Learning to Travel Like a Cyclist in Toronto

Traffic Accident Blues

It’s been about 4 years since I first moved to Toronto.

I came here with a car and the intention of furthering my career and learn to survive in the big city. Over the past four years I’ve established a career, lost a car along the way and learned that survival on the streets of Toronto is achieved in more ways than one.

I really can’t say I miss my car. Even when it’s raining or snowing or when I have to buy a lot of groceries, I can honestly say I don’t miss my old green menace one bit (green as in the colour and not as in some environmentally beneficial quality of my old car, so I guess it was a “green menace” in a few ways).

However, my car (and my time as a motorist) has left me with a few personal habits that I’m trying to kick. When I set out on my bicycle, I have to remind myself that I no longer have to travel like a motorist. I’m no longer confined to the routes that cars and trucks must follow. It’s difficult at first, but freeing myself from my “motorist habits” is one of the most liberating aspects of becoming a bicycle commuter or, more simply, a cyclist.

There are some habits I can’t give up. Like stopping for red lights, signaling my intentions and not driving the wrong way down one-way streets. Those are good habits that I developed behind the wheel. And I still follow these today.

However, finding the most direct and fastest route to my destination is a habit I’m trying to break. Whether I take the main arterial roads or if I choose to discover a few quiet side streets and paths through parks, the time difference is often negligible.

Toronto’s lack of safe and consistent cycling infrastructure provides the opportunity to be more creative with your route. In cities like Amsterdam, cycling infrastructure is so prominent it makes more sense to take the main routes. Side streets in Amsterdam are cobblestone-paved, car-parked, child-playing areas that simply don’t offer the opportunities to escape main street mayhem like the park trails and side streets of Toronto.

For example, to get from Davisville to Parkdale I could follow the subway and street car lines. Taking Yonge south to King, and then King west to Parkdale is an option. There’s a lot of traffic and a lot of obstacles along the way, but it is direct and a route that the motorist in me would take.

On my bike it’s a whole other story. I can cut through the quiet streets of Summerhill, bypassing the traffic throttling barriers to keep motorists from cutting through this area on their way from Yonge to Avenue road (or vice-versa). I can follow the bike lanes down Bedford or wind my way through the quiet streets in the Annex. Further south I can get from Dundas to Queen Street through Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Sure, I’ve taken a few wrong turns, but these never end in disaster. A wrong turn on a bicycle becomes a chance for discovery. New routes are always possible by bicycle, and rarely will they be blocked by rush hour traffic.

In Toronto, surviving the city streets on a bicycle means developing the habit of seeing possible connections between our side streets and park trails and the places we want to go.

Have you made a few “short cut” discoveries in your travels through Toronto? You can share them in the BikingToronto Bicycle Route Mapping Wiki.

Photo via the_lake_effect’s Flickr


  1. I too have been in Toronto for almost 5 years now, got rid of my car about 2 years ago and don’t miss it either. I bike to work when the weather is nice (yes, I’m a wuss!). I have a route I go, but it’s really busy and I know there must be a nicer way to get there. I posted on #BikeRouteWiki. If you have any suggestions for a better one, I’m all ears!

  2. Hello Dawn, I can’t seem to find your post on #BikeRouteWiki. Feel free to share in this comment section where you’re traveling to and from and I’ll see if I can help. If not, someone else on BikingToronto will step up for sure!

    It took me getting stuck in a really hard downpour to finally start biking in weather that wasn’t nice and sunny.

    And same here, I don’t miss my “always breaking down and costing me too much money and stress” car either!

  3. Hi Duncan, Dawn,

    I know that Bedford route well, it’s a beauty. Is the pic Queen’s Quay and Bathurst?

    Dawn, thank you very much for making a map and posting it in the Twitter list! I saw your comment above and found your map through the Sport Distance Calculator’s RSS feed. Tonight I made an alternative route map for your commute to work and published it in the Toronto/GTA Bicycle Route Mapping Wiki Blog:


    This route avoids King Street which I know is BUSY and dangerous (imho) from Jarvis all the way over to Spadina

    On the lost post to the Twitter list (#BikeRouteWiki), I checked for your tweet but it is not showing up: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23BikeRouteWiki. Sometimes Twitter is slow in posting new list additions.

    The only other thing I can think of that might have miss-directed it:
    – The list tag you posted is spelt differently than mine.
    – The # tag isn’t ‘live’.

    Look in your Tweet history – if you feel like it – and check to see if the link turns colour when you hover over it with your cursor.

    I’m wondering why it didn’t show up in the list. I’d like to fix any problems if there are any.

    Also, I’m going to publish Your Map at the Toronto/GTA Bicycle Route Mapping Wiki Blog soon.

    Also anyone who wants to make a map but doesn’t use Twitter, just post the URL in my Biking Toronto Blog (http://bikingtoronto.com/michaelhollowayblog/) and I’ll take it from there. :)


  4. Uh ha! I went to ‘lake effects’ photo stream and read that it’s Lake Shore Blvd and Park Lawn.

    Claire at Fletcher Five Blog indicated the other day that she was thinking of Lake Shore from Royal York to Humber Bay Park – I quickly mapped her an alternative route. :)

  5. Just found this blog and instantly recognized the location of the photo as being exactly where I start my ride into TO every morning. In fact, I come out from our building on to lakeshore right where the little blue car is. In the spirit of the blog, most cyclists continue along Lakeshore to Marine Parade Drive where they hook up with the waterfront trail. Instead, try turning right just east of where the pic is taken and hook up with the paved trail that takes you across the creek. Follow the trail south of Marine Parade Drive past the water management ponds and then you end up on the waterfront trail. Very scenic and it only adds an extra 20 metres to your trip!

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