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. You can read this first installment here, and the second post here.
Trinity Bellwoods to The Junction: The Hipster Pilgrimage
Photos and words by Peter Harte
"I'm thinking of moving to The Junction" is a statement most of us have heard from at least one friend over the past five years. Whether it's to take a breather from living right downtown, or maybe even to purchase property, or just to test the waters in a new up-and-coming Toronto neighbourhood, The Junction has had a hip and trendy status for a few years now. It's not uncommon to find yourself heading there for dinners, drinks, or to your friend's new house warming party.
I was recently invited to a birthday dinner at Playa Cabana Cantina at 2883 Dundas West near Dupont. A few other invitees and I were having some typical summer park drinks in Trinity Bellwoods beforehand. We were laughing at the thought of our "hipster pilgrimage" as our bicycle caravan headed "up north" to the birthday dinner party.
The Junction seems so far away, and especially from Bellwoods it can feel like no matter which route you take there is always a hill which (especially as a Torontonian used to flat roads) kind of mentally prevents you from commuting very far north via bike. But take the West Toronto Railpath and you'll be shot up from Dundas to Dupont in no time at all with a very gradual incline, and no cars to contend with - and you'll get to see a little part of Toronto that you didn't know existed. I find this route beautiful and I love taking friends on it because you really get that downtown neighbourhood experience that makes Toronto so unique, especially when heading west towards Brockton Village/Little Portugal and zig-zagging through all of the small tree-lined streets.
Bellwoods Park. We suggest taking this path that is just on the north side of the playground instead of riding through the playground.
Before I begin, I have to admit, I am a bad person. I am an awful, hypocritical, terrible person who is about to suggest that you should travel the wrong way down some one-way streets. Of course, there are some side streets in Toronto where bicycles are already exempt from the one-way restrictions imposed on vehicular traffic. I always prefer the alternative of taking a quiet side street (even if it's one-way the 'wrong' way) to taking a busier road. You just need to use extra caution and be aware that other people will not be expecting you.
My thoughts are similar when thinking about pedestrian jaywalking or cyclists rolling through stop signs; if you're doing something that is not technically legal, remember that you don't really have the right-of-way and so you better hustle across that street or be very sure that no one is crossing that intersection before you roll on through with caution. When cycling in the wrong direction, my speed is slow, my eyes are peeled, and if a car is coming towards me you better believe I'm pulling over to let them pass. So, take any of these route suggestions if you want or not - my commute tales are not meant to be prescriptive or definitive; just helpful, and from the perspective who has been biking for a long time and always has safety on my mind!
I know heading westward from Bellwoods offers some great views of neighbourhood streets, and so I exit the park on the west side at Lobb Ave., turn right at Shaw St. for a short northbound block in front of the Artscape Youngplace building before turning left onto Argyle St., which is the wrong way on a one-way street heading east! Turning left from Shaw onto Argyle requires much caution as you're entering Argyle the wrong way, but the parkette median in the middle of Shaw St does provide a nice safe spot for you to sit while waiting for a safe time to cross. Argyle can sometimes feel like a bit of a cyclist super highway as it's a popular alternative to using the busier Queen or Dundas Streets.
Like most streets in this neighbourhood, the direction of traffic frequently switches between eastbound and westbound, and in this case even switches to both directions at times. I'm travelling in the wrong direction for just two short blocks until I cross Ossington Ave. where cyclists then can continue on using the bike lane. There is a combination of designated bike lanes and bike sharrow decals painted frequently on this street, including in the middle of intersections which I think is a fantastic way to visually remind vehicles that this is a popular road for cyclists. At the end of Argyle is Gladstone Ave., and I need to head northbound in the wrong direction again for a few short blocks until I turn left at Stonehouse Crescent. (My only other option here to avoid riding in the wrong direction is to turn southbound on Gladstone, and then make a right on Alma and and then travel up Dufferin for about 4 blocks. I do not like biking on Dufferin and I don't think many other people do either. It's full of very fast drivers and buses, and the quality of the road can be dangerous at times.)
