short years there are now several coffee and sandwich shops, as well as the new home of Crow’s Theatre.
Once I reach Greenwood, I turn left and head north and begin my 1 km incline up to my final destination. As slight as it may look, my 3-speed sometimes just doesn’t have the right gear to match this hill. I choose Greenwood instead of Coxwell to head north on because although they are both busy, there is a pretty wide bike lane on Greenwood and the conditions of the road are nicer.
As you head under the bridge that’s where the hill really begins its incline and at this point I feel it’s best to hammer through hard instead of slow and steady because once I get to the top I know I’m taking the first right at Felstead Ave., and it’s an easy ride from there. Felstead (which turns into Hanson Street, my destination) has one of those partitions that creates a street that isn’t a thoroughfare - it doesn’t allow car traffic through - which makes it a less busy and safer street for the schools and parks close by.
However, there is a space to get through by bike so I take it, and cool down all the way along this lovely little residential street until I get to my friend’s house to feed Indy.
This is Peter Harte's commute #1 in this all-season dandyhorse series. Follow Peter as he rides from one end of the city to the other and shares his recommendations on the safest, smoothest, and fastest routes.
Next up: Sherbourne Common to Tarragon Theatre
This is right at Queens Quay and Dan Leckie Qay. It's the 60 m of interrupted bike path caused by a narrowing in the sidewalk. Very dangerous! Cyclists do not dismount (despite what the signs say) and pedestrians don't think to watch. Hey @waterfrontToronto @WaterfrontTO can you make this right?
UPDATE!!!! Waterfront Toronto replied:
In response to Peter's question about the gap in the Martin Goodman Trail at the Portland Slip/Dan Leckie Way:
In order to create enough space for both the Martin Goodman Trail (MGT) and sidewalk at the location you're referring to, the proposed solution is to square off the head of the Portland Slip, creating extra space where it currently narrows to a pinch point. This is what we've done at slips further east of here where we've installed WaveDecks. Because this extension of the MGT from Yo Yo Ma Lane to Stadium Road was only approved and tendered in January 2015, there was no time to implement any such solution before the Pan Am / Parapan Am Games. Along with our partners at the City of Toronto, we determined that it was important to open this new section of the MGT, despite the small gap, rather than delay the opening for more than a year. Working with the City of Toronto, we implemented a variety of cues last summer (in addition to the dismount signs) to make it clear to cyclists that they do not have the right of way at this location.
We are now ready to return to this location and begin the work necessary to square off the head of the Portland Slip, eliminating the pinch point and creating enough space for both the multi-use trail and the sidewalk. Our team is in place, and we are waiting for the necessary permit approvals to proceed. We hope to begin and complete this work as soon as possible, and will circulate details about the project timeline as soon as they are available.
Related on dandyhorsemagazine.com: