Sunday, February 19, 2006

Scarborough Mission

Three things I’ve learned in the past fortnight:

1. Broccoslaw tastes about as good as the name sounds.
2. When getting an eight dollar hair cut, keep in mind that you’re getting an eight dollar hair cut. (I’ve heard four dollar hair cuts exist in Kensington or Chinatown, but haven’t tried them, so I’ll avoid passing judgment right now)
3. Traveling by bicycle on the major streets in Scarborough is something I don’t wish on anyone. Never do it again unless bike lanes are installed.

I had an errand to take care of in Scarborough yesterday. I looked at a map and saw that I could get most of the way there on the Don Valley and Taylor Creek bike paths. My trip there and back would be about 44 km, with 8 km on roads, and only 7 km on major arteries.

You can see the route I took.

The Don Valley path was almost ideal to ride on. There was a small amount of ice. A few runners, dog walkers and bird watchers were out. The Taylor Creek path had huge sections covered in ice. I found out quickly that my 100 studs on my tires are nowhere near enough to grip on sheer ice, unless I deflated my tires, which I didn’t feel like doing. I just rode along the hard packed snow over the grass. There’s something very eerie about riding along listening to the comforting sound of snow crunching away under my tires, then suddenly total silence as I find myself overtop of a big patch of ice and nothing I can do about it. I hope everyone at the ice bike race yesterday had at least the 300 stud tires.


When I reached Victoria Park Avenue, the trail ends. I rode through some of the grid of residential streets which worked very well. This is my usual choice when riding in York Region, and I was very happy that this technique worked just as well in Scarborough. (Strange observation: about 4 out of 5 cars I saw in this area were driver education cars.)

Eventually I was forced onto St. Clair Ave. I was mostly winging it and wasn’t sure this was my only way to go, but, looking at a map now, I had few choices. The problem with St. Clair Avenue out here is that cars are moving fast, the right hand lane is very narrow (I noticed they are almost exactly one “TTC bus width plus a foot” wide), and drivers seem to resent being slowed down at all by a cyclist (possibly not unique to Scarborough). In the six kilometres I rode yesterday on St. Clair, I was buzzed by at least five vehicles.

One was a huge Dodge pick-up truck that decided to accelerate while passing between me and a car in the left lane. Freaked me right out. The man and his son stared at me like they wanted to fight when I arrived beside them at the stop light (the red light was visible while they passed me). I gave them a dirty look and mouthed some words at them, then the light turned green and they gunned their engine in case I doubted that their vehicle was able to make more noise than mine.

Another was a guy who passed me after a light turned green squeezing between me and the car in the left lane. There was almost no room, so I had been using the full lane. As I pulled to the right to let him pass, he squeezed past me before I was all the way over. So I gave him a wave of my arm to indicate he needed to give me more room. He gave me a middle finger, pumping it for emphasis, for as long as he could see me. He almost hits me, and he gives me the finger. Does he realize that the first move was far more offensive than his second?


I ended up riding on the sidewalk after both of those guys. I was extra cautious at intersections and driveways, of course. I saw other cyclists and quite a few pedestrians in the area. All the cyclists were on the sidewalk. I wonder about the statistics on sidewalk cycling. The common message seems to be: “most cyclists in Toronto are hit by cars while riding on the sidewalk. Sidewalk cycling is very popular in the suburbs. More people are hit in the suburbs on sidewalks. So sidewalk cycling is bad.” It seems to me that the key factor there is the suburban one rather than the sidewalk one. The problem has more to do with the way people drive cars in the suburbs, with no account for the narrow older lanes found in Scarborough (York Region has much wider right lanes), and no consideration that there could be anything other than a car near them. Even though those near misses for me yesterday were scary, most people are hit at intersections. This is also possibly where misleading statistics come in. Most people may be hit at intersections because they aren’t going to get hit while they’re riding on the sidewalk because of the curb. There is something to be said for the common wisdom in Scarborough. Please correct me if you think I’m way off here.

The real solution comes through defining or creating bike-friendly routes that avoid major streets altogether. The Toronto Bike Plan makes some attempt at making this happen but a lot of it could be done today with only small additions of connecting paths between neighbourhoods, or crossovers of train tracks.


After returning to the sanity of the bike trails, I calmed down and enjoyed riding through the snow and ice again. Even though it was -12 or so, without accounting for the strong north wind, people I passed were in a good mood. Runners were waving hello to me or saying a couple friendly words as I passed. The city is filled with so much contrast.

Darren J 2/19/2006 02:47:00 PM

9 Comments:

I'll make sure to wave at you each time on the road :) , The picture of the swans is great
Hey Dude did you drive your bike down to Bluffers park for those pictures and if so did you make it back up the hill with out stoping ;)
Ya Scarberia drivers are scary. Its kinda a mad world out there so I try to avoid. But I would like to see the main streets made more friendly rather than just dismiss them as being hopeless. Widen the curb lanes maybe?
Yep, all those birdies are down around Bluffer's Park. And that hill up from the park was pretty painful. I'm proud to say that I made it up without stopping, thanks to my low low gears on my mountain bike. I probably could have walked at the same speed. On the way down though, wow! Everyone should try it!
I think widening the curb lanes would be better, but not ideal. Widening the lane might cost as much as putting in a bike lane, wouldn't it? The next question is: are bike lanes on major streets safer than a wide curb lane. I think so, but I know some people don't. I like the idea of creating entirely alternate routes for cyclists, since there is nothing to be gained by riding on a street like St Clair in Scarborough.

