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 rest are linked below. Safe rides everyone!
Peter's Commute Part 5: The Epic downtown end-to-end
Brockton Village (St. Clarens Avenue) to Distillery District (Mill and Cherry Streets) –
Story and Photos by Peter Harte
A few years ago, I lived at St. Clarens Ave. and Dundas St., and it was during that time when I fell in love with Brockton Village/Dundas West. I still consider it one of my favourite neighbourhoods in the city. There’s something about the original working-class row houses combined with very apparent Portuguese and Italian influenced renovations, alongside jarringly contemporary rebuilds that makes you want to spend the better part of an afternoon strolling around and soaking up the historical heritage and culture that this neighbourhood has to offer.
When I lived there I worked at Soulpepper Theatre in The Distillery District, and I’d ride my bike to work via some convenient side streets "off the grid," and eventually hit the Martin Goodman Trail on the waterfront to rip across town and get to my desk in less than half an hour. Not bad for a trip just shy of 9 km. But it’s not just about speed: This route avoids most major roads and traffic congestion during rush hour (with the exception of a few hundred metres on Queen Street West in Parkdale), and gets you on a designated bike path within the first 3 km. (Not to mention the couple hills along the way that kept my butt on fleek for twelve months.)
I would begin my morning heading south on St. Clarens until I reached Wyndham St., which is pretty much the beginning of St. Clarens. Off Wyndham I’d then I’d take an immediate right onto Delaney Cres., follow the bend in the road until Brock St, then I’d sail downhill on Brock in a bike lane and pass under the bridge below the train tracks.
The designated bike lane ends once you get through the underpass and reach the top of the hill, and the street here becomes considerably narrower as you approach Queen St. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is an opportunity where I feel completely at right to use the full lane if there is not enough space for a vehicle to pass.
Brock St. is usually pretty busy in the mornings, and once you reach Queen St. the traffic can feel a bit more intimidating. Turning left from Brock onto Queen St. can be a bit of a pain too because the light takes forever to change and the lanes are too tight to pass cars safely if there’s a traffic jam. But it’s only a brief inconvenience because I know I’ll be hitting up the Martin Goodman trail soon enough. After I’ve made it onto Queen I need to pass under the Dufferin St. bridge before I can turn onto Sudbury St. and avoid the terrible Queen West traffic.
The road conditions under this bridge are in need of some tender love and care and I’m surprised it’s taken so long to get fixed. (Councillor Perks are you reading?) I swear it’s been years of the same potholes and crumbling pavement. That, combined with low lighting and a small but steep hill to climb as you finish the underpass can make you feel vulnerable, and it may take a new cyclist a few rides before they feel confident riding in this east-west underpass when its busy. All I can suggest is do what feels safe, and if that means riding in the middle of the lane to claim your space or dismounting and walking under the bridge then do that!
But literally after you’ve passed under this bridge it’s all smooth roads and bike lanes for the next 7 km. I make an immediate right turn on to Sudbury St. where there is a seemingly small hill, but surprisingly takes a little hoofing to get up. (Your could try my inspirational mantra: “butt cheeks on fleek, butt cheeks on fleek.”) Sudbury is a great way to avoid Queen St. traffic.
There are a few condo buildings on this stretch and at times cars or taxis are pulled over and can make it tricky to pass as other cars are travelling in the opposite direction. But this is still a safer and quicker alternative to riding on Queen in my opinion, and at the end of the day cars are going to pull over, taxis will pick people up, and everybody is just trying to get where they are going, right? I try to practice patience on my commutes.
Sudbury continues on until it eventually reaches King St., and I only need to be on King for a second (or two) until I can turn right on Douro St., and follow this second lesser used road to continue eastbound to Strachan Ave. Here, Strachan now has a beautiful and smooth bike lane since the roads have been repaved and the bridge over the train tracks has been completed.
