Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Familiar City Seen Through New Eyes - Toronto, ON

All set for my two days of bike riding
in Toronto!
The Velo Family is currently on holidays, enjoying some quality time with our families in Ontario. It had been wonderful catching up, starting with relaxing on Lake Ontario with my in-laws, and now spending some quality time with my parents at their lake front cottage in the Quebec Laurentians. Every trip back East is special, since our children don't get to see their grandparents, aunt and uncles very often due to the distance and the expense of travel. For my husband and I, however, this trip was extra special for two reasons. We would finally be able to enjoy an extended amount of kid-free time, and we would be doing so in two cities full of memories for us - Toronto and Montreal.

As the opening leg of our trip had us just a short jaunt away from Toronto, that is where we spent our first mini-holiday without our children. Chris and I spent four amazing years in this city while studying at Ryerson University. In that time, however, we were never able to completely appreciate the city and the bike culture it had to offer. Believe it or not, we actually didn't ride all that often, what with Chris not owning a bike and mine sitting comfortably at my parents' home the first three years of school. We tended to stay within our school bubble, as most students do, and my limited experience in the city on my bike didn't leave a very lasting impression.

So when we arrived in Toronto last Saturday, we headed over to rent some bikes from a shop called Set Me Free on Roncesvalles (I still can't pronounce that properly) and experience what the city had to offer two bicyclists from the West Coast. At the shop, we were told they had many a mountain bikes to rent. Instantly, my heart sank. Mountain bikes? In Toronto, a city known for it's vintage bike culture? After some puppy dog eyes, and pointing out I was in a skirt, the guys at the shop had a peak in their older stock and found not one but two beach cruisers! Luck was on our side, and I was grateful. We spent the next two days riding from West to East and back again, taking in the city we had known with a fresh set of eyes and ideals while cruising around at a slow pace.
Chris cruising through Cabbagetown, keeping cool in
extreme the heat with some bare arms!
What we found was actually surprising! In a city currently notorious for being less than bike friendly, at least if you follow the politics, bike culture was thriving. Every where you looked there were people on bikes. On Queen West, there were, of course, the fashionable twenty and thirty somethings riding their upright city bikes, but what amazed us was the sheer number of them. So many that at any time you could see three or more cyclists waiting together at a red light. That many not seem like many, but this was literally happening all day long, not just rush hour, and on a Saturday and Sunday. Outside of the trendy areas, we were surprised and in awe to find riders of all ages hoping on bikes to ride in their city. 
A typical site along Queen West
The biggest eye-opener happened when walking to brunch on Sunday. We saw a man, likely in his mid-to-late sixties, walk out in a nice shirt and pants, hop on his bike, and head to what we can only assume was his weekly Church service (we were in Little Italy, so the assumption seemed fair). In all my six years in Vancouver, I don't think I have ever once seen a sight like that, and with two small children who seem to not sleep past 8:00am, you can bet I've been out and about our city around Church time on a Sunday morning.
Riders of any age were out and about the city on their
bikes, no special equipment needed.
I loved riding through Toronto and seeing so much I had missed during my university years. But I think what has stuck with me most is that even in a city where cyclists are fighting for their own space on the road, rubbing shoulder with cars, trucks, and fast moving steetcars, in face of all this adversity, their bike culture is big and strong. I'm sure every one of those people would love to have the separated lanes we have in Vancouver and for which I am so grateful, but not having them doesn't stop them from riding a bike. It makes me wonder...if Toronto's next city government is as pro-active for bike infrastructure as Vancouver's is, could Toronto become the North American Copenhagen? For all the wonderful bike riders we met last weekend, I will keep my fingers crossed, because they deserve it!
Bike traffic!
One of the many sadly underused Bixi stations.
Don't worry, there's hope to be found in other Canadian cities. Stay tuned to find out!
Just taking a couple of dogs for a walk in Trinity Bellwoods Park
One of our lovely hosts for the day Sunday, Yvonne, with Bonnie the dog
taking in all the sights from the comfort of her basket!
Riding along on of the only cycle tracks in Toronto along Sherbourne Street
I don't know if it's there yet, but with this kind of attitude
and bikes abound, it could be!

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