Freeman: The great Bloor Street bicycle ride

Bill Freeman —

For decades there has been talk about creating a bike path along Bloor Street, and in August it finally opened to much fanfare in the city. I promised myself that I would go for a ride on the new lane before winter set in.

It was the advocacy group, Cycle Toronto, who lobbied to get the Bloor bike lane. Opposition came from the merchants. They said that a bike lane would remove parking, their businesses would suffer, calamity would result. This, despite studies that show bike lanes increase retail sales.

It was Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy who broke the deadlock and convinced the merchants to try a test. If business suffered the lane would be removed, he promised. He got the proposal through city council and finally in August it was opened.

I have been a bike rider since I moved to Toronto Island over 30 years ago. I sold my car, bought a bike, but I soon learned that riding in the city can be a harrowing experience. A 2-ton car hurtling towards you on your bike is downright unnerving. And that’s the simple reason why I am a supporter of bike lanes.

So, here was a warm day in mid-November, not too hot, not too cold, a perfect day for a bike ride. I called a friend who agree to meet for lunch, and I was ready to go.

Now, I don’t have the newest or best bicycle in the city, and because I live on the Island and have to haul my groceries home on my bike, it has a rack on the back with wire baskets. That made the bike heavy but reliable. Or that’s what I thought. I hadn’t gone more than half a block when the seat fell off. I had to go home and get an adjustable wrench. Better take the air pump, I decided. So at the start of my adventure, I was aboard the ferry boat fixing my bike as we drifted over to the city. Could this be a bad sign?

But by the time the boat came into the dock, the seat was fixed, the tires pumped and I was aboard “the clunker,” as I call it, ready to go. I headed east along the Waterfront Trail, past Redpaths, past Sugar Beach, past the new condos under construction and then turned north onto the Sherbourne bike trail.

I have been riding this trail since it was opened three years ago. There is a path on either side of the street next to the sidewalk. The traffic has been narrowed to two lanes with one lane for parking.  Periodically there are loading bays. The buses and cars can’t crowd into the bike lanes. It is safe, and the traffic is calm.

I felt relaxed. It was a beautiful fall day. As I rode along I could enjoy the scene. People were out on the street. At Sherbourne and Queen there is always action. North of Allan Gardens I admired an old mansion that had recently been painted an orange-rust colour. I stopped for a moment to admire the library-community centre at Wellesley and remembered how proud Councillor Pam McConnell had been the day it had opened because finally the city was delivering something special to the people of St. James Town.

I glided into the intersection of Sherbourne and Bloor fully expecting to see the Bloor Street bike lane, but there was nothing but a jumble of cars. I was so unnerved I got off my bike and walked across the intersection on the crosswalk. Bloor was a nightmare of cars, traffic, and the sense that they were all gunning for me.

“Where’s the bike path?” I yelled at another cyclist, but she ignored me–worried about her own chances of survival, I expect.

I did manage to survive the next couple of blocks as I went west on Bloor. I found the restaurant, locked up my bike and there was my friend waiting for me: Susan Crean, another writer and bike rider like myself. She described that stretch of Bloor as, “The most kidney-crunching stretch of road I have to manoeuvre these days.” What did this mean for the rest of my ride along Bloor?

After lunch I saddled up on the clunker, made my way to Bloor and Yonge and turned west. Traffic was everywhere. There were limousines in front of Holt Renfrew, taxis, vans, cars but no sign of a bike lane. I made my way carefully past Bay Street to Avenue Road and then, miraculously, there it was: the Bloor Street bike lane!

Like the others, it runs right beside the sidewalk. To the left are the white plastic bollards—a new word for me. There was good signage and other bikes were flowing along calm and collected as if this is the way the world was meant to be.

The sun was shining. There are no hills on Bloor and better yet, no cars crowding into the lane. As I rode along, I looked at the people on the street and thought of the merchants in their shops and hoped they were happy because this bike lane sure is a great addition to Bloor.

I rode all the way to Shaw Street and that is where the lane abruptly ends. Why doesn’t it go to Mississauga and east over the Bloor Viaduct and along the Danforth into Scarborough? Now that would be a bike lane to brag about! Anyway, at Shaw I turned around and headed back on the eastbound lane.

This time I tried to watch the traffic as best I could. Like Sherbourne, in this section of Bloor there are now two lanes of traffic with another lane taken up by parking. The traffic was moving well, not fast, but faster than my old bike could take me. The street felt safer, certainly far safer for bike riders, but I got the sense that there will be fewer accidents because everything is clearly marked and the cars are going slower.

Cars, bikes, pedestrians—everything seemed calmer on Bloor. And then I thought, this is the way it should be. After all, streets belong to all of us, not just cars.

And so I went east on Bloor all the way to St. George, south on that bike lane, through the heart of the University of Toronto, where the sidewalks and streets are crowded with students, south on Beverly all the way to Queen. I had to go east through the mess of Queen Street traffic to Simcoe Street. Then south on that bike lane all the way to Queen’s Quay, east to the ferry docks, and home. The old clunker never failed me.

Bill Freeman’s latest book is, The New Urban Agenda: The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area

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