dandyCommute series: Church and Gerrard to Liberty Village

Text and photos by Joe Byer

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dandyCommute: Church and Gerrard to Libery Village (about 6 kilometres)

I’ve been working at my IT sales job for just over six years now, and during my entire tenure there I’ve made every effort to bike the five or more kilometres to Liberty Village from my condo in the Garden District every day possible. My original instincts were to take the most direct route, however over the years after a few close calls and general overall annoyance with the traffic in the core, I’ve extended my route to include safer and more enjoyable detours. This means adding a few kilometres to my trip, which means more time on my bike and a happier work-day.

I start off at Church and Gerrard, where it would make the most sense to head west along the Gerrard bike lane, right? The thing is Gerrard is getting pretty chewed up right now and the ongoing construction at Yonge makes it not much fun. So north I go; sometimes I take Carlton/College with an even more extensive bike lane (but that one throws you into a bottle neck in Little Italy, where two car lanes plus a bike lane swiftly shrinks to one car lane plus parking).

Church and Carlton

But more often then not, I’ll head even further north, into the Village ...

The Church Wellesley Village

Where there’s another bike lane pointing me west ...

Wellesley bike path looking west

That lane eventually disappears before the pockmarked intersection that is Yonge and Wellesley.

Yonge and Wellesley

But that eventually leads me to the lovely Queen’s Park Circle.

Wellesley approaching Queen's Park

Now, apparently, this is a “no bike” zone, according to the discussion on the Wellesley-Harbord bike lane upgrades and there’s much hand-wringing over what to do with this section; separated lane around the circle? Or a path that doesn’t take you through a parking lot?

I’ve never seen any conflict between pedestrians and the cyclists that pass through at jogging speed. So where’s the harm in saying, “Okay, bikes allowed, but please proceed with caution”?

Queen's Park Circle

Besides, I really like the view from here:

And it points me directly back to Harbord, through the University of Toronto campus and more bike lanes.

Heading west on Hoskin

And a few of these handy bike boxes at the next two intersections, St. George then Spadina.

Bike boxes

The ride through here is nice and mellow. A re-paving of the surface a few years back saw a break in some of the lanes and “sharrows” put in their place. I’ve referred to sharrows as the “dry-hump of cycling infrastructure”* but those breaks are short and for the most part Harbord is one of the safest routes downtown.

Riding along Harbord

The recent addition of a new stoplight at Clinton can kinda wreck your flow if you don’t hit the greens just right, but it’s all good because it slows down car traffic through this school zone.

Harbord and Clinton

Unfortunately, this happens to the heavier eastbound bike traffic most mornings:

Traffic - and parked vehicles - on Harbord

Usually I’ll head down Grace, but a spill earlier this year on an icy day has irked me since. Warning to the winter cycling warriors: that left turn lane is on the perfect part of the slope to catch the wind and freeze over when the rest of the road is otherwise fine [making for dangerous black ice conditions]. Left one heck of a bruise on my hip!

Harbord and Grace

So lately I’ve been taking Shaw. One-way southbound to Dundas, there’s plans to make this contraflow for bikes in the near future.

Shaw Street

With more low-rise condos and townhouses in progress, I’m sure the new residents will be pleased to bike north or south.

The tricky part of biking on Shaw is crossing College. Some mornings you have to gamble on a pedestrian wanting to cross here, triggering the lights above. Part of the contraflow redesign would see bike-specific signals installed here.

College and Shaw

Another positive on the contraflow installation would be resurfacing Shaw through some of the rougher spots (see below):

The state of Shaw Street: yikes!

So it will be as smooth as this section just north of Dundas.

Shaw Street - much better

Two-way traffic kicks back in at Dundas:

I’m not sure what will become of the grassy median when Shaw gets overhauled [as part of the contraflow redesign], but right now it’s a pleasant but narrow stretch where I’m always slightly nervous that some impatient driver will be revving right behind me -- but with a 40 km/h limit on a slight downhill I rarely experience any conflicts.

Heading south on Shaw

South of Queen it gets less claustrophobic as I glide by the CAMH grounds, where they’ve literally torn down the walls to be better entwined with the Queen West community. I really do love what they’ve done with the place.

CAMH grounds at Shaw

The underpass on King West is probably my least favourite part of my commute. I can build up quite a velocity passing under the train tracks, but with tight lanes and no room for error I tend to “take the lane” for my own safety. This is the one spot I run into the most impatient drivers as they feel inclined to blast down the right lane -- there is inevitably a row of cars in the left lane attempting to turn left into Liberty Village.

King Street West approaching the underpass/Liberty Village

I soldier on through the underpass and shoot out the other side to make my own less-than-savoury left turn. Et viola ... I’m in Liberty Village.

Liberty Village

Liberty itself isn’t great for biking in – the roads are narrow, there are a lot of four-way stops, many stretches of road don't have sidewalks and in some places there are even bricks poking out of the pavement from the area’s past life as a manufacturing 'hood. With plenty of new condos rising, the city will have to devise better ways to get people in and out of Liberty Village that will offset the endless stream of single-occupant vehicles; the lone, meandering bus route doesn’t quite do the trick today.

But for me, it’s not the destination, but the journey itself. This commute – usually about 25 minutes door-to-door for me – is one of the shorter routes I’ll take when the weather gets nice. When the temperature hits double-digits, I’ll often swing all the way through the Junction, past High Park before hitting the Martin Goodman trail. The more time I can spend on my bike in a day, the happier I am!

I’m not looking forward to the redesign of the Wellesley and Harbord bike lanes. Any discussion I’ve heard so far has pointed to the separated bike lane design that was used on Sherbourne, and we all know how well that’s working. I will reserve judgement until I test the route, but something tells me I may be looking at a longer route in the future.

When not working as an Apple IT Consultant, Joe Byer is on his bike to and from work or for longer rides throughout Toronto.

*dandyhorse supports all cycling infrastructure. We hope that sharrows in Toronto act as gateway infrastructure to more bike lanes.

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