Monday, October 24, 2005

How-to: Yonge St and Hwy 401 by bike

How to cross Hwy 401 at Yonge St. on a bike

One of the biggest challenges we face as cyclists is crossing major expressways. There are travel lanes that disappear into on-ramps, and off-ramps arriving at your right with vehicles moving still at highway speed. Even if you choose the correct lane (one that doesn't slide off to the right) you're still challenged by cars zipping up behind you trying to figure out what lane they should be in.

Something that took me a while to figure out, and became invaluable once I did, was how to cross the 401 at Yonge St. I don't want to keep this information to myself, so here it is.

Warning: Follow this advice at your own risk. It may help you, but it in no way guarantees your safety. Also, this advice involves riding a bike on a light grey surface that could be mistaken for a sidewalk. The concrete surface is not on the side of anything, so "sidewalk" is a misnomer, but giving way to any pedestrians is crucial to us continuing to use this safe route. As with any cycling route in a busy area, be careful, especially when you are somewhere that will surprise other people (pedestrians and drivers). This route may be better than riding with the cars, but (please!) you still must use caution, in particular when you cross the roads/ramps.

Heading north:
The key is to make use of a pathway that goes to the east of Yonge underneath the 401 in between the off and on ramps.

As I'm heading north on Yonge after passing the last intersection before the highway, I always hop up onto the paved area between the sidewalk and curb. This keeps me away from all the cars shifting around on the road and safely clear from the pedestrians. (This may be frowned upon by hardcore vehicular cyclists, but there are no intersections to cross until I reach the highway and pedestrians are a safe distance away.) This is where the map kicks in:

Northbound Map

Northbound hybrid Google Map (you can actually see a satellite photo of the path)

Make the right turn off of Yonge onto the on-ramp (aka Lord Seaton Rd). You may feel best to transform yourself into a pedestrian at this point and walk your bike on the sidewalk for a few metres. Traffic comes from the left and right here, so it can be a bit hairy. Cross the road and hop on the concrete path north. You'll see the path ahead takes you under the 401. Go slowly since it's dark and there are usually pedestrians and oncoming cyclists. After passing under the 401, you'll see a right turn that pops you out among all the condo towers south-east of Yonge and Sheppard. Life is good!

Heading south:
There are two options heading south. These routes are ideal for people coming from the north-east. First you need to get yourself to the base of the condos on Harrison Garden Blvd. Take the concrete path at the bend in the road (see the map). You'll head towards the highway ramps. Turn left at the T in the conrete path, and follow it under the bridges of the 401.

When you get to the other side, you'll see a fork. This is where the options come in. You can go to the right and follow the path onto a bridge over Yonge St. It will take you right to the southbound lanes of the street, avoiding the hassle of crossing at the traffic lights. This will be a direct and fast route straight down Yonge St., but make sure you look out for people getting off the 401 who will be approaching on your right.

Or you can take a much more leisurely and pleasing ride through the residential area east of Yonge. I highly recommend this for the southbound trip. When you reach the fork in the concrete path, you take a left. Carefully walk your bike across the mess of ramps going in multiple directions. Then head east (left) about 50 metres and turn right on Upper Canada Dr. This will take you to York Mills. And if you want to cross York Mills and head further south, you'll find all the steep downhills and uphills you could dream of in Toronto.

Map of the second southbound option

Southbound hybrid Google Map

* This advice may be very local, but I'm sure other cyclists have figured out similar routes at other intersections. If you have any special tidbits of information that would help out new cyclists (or those new to your area), please share! If you don't have somewhere convenient to share it, feel free to email it to me or post it as a comment here and I'll make sure it's made available on your behalf.

Happy cycling!

Update: I just added links to the google hybrid map showing the path along the concrete paths that are visible from the satellite photos. Hope that makes it a bit clearer.

Darren J 10/24/2005 03:40:00 p.m.


This is what is nice about using the Don Trail - a traffic free way under the 401 :) I must admit to being greatly confused to your directions for Yonge Street though. I would probably either merge (vehicular cycling) or walk across the onramps at the sidewalk when there's nobody coming but keep on Yonge. I think its one of those have to be there for the maps to make sense. Are there actual sidewalks on the onramps? (otherwise I don't understand where the blue jaggies go)
I guess google maps doesn't quite cut it for this (or, more likely, my words don't cut it!). There are sidewalk-like paths that cut through the grassy area between the ramps. When the paths head under the 401, where there isn't much room, the path squeezes between the wall of the bridge on one side, and a fence on the other that separates you from the ramp.

For the first little while I did just merge with the traffic, but cars are driving so aggressively there, it can be intimidating.

The path is sort of visible from the south side of the 401, but it took a while before I bothered to try it because I didn't know where it would lead me, and I generally avoid things that look like sidewalks.
Thanks for this.
I thought there's a sign before going under the highway stating that there's no biking on the sidewalk?

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