In their current state, I would definitely dismiss the major streets as useful for cyclists, as sad as it is to say. Next time I'll go way out of my way to ride on the smaller streets in the area.

I do almost all my cycling on streets in the suburbs, so I'm not dismissing all suburban cycling by any means. The best example of an existing bearable suburban cycling street would be Willowdale Ave in North York. It has no bike lanes, but it is one wide lane in each direction. There is parking on the street, but it is sparse. And cars generally don't go too fast on it because they would take Yonge or Bayview if they were going a longer distance in a rush.
Hey, great report. Nice ride. And yes Scarberia is
down right scary on two wheels.
Btw, the four dollar haircuts in Chinatown are fine
by me. Is all I ever get.
Ah very good, I cannot make it out of Bluffers Park without stopping even with a pretty low granny gear. I'd like to see all roads be choosable as a cycling street, ones that are mad for cyclists are also mad for peds trying to cross and lose their vibrancy. The thing that's useful about major roads like St. Clair is they go straight through, to cut over the ravines and whatnot. People don't want their residential streets to go through so they maintain their quietness. So its hard to get both direct and quiet.

I do like in betweens - the collector type roads like Willowdale. I used to use a similar road called Marlee (between Eglinton and Lawrence) at the last job I Was commuting to. Unfortunately not always an in between. Kingston Road seems to be one of those roads through Scarborough where if you're going that way you have no other choices. Its not that bad but its certainly not pretty either once east of St. Clair or so.

But if I get the gist of your idea it would actually be good, places where roads deadend to have a narrow width cycling path to connect up? (probably not doable too many places cuz of private property but would be nice where possible)
Brings me back ... three summers of being a cycling ambassador with the city and riding all through Scarberia or Etobicoke and North York. Willowdale IS a nice road, I think the city's been planning to put an underpass through the 401 at that point - a bike/walking trail I think.

For sheer fun I recommend taking the Cummer Road hill east of Bayview - you can really go fast on the way down. I think I did over 50km/h when I had a bike computer on. Make sure you have some working brakes.

There's no cut and dry on whether a bike lane or a wide curb lane is preferable. Some people stick too closely to the bike lane when parked cars are too close. This increases the chances of dooring. Having a wide curb lane might give cyclists the feeling of greater movement within their lane. But on the other hand, a bike lane sends a strong message that bikes are present and given their own space. Can't beat that psychological effect.

They've shown that narrowing roads helps bring down car speeds. This is what happened on Dundas East when they put in bike lanes and took out a car lane.

As for cycling on sidewalks, the official position is that it is illegal and not that safe. However, if ridden with caution for all intersections and driveways, you can greatly decrease your chances of getting hit. The problem is is that many of the sidewalk riders in suburbs tend to be kids and teenagers who just aren't paying attention to the traffic around them. If I recall correctly, teenagers are "overrepresented" in the collision stats in suburbs.

I don't generally ride on the sidewalk (and almost never downtown). But on those really long rides into Markham or Vaughan riding some of those really, really long sidewalks with nary a pedestrian for miles, it is really tempting.
Tanya, that's the gist exactly. I know there are suburban neighbourhoods with those connections between cul-de-sacs already built in. In some cases it's just a matter of knowing where they are.

If those connections existed in a way so that there were practical straight routes that paralleled all the major streets, and weren't blocked by the 401 or the DVP, cyclists would be much better off in the suburban parts of the city.

I noticed the Bike Plan has a connection like that planned for the Bridle Path area, which I think would be great. Bayview Ave in North York is very similar to the Scarborough streets, so I avoid it at all costs. It would be a simple connection across a park that already exists, but I think you're right about some minor private property issues slowing that down.

And I can totally understand neighbourhoods wanting to reduce car through-traffic on their street. I like it. It encourages more street hockey games.

Anonymous former cycling ambassador (AFCA?), I'll have to explore that hilly part of Cummer. I haven't been over there yet.

I'd love it if they added an underpass for Willowdale under the 401. I see pedestrians and cyclists dodging cars near the 401 and Yonge all the time. Last week I saw a car accellerating AT a pedestrian there. This Willowdale route could connect up with Old Yonge St, then Mount Pleasant Ave, and create a bike friendly straight route that parallels Yonge St. My local councillor, Cliff Jenkins, recommended a bike lane on Mount Pleasant and was turned down.

I realize that the idea of the bike plan is similar, but focusing on bike lanes on major streets is slightly different. I've seen suburban areas with bike lanes on every major street in the US, and no one rides on them. If you ask people they'll say they've seen cars weave into them too often. Nothing's perfect.

Back on the sidewalk issue: there are many paved boulevards in York Region that are identical to a raised bike path, except that they might end at any moment without notice!

That was a long windy comment that I hope had some sense to it. I'll have to do a few more consise posts sometime on all these issues.

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