Stonehouse is a short street that ends at Dufferin, and this is where I need to cross to get onto Bank St. to continue westwards. Crossing Dufferin requires patience as it's a major street and here there is no traffic light. If I ever get frustrated while waiting to scoot across the street, I can always head down half a block to where there is a traffic light to help me cross. [Ed's Note: West-end Cycle Toronto advocates have been lobbying to improve this Dufferin crossing - but so far, the city has not been able to provide an adequate solution for a safer, likely signalized, crossing.]
After getting onto Bank, this is where I find some of my favourite streets in the city. I love the small row houses in Brockton village full of Portuguese influence, and the schools and community centres really make it feel like you are in a small suburban city. The trees are large and in the fall the colourful leaves fill the roads and I feel like I'm riding over a street covered with Frosted Flakes. (Watch out when it's raining though - those 'flakes' can get slippery!) At the end of Bank is McCormick Park and arena and St. Veronica Catholic School. It can be a little busy around here at times of the day when parents are picking up their kids, and I need to be extra careful again as I make a right turn heading in the wrong direction (just for just a second!) on Sheridan Ave., before turning left on Frankish Ave.
I then zig-zag right at Brock Ave., and then immediately left on Wyndham St. for another street lined with some of the original working class row houses from the turn of the 20th century. I turn right up St. Clarens Ave. and then left on Shirley St. where I encounter some construction preventing me from accessing Lansdowne Ave. But that's no matter because I know a nice back alley detour that will get us north to Dundas St. Toronto has some really cool alley ways filled with garages that are covered with beautiful graffiti. This alley unfortunately isn't an example of one of those, but sometimes if you look up you can unexpectedly find something (or someone) attractive to look at.
After exiting the alley and finding myself at Lansdowne and Dundas. I need to head west and find the West Toronto RailPath. This intersection is large and often busy and I find myself crossing Dundas using the cross walk and then waiting for the light to change before I continue west. I'm only riding on Dundas for a minute, up hill, past College, before a bike lane appears, and then the West Toronto Rail Path entrance is at the next street at Sterling Ave. Proper signage and a Bike Share station make the entrance much easier to locate compared to a few years ago. A major facelift has been made on this path as well, and you'll even pass the new entrance to the Dundas West stop on the Union Pearson Express train line.
The RailPath is a true gem in the city of Toronto offering a quick and safe way to get north from Dundas to Cariboo Ave. just north of Dupont.
Not to mention the beautiful work that has been done with the planting of indigenous species along the sides of the path, and some always-interesting graffiti along the way as well. The RailPath also does a great job clearly indicating when you are approaching Bloor and Dupont, and provides a mural lined stairwell to carry your bike down (or you can roll it using the flat bit under the handrail) to get off the path and back into the traffic-filled street.
I exit at Dupont, and walk my bike on the sidewalk for about 100 metres until I can get on the road and ride again, until it turns into Dundas St West.
This intersection is a little intimidating and very confusing as it intersects Dupont, Dundas West, Annette, and Old Weston Rd. The streets seem to turn into one other and you find what seems like two different streets named Dundas West on either side of the Dupont-Dundas Traffic Island. There are bike lanes throughout this intersection which help me navigate, but I will admit I did have to pull over and ask someone which street was actually Dundas West because I was confused.
I am now officially in The Junction! As I continue on Dundas West I can see why this neighbourhood is attracting more and more people. The street is full of folks walking and enjoying the unusually warm October weather, and I pass several bars, cafes, restaurants, and bakeries.
It's hard not to feel like I am on another stretch of Bloor West as I pull over on the side of the road, lock up my bike, and head into this cozy Mexican restaurant with a large selection of Tequilas. Good thing we made a reservation because this place is busy - and I've worked up a good appetite.
Next up: Peter rides from St. James Town up to the Duff! (The Dufferin Mall.)
This is Peter Harte's commute #3 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.
Read Peter's Routes Part 1 and Part 2