Another trip to Toronto, another chance to compare The Big Smoke to Lotus Land. Last time I visited, it was the patios, streetcars, and compost pickup that caught my attention; this time it was the bikes and funky neighbourhoods.
Cyclists were everywhere. Hip, fashionable people riding fixed gear bikes. Women in skirts with flowery baskets on their bikes. Hardly anyone was wearing a helmet (maybe 30%) and, unlike Vancouver, not a single piece of Gore-Tex or lycra to be found. These weren’t the “hardcore cyclists” you often see in Vancouver, but people using bikes for what their best at – providing a convenient means of transportation.
We spent most of our time in the core of Toronto (especially around Bloor), where the city is dense, walkable, relatively flat, and dotted with BIXI stations. So my perspective on the popularity of cycling is probably skewed.
We did get to jump on BIXI bikes and cycle around Toronto ourselves. Renting bikes from BIXI was really easy. We were able to rent two bikes on one credit card, and once you’ve paid for your membership (we got 24 hour memberships for $5 each) you can take out bikes for free, as long as you return them in under 30 minutes. The bikes are heavy and don’t go very fast, although they do have 3 gears. Several times I felt bad for holding up a long line of cyclists behind, but most of them were going the same speed – I guess casual cyclists aren’t rushing from light to light.
Biking through Toronto’s traffic calmed neighbourhoods is a joy – lots of old houses and large shade trees. The only downside is they’re a mess of one-way streets and we didn’t want to be “bike salmon”, although lots of others biked upstream. Some of the major streets have painted bike lanes (especially around U of T), but they’re often blocked by taxis and delivery trucks. I’m really impressed by the number of cyclists, considering the lack of dedicated bike infrastructure. One day we biked down to King and Bay, and I thought we were going to die. Google Maps told us that King is a bike route, but there isn’t even a painted lane or sharrow. We had to squeeze between parked cars and a busy traffic lane, trying not to get a wheel stuck in the streetcar tracks. It was the only time I really noticed I wasn’t wearing a helmet.