In the past two weeks I’ve noticed that while my running distances are edging up with my first 5 kilometre run in about four years coming up in the next week, my cycling distances are remaining relatively static. That’s no way to improve fitness and so I’ve decided to start increasing my distances.
Before the pandemic I’ve always avoided cycling in Scarborough. It’s known for its wide busy suburban streets and distinct lack of cyclists. The pandemic made me feel a bit more confident thanks to the reduced traffic and so once again I am going to head east after work – this time for a bit of a longer ride.
For a couple of hundred metres after I get in to Scarborough it really is what I imagine Scarborough to be. Eglinton avenue is not only busy it’s under construction. This proves to be a bit of a boon as while there are lots of cars nobody is moving quickly enough to feel threatening and soon I turn off on to a residential street. The ride is peaceful once again – and a few minutes later it gets even more peaceful when I arrive at the Gatineau Hydro Corridor.
Several years ago the city, noticing that there was a great deal of unused space underneath the hydro lines worked with the utility company to get the rights to develop there. While not practical for a road for cars, the traffic from bicycles and pedestrians was deemed acceptable and now there are 16 kilometres of trail underneath these power lines providing a very safe route. As with any multi-use trail, there are busy parts and caution is required especially around children walking and learning to bicycle but maintaining 20 km/hr is very easy. There are many road crossings, though. Quiet streets just have stop or yield signs for cyclists while busier streets like the one above have traffic signals installed. Sadly my only complaint about this trail is the fact that many of these traffic signals take a long time to allow bicycles to travel giving massive priority to cars.
I continue on. Some areas near parks and areas with lots of parking have lots of people riding and walking, in others I’m completely alone.
The further I get from the city, the quieter it gets. But don’t be fooled, as I’m driving past this corn field, I am still in a city of nearly three million people. As I ride here I’m reminded of my last trip to Delhi. I went out to visit “School Under the Bridge” and, getting off at Yamuna Bank station was shocked to find that I was in an agricultural area – in a city of nearly 20 million and reachable by subway.
Eventually all good things must come to an end and I reach the end of the Gatineau hydro corridor. It dumps me out on Ellesmere Avenue. But all is not lost there either. Here, too, is some good cycling infrastructure with a separate bike path running next to the road. And right next to that I find free food.
The path is covered with mulberries – in season right now. Though the ripest are already on the ground I am not brave enough to eat those. I do grab a few from the branches I can reach and taste them before continuing onward.
This path, too, eventually ends and I’m forced to ride on the road. But here the traffic is lighter and I am happy to see a small curb lane. It’s not marked as a bike lane but it effectively works as one. As I ride I share the road with lots of buses – many for the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) but I’m also beginning to glimpse ones from Durham Region. I’m getting close to the end of the city.
My experience with buses in this city is really good. Whether due to their hiring practices or training I find the drivers always very cautious and courteous around me when I’m on the road. I never feel like they’re passing too close. So while they’re big vehicles I’m happy to see them. After all, within them are several people who are not choking the streets with cars.
The route is getting hillier and soon it’s time to turn north again. I’m going in to the Rouge Valley – and the Rouge National Urban Park – a national park in the city that surrounds the Rouge River. Here you’ll find the Toronto Zoo, loads of trails for cycling and hiking and even a campground. Yes, indeed, you can take public transit to a place where you can camp and then be back downtown the next day. And the website tells me another surprising thing about this park:
Here, too, there are some nice cycling trails running parallel to the roads. In some cases there are even nearly three-foot tall concrete barriers protecting the trail from the road.
And then, having gone as far as I have, I find the end of this trail. But now it is getting so rural there’s barely any traffic at all. But the views are fantastic.
And then the route planned by Komoot fails me.
The route looks good but it’s not open yet. Feeling adventurous I decide to continue on the road I’m on and see what I can find. Perhaps I will find a way south and then I can pick up the route wherever this trail emerges from the park. But then…
I’ve left Toronto accidentally. If I keep going down this road I will get further from the city and I do want to get home before the sun sets. So here I turn back toward home.
Along the way I see several cyclists, most solo like me but a few in pairs. I don’t blame them. The cycling here is really excellent.
On the way home I decide to make a short stop at a community garden I saw on the way out. It is hard to get photos of it without recognizable humans in the shot but I do get a few. It is lovely to see people growing food in our city.
Like many trips, the trip back seems to go much more quickly. Soon I’m close enough to the city that one of our rapid transit lines, the SRT is visible. A pedestrian/cyclist bridge is available to take me over it.
In a park on the other side there is a ton of activity. Lots of families are getting together and there are a ton of people on the basketball courts. As our COVID-19 numbers go down (yesterday only 157 new cases in the entire province) I’m simultaneously happy and nervous. Is this basketball game a bad idea or a good one? Only the statistics in the next few weeks will tell us for sure.
As I get closer to home I make another diversion. As I was reviewing maps to make this route I saw something called “Taber Hill”. There are rolling hills in Scarborough but I don’t know why they might need a name. I look in to it deeper and I see that there’s a bit of history that means I should definitely visit.
As it turns out, back in 1956, they were demolishing this hill to build an overpass for a nearby highway when many human bones were found. As it turns out they were from the Huron/Wendat people and the bones were from the 14th century. A total of 523 skeletons are estimated to be buried here. For more information about the site you can visit here.
If there is one thing this project of exploring my city in more detail is teaching me it’s that there is so much I don’t know about where I live. I’ll definitely be doing more.
Meanwhile, if you live nearby and want to try some or all of this route you can find the details by clicking on the map below.