When I used to ride this route to work everyday, the streets were consistently covered with dirt (or mud if it was raining), and the temporary curve created in the road during the new bridge construction would often cause cars to veer into the bike lane. I like to think that drivers were legitimately unaware that they were not within their lane, but from a cyclist's point of view it was a dangerous construction filled dust bowl. But I digress. Today, I can ride in a wide 2-m bike lane all the way to Lakeshore Blvd. and access the absolutely beautiful Martin Goodman trail just opposite the Princess gates at the Exhibition grounds. When I would stop here and wait for the light to turn green, I would always feel a sense of pride and love for Toronto and it’s beautiful downtown parks.
I should point out that if I was describing a winter ride, this entrance onto the path would be declared a danger zone as patches of ice form here due to an untrue level in the pavement, and several times I have wiped out even when trying to be careful. However, today it is late October and the path is lined with autumn-coloured trees and the most perfect briskness in the air.
This stretch of the Martin Goodman trail in Coronation Park is my favourite path section in the entire city. Old trees, a dog park, lots of greenery surround you, and you can even see boats docked in Lake Ontario. I swear the air smells so much fresher around here! But again, in the wintertime it’s a different story. At night this stretch of the trail is so poorly lit that you literally cannot see a pedestrian until they are only feet in front of you. I remember a time when my bike light was out of power and I rode through here at night and all I could do was bulge my eyes out as far as they’d go and try and take in as much light as possible.
Once I reach Stadium Rd. it’s quite apparent that I am at an unsuspecting busy intersection due to several caution and yield signs painted right on the path and of course a stop sign instructing me to stop. You’d think that this would be enough for cyclists to understand, but surprisingly I see more people sail through here without even slowing down than I do people obeying the law. And yes, I understand the idea of the Idaho Stop and admit to it myself. But I believe that when you’re at an intersection like this, cars have no idea what you’re going to do and you have to treat it like the four way stop that it is.
After you cross, you enter a bike lane that is so clearly marked with flexi-posts that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a car parked or someone jay walk through here in the three or so years that it’s looked this way. It can look a bit ugly, but it’s smart because this street is between a few high-rise buildings and a well-used park. After crossing Bathurst St. the sidewalk and the bike lane blend a little more together and it’s time to be cautious again because here is a busy community centre and a lot of people travelling to and from the nearby Billy Bishop Airport. I think that this corner could use some designation improvements, and from the red spray painted lines on the sidewalk it looks like the city has something planned in mind. But going from a stretch of bike lane with an over abundance of flexi-posts, to a sidewalk and bike lane designated by simple white squares on the ground, it’s a wonder that we don't have more collisions here.
I’ve noticed a few similar spots on the bike path just east of here where new LOOK letters have been placed on the sidewalk, and I guess it makes sense having them down on the ground instead of up on a sign since most people are looking down at their phones and not paying attention to their surrounding anyway. *smirk*
As I continue on the waterfront section of the path, I reach the 60-m stretch where signs on the road instruct me to dismount. I brought up this area in my first entry in this series, and waterfront Toronto replied that an improvement will be made to close up the “Portland Slip” which would then allow for enough space for cyclists and pedestrians to travel in their own lanes instead of this abruptly ending.
This section also has a fork in the road that gives you the option to stay on the bike path or travel even closer to the water’s edge and stroll through the Toronto Music Garden and the Spadina Quay Wetlands.
This is a section of Toronto’s waterfront that surprisingly some of my friends have told me they never knew existed. It is absolutely stunning at all times of the year, and is home to Toronto’s only floating hotel, the Making Waves Boatel. You read that right.
From then on it’s the waterfront bike path that I wrote about before also in my initial entry. There’s nothing more enjoyable than flying across town on your bike before heading into work and sitting at a desk all day. I loved my job at Soulpepper, and this daily ride would really wake me up and allow me to tackle the day, before I even had my first cup of coffee. It also eliminated any stress that the TTC would have given me.
I’d come into work feeling like I just had an intense workout while others would come rushing in complaining about transit delays. My current commute is now a mere 3.7 km north on Bathurst St., and so it’s not quite as enjoyable, but at least I’m fortunate enough to live and work downtown that commuting via bike or foot is an option.
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.
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