Peter’s Routes: St. James Town to Dufferin Mall

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, the second post here and the third commute is here.

Peter's Commute Part 4: Memories of shopping for cheap sh*t... by bike

St. James Town (Sherbourne and Isabella) to Dufferin Mall

5.8 km

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Photos and words by Peter Harte

This route gives me fond memories because it takes me back to around the time when I first moved to Toronto, was borrowing a bike, and didn’t have much experience on the roads. And yes, back then, I felt intimidated by the mega city traffic. Nineteen-year-old Peter was living in St. Jamestown on loan money from the Ontario government while studying at Ryerson. Rent was low, and my threshold for living in a neighbourgood with a reputation of violence was high. Did I mention that I was broke? These memories of bike trips over to the Dufferin Mall to visit the only Walmart I knew of for all my discount product needs still holds a special place in my heart today. Of course, I wish I had known about Honest Eds at the time…

This route was recommended by my friend as a safe route across town. At the time, cycling infrastructure in Toronto was not as robust as it is today, and a lot of the bike lanes that I’m using now did not exist then. However, it’s interesting to see that the route I took 12 years ago is the exact same route that I would take today. I think this is in part because the city has built separated bike lanes and placed sharrows in spots where they were really needed. This route from point A (St. James Town) to point B (the Walmart at "the Duff") made sense then and still makes sense now, but today I have the luxury of feeling safer, at times being guided by the bike lanes and arrows underneath my wheels.

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Sherbourne Street now has a great example of a proper bike lane. Completely separated from traffic and wide enough in some places to even pass another cyclist, this bike lane can take you all the way from the waterfront to Bloor Street, and offers a kick-ass reminder that Toronto has an ever so slightly annoying northbound incline. My starting point was my old apartment in 555 Sherbourne (which taxi drivers coined “The Triple Nickel”), and so I’m able to jump right into this bike lane from the beginning and head south. Instead of making the obvious choice and turning right on Wellesley, which has a really nice bike lane as well, I like to turn earlier on a street called Lourdes Lane. It was created after the large condo went up at this intersection and is a nice example of what could be described as a contemporary alleyway. Factory style lofts and young sapling trees line this street, and you can still see the smokestack from the old Wellesley Hospital steam generation power plant which gives the street a nice downtown touch, and I’m sure a nice increase in property value. This route also allows me to avoid travelling along the slight bend on Wellesley St. that would cause me to briefly travel in the negative direction. (I hate that.)

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Lourdes Lane does eventually take me to Wellesley and I turn right heading eastwards using another great example of a bike lane.

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Wellesley’s bike lane alternates between sharrows, a designated lane, a designated lane with flexi posts, and a lane completely separated from traffic through a curb. You’ll even find yourself with both directions of bike traffic in the same designated lane. As far as examples of bike lane designs go, Wellesley has a lot to show. I eventually ride through the south end of Queens Park, and before I enter U of T there is a unique island in the road that provides a safe intersection crossing for cars, bikes, and pedestrians alike.

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I continue cycling east and go under the small bridge and onto Hart House Cirle within U of T. Not only is this a beautiful section of the campus, but also there are bike sharrows on the road accompanied with treads or rumble strips to slow down traffic. Even though I don't want to ride over rumble strips, the cycling bits are more filled in and it does remind cyclists to slow down in this very pedestrian heavy area. I continue on and follow the Circle until I eventually ride under Soldiers’ Tower next to Hart House. Why I always feel like an excited kid when I do this, I don’t know. Feels like Harry Potter land to me.

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After heading under, I have to slow down and travel carefully because I’m now in the Hart House parking lot. It’s a little narrow and if a car is backing out of a spot you really have to ring your bell and make your presence known. I’ve never had a problem going through here, but you do have to be alert.

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It’s only a short trip through to get to Hoskin Ave., where I turn left and continue eastbound eventually finding myself on the closest thing to a cycle highway that Toronto has, aka Harbord Street.

Harbord is a great route when travelling east or west. I feel true solidarity in numbers when I find myself riding alongside many other cyclists. Harbord does have patches with several restaurants and cafes and both vehicle and foot traffic can be heavy. It also seems like this street suffers from the most number of cars parked or pulled over in a bike lane; which is crazy because so many cyclists (thousands) use this street every day.

While I was riding I noticed this courtesy driver making a proper right-hand turn onto Spadina Avenue, by pulling up enough first so they would not cross into the bike lane before turning. It really shows how effective the green painted area can be.

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Continuing on Harbord I get lucky and hit green lights all the way to Ossington Avenue, and even remember to hold my breath as I pass the Krispy Kreme shop to avoid the devil’s temptation.

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When reaching Ossington, I turn left and immediately have to stand up on my pedals because of the poor conditions of the road. It's a little jarring after making a wide left (vehicular) turn with car traffic and coming off of a smooth bike path. I’m only on Ossington for a moment until I turn right on Dewson St., and immediately find myself next to a school yard and in another one of Toronto’s tree lined neighbourhoods. Dewson has quite a few patches of road that could use some fixing. But in a way it prevents traffic from moving too fast, which is wise because even with bike sharrows this street is not wide, and is filled with opportunities for kids to jump out in front of you. On roads like this I am reminded of all the training videos games has taught me in how to suspect and avoid oncoming objects. See? Video games are good for you. I’ve never run over a child in my life.

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Dewson ends at Havelock St., which I’m just on for a quick swing-wing left and then a right, right away to get onto Sylvan Ave. before entering delightful Dufferin Grove Park. I ooh and ahh at the red lettering of the Duff Mall, cross the street and tangle my bike up with others at the bike racks, and then try and get the hell in and out of that Walmart as fast as I can!

Related Articles

Peter's Commute: City Place to Upper Beaches 

Peter's Commute: Sherbourne Commons to Tarragon Theatre

Bike Spotting at Harbord and St. George

Harbord and Shaw Streets by Bike for the First Time

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