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