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For the uninitiated, cycling the busy streets of Toronto, Ontario, can seem daunting.
By Jake Tobin Garrett
For the uninitiated, cycling the busy streets of Toronto, Ontario, can seem daunting. But if you ride smart, it’s easy to get around by bike without breaking a sweat in this dense and flat city.
While some brave the cold to bike through winter, it’s in the warmer months that the city really comes alive, with thousands of bikes on roads and in city parks. A trip to Trinity Bellwoods Park in July often presents just as many bikes as people. Then there’s the ever-improving waterfront trail, which connects many parks and beaches.
Toronto also offers plenty of green spaces to bike in. There are recreational trails that thread through the beloved ravine system in Don Valley, or the car-free Toronto Island, lying just off the shore in Lake Ontario. Hopping on the ferry to the island with your bike is the perfect way to escape the city for a few hours on a sweltering summer day.
Many of the main streets can be intimidating to ride on, and the presence of streetcar tracks means cyclists have to pay extra attention, but good bike lanes exist, such as those on College and St. George streets. The overall patchiness of the cycling network means there is still room for improvement, although the installation of the Jarvis Street bike lane, as well as the University of Toronto campus’s bike boxes and the new BIXI bike share system, are welcome additions.
Riding along low-traffic residential streets is a good way to avoid riding on main roads. The north-south Palmerston Boulevard is a great route – you won’t encounter many cars and it’s filled with beautiful houses and big trees.
James Schwartz, cyclist and blogger at theurbancountry.com said that bicycling “is the most reliable form of transportation, and usually the fastest, too. I can leave my house and consistently know exactly what time I will arrive at my destination.”
Andrea Garcia, director of advocacy and operations for the Toronto Cyclists Union, agreed. “I like that biking gets me places really quickly,” she said. “I mean, you can’t always say you breathe fresh air in the city, but it beats being underground on the subway.”
With over a thousand members, the Bike Union works to energize and unite riders, setting up bicycle service stations, offering a bike pub night and pressing city hall to make infrastructure improvements. Generally, the cycling community in Toronto is lively and vocal, with the last Friday of every month given over to a Critical Mass group ride. In fact, there are so many bikers in Toronto that even with over 16,000 post-and-ring parking spots, it can be difficult to find a place to lock up.
When Rob Ford was elected mayor in 2010, cyclists were worried. After all, this was the man who claimed streets were for cars, trucks and buses. But with Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s proposal for a separated bike lane network in the downtown core, combined with Toronto’s vocal cycling advocates, it’s clear that cycling in Toronto is here to stay.
Originally from Vancouver , BC, Jake Tobin Garrett is a writer currently completing a Master’s in Urban Planning from the University of Toronto. He is an avid cyclist, voracious reader and park-lover. He also writes regularly for the Torontoist and Spacing Magazine.
@jaketobin | deconstructedcity.blogspot.com