Yesterday I challenged myself to ride downtown and back from my new home in the Sheppard and Don Mills area. Since I moved in a month and a half ago, I have been contemplating what route would be best and how long it might take. I was also thinking of how arduous the trip back might be–uphill the whole way, I thought.
Thanks to the internet and modern technology, I was able to figure out what the most efficient way downtown would be. I also considered the safety factor and the amount of riding on trails vs. roadways I was comfortable with. After some consideration, I came up with this route.
You will notice that about half my ride was on Don Mills Road, essentially a hilly six-lane north-south highway. I studied some of the ravine trails, as well as the Toronto Cycling Map, but I found most of the connections to be complicated and a bit out of the way (further complicated by the fact that the Leaside Rail Trail is not yet complete– a key connection for this route). Hence I decided to take a risk on Don Mills, with the knowledge that there are “HOV”/Priority curb lanes (meaning only taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, buses and cars with 3+ occupants can use it). It should be noted that these lanes are only in effect during rush hours (7am-10am and 3pm-7pm, Monday to Friday).
The curbside priority lanes on Don Mills Road (Google StreetView capture)
I started out from my home around 5:30pm, meaning the priority lanes were in effect. For the most part, riding along Don Mills was not too bad– cars respected the priority lane and traffic came in bursts from stoplights. Though I would not take my teenage siblings for a ride along Don Mills due to the safety factor, it was efficient and usable enough for me. The only complaints I have would be the large potholes, sewer grates and aggressive taxi drivers that made me uncomfortable at select points.
Following Don Mills from Sheppard all the way down to its unceremonious end at the Don Valley Parkway, I made the mistake of not turning off Don Mills at the Ontario Science Centre. Don Mills south of Overlea Boulevard becomes a four-lane undivided expressway, with cars racing down the hill towards the Don Valley Parkway at speeds upwards of 80 km/h. South of Overlea Boulevard you also lose the priority lane, and so you are squeezed up against the curb (no sidewalks on the west side of Don Mills, either). Finally, at the foot of a long hill, I found the entrance to the Lower Don Trail system that I had identified on my computer at home. However, that entrance (mostly for cars) was a dangerous left turn for a cyclist to make. I was stopped at the side of the road for a good 3 minutes, waiting for a suitable gap in the four lanes of traffic– but it was far too difficult. Fortunately, I rode 100m further south and there I found an entrance to the trail. Safe and sound, off the wild Don Mills Road.
The Lower Don trail is wonderful. Mostly flat and a suitable width for two-way traffic, I zoomed downtown on the second leg of my journey. I saw all sorts of people on bicycles– mid-aged gearheads, families with children, elderly couples, and casual cyclists. While the trail was busy, not once did I get stuck behind pedestrians or joggers while waiting to pass. My only complaint on this portion of the trip were the number of portions where the trail narrowed significantly– especially a portion where it appeared an embankment for the DVP was being rehabilitated. A narrow two-way trail and construction fencing made for some danger.
I was also struck at how the straightened portion of the Don River had the potential to be just like, if not better than, the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. As I cycled, I looked to my left and saw a neighbourhood (Corktown) full of old brick warehouses and shiny new condominiums peering over the DVP towards the Don. It occurred to me that if it weren’t for the tangle of infrastructure (the DVP ramps, rail line, hydro corridor), the chain-link fencing, rusty wall along the Don, and the non-landscaped foliage, this would be a tourist magnet.
Finally, after some confusing detours through the under-renovation East Bayfront area, I reached my destination– Sherbourne Common and Sugar Beach. I cannot write enough about how brilliant these new public spaces are (and Sherbourne Common isn’t even finished yet!). The parks offered brilliant new views of the Toronto skyline and out to the Harbour. While the incomplete Common was not very busy, Sugar Beach was bustling with kids playing in the splashpad, a couple taking wedding photos, hipster women reading books, and groups of people leisurely sitting and chatting. A brand-new restaurant just opened in the Corus Quay building had an enormous patio that has yet to be discovered by mainstream Toronto. As a planner, I really appreciate this type of city-building– creating well-designed public spaces first, and letting the private investment follow.
Sherbourne Common. (My photo)
After a half-hour respite on the beach, I set out on my way back. Knowing the first half of my trip would be flat (contrary to the second half), I really pushed my speed on the trail. I found the trail that took me up to the Ontario Science Centre rather than trying to battle the hill on Don Mills. Still, I knew I would have to conquer a massive hill coming out of the valley, and so I did, up from the Science Centre’s service yard. I made it about three-quarters of the way up before my legs gave out.
Long hill at Ontario Science Centre (Google StreetView capture)
After a five-minute rest, I set out up Don Mills Road, without the safety of the rush-hour priority lanes. However, traffic was light which allowed me some relaxed riding. As I struggled up the last big hill to cross over the 401, my legs cramped up. I got off my bike, walked the rest of the hill, and stopped briefly to enjoy the view. A ride I will surely do again.
From Don Mills bridge over the 401, looking west. (My photo)