It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

My Commute

Joey deVilla's bike

Most days, I commute to work via the Scorpion King, my trusty 2003-model Trek Calypso, a cruiser-style bicycle that provides a comfortable and “business casual” clothing-friendly ride thanks to its fat tires, comfortable seat, fenders and chainguard. The most efficient route I use is 6.3 kilometres (3.9 miles) in length and has only two hills, both of which are unchallenging, even with an accordion on my back:

My commute, as shown in Google Maps

Using this route, I can get to work in about half an hour, which is about ten minutes better than the average time it takes to make the trip via public transit. The bike commute also has these added benefits:

  • An hour’s worth of moderate exercise per day
  • Cheaper than public transit
  • Lets me see what’s happening in the neighbourhoods on the various routes I take to work
  • Less frustrating than public transit

The “less frustrating than public transit” benefit has become more relevant over the past 18 months. There appears to have been a steady decline in the service provided by the TTC over that time. During rush hour, I rarely have been on a train that didn’t have to stop and linger in the tunnel between stations for 5 minutes at least twice during a subway trip spanning a mere 10 stations. And don’t get me started on the streetcars, whose arrivals appear to be increasingly less frequent.

Last week, we had a thunderstorm and I opted to take the streetcar rather than bike. The idea of running around with a big metal object between my legs while lightning flashed overhead didn’t appeal to me and even less to the missus, who insisted I not take the bike that day. I encountered the expected delay on the train, but when it was time to switch to the Spadina streetcar, I was greeted with this line for the rear doors:

Long line to the rear entrance of the Spadina streetcar at Spadina station

…and this line for the front doors:

Long line to the front entrance of the Spadina streetcar at Spadina station

And after ten minutes of waiting — remember, this is rush hour on a streetcar line that has its own right-of-way — I opted to hop back on the subway and take an alternate route to work.

This sort of annoyance is what drives a lot of people to drive rather than take public transit. For many people, it’s not enough that it is “better” to use public transit; it feels like communism in the way that it “solves” the issue of unevenly distributed joy by evenly distributing misery to everyone. The exhortations of environmentalists, progressives and Spacing readers isn’t going to boost TTC ridership; making it less painful will.

As for me, I’m fortunate to be in a situation where cycling to work is a practical proposition. The combination of these factors:

  • I like urban cycling, having done it since grade school
  • Living within what is a reasonable cycling distance — about six kilometres — for a guy in reasonable shape
  • Living in a condo with a decent bike storage facility
  • Working in a “business casual” environment: I wear jeans and t-shirt while cycling; I change into a dress shirt and sport jacket at work (I keep a couple of blazers at the office)
  • Working in a neighbourhood with plenty of bike racks
  • Having a decent route through safe neighbourhoods that’s also relatively flat

work quite well for me.

As long as the weather’s good, I expect to be commuting by bike quite regularly.

16 replies on “My Commute”

IF you altered your route slightly – to across college and down spadina you would get more dedicated bike lanes if you want them.

@Eldon: As a matter of fact, I gave it a try this morning and it turned out to be pretty nice. I may end up making that my route.

Google Maps says it’s longer (6.8 kilometres vs 6.3 taking Dundas), but it feels shorter.

Just wow. As a Toroontonian at heart, I’m really sorry to hear of this decline in the TTC’s performance.

Don’t get me started on the travesty that is the St. Clair West streetcar renovations. I live just north of Joey at Keele and St. Clair, and I’m one of the people who is supposed to be able to get to Yonge and St. Clair a whole 7 minutes faster after some 3+ years of construction of a new streetcar right of way, similar to Spadina’s route. I teach in midtown a few days a month, so I buy a few strips of tickets a month and TTC it there as needed.

Up until this winter, I was still feeling kindly towards the venture because we get a 2 hour bi-directional transfer that lets us hop on and off at will. I still walk just about everywhere, but it’s nice to have the option of running errands locally in lousy weather for the price of a single ticket.

But starting late last fall, because of the right of way construction and because of the track repairs at the St. Clair and St. Clair W. stations, they started playing a completely stupid and wasteful random shuffling of streetcar and/or bus service between Yonge and Keele.

First there was nothing but bus. That was cool.

Then there was streetcar from Yonge to St. Clair W. station and changing points west, like Oakwood, with the transfer to a bus taking place outside the station, as winter started to get bitterly cold. No vehicles of any kind were able to get into that station.

Then they started allowing the buses into the station, but the transfer to the streetcar had to take place outside. If you stayed on the bus all the way into the station BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THE CHANGE, it was a good 3-5 minute walk in the cold to get to the nearest streetcar stop. Walking around the right of way and sidewalks when the snowbanks were at their worst was especially fun. Oh, and the sidewalks were often never properly shoveled and were dangerously icy. Nice.

And then this week I found out that the streetcars now started their route inside St. Clair W. station instead of several blocks west at Oakwood. I waited 10 minutes at Bathurst one morning waiting for a lone streetcar to show, and finally grabbed a bus and went in the station, where a tired looking employee told me that yes, there should have been signs on all the shelters about the change, but that somehow hadn’t happened.

So now that it’s warmer, I have definitely mapped out a cycling route to Yonge St that bypasses St. Clair itself and have confirmed with the training centre that it’s OK to store my bike in the office. I still don’t know why the TTC ever decided to go to that patchwork service instead of just running a single bus back and forth for a couple of years, even after I phoned their customer support line and tried to get an answer from somebody. Idiots.

This is why I hate transferring to the surface routes. All-subway is okay, but the moment you have to squish into a bus or streetcar, you get all the annoyances of mass transit combined with the joy of rush hour gridlock, just like if you’d taken the car.

I like your bike, and I like that you realize why it’s good for commuting with the mudguards and the closed chain thing and the rack.
Dutch bikes are ALL like that, so EVERYONE can bike to work. Even wearing a suit.

My current bike is a road bike, and I can’t use it all the time: the tires are too slippery for ice, I get muddy when it rains or has rained, and because I have to lean forward I can’t bike with a violin, and can’t take anything with me that doesn’t fit in my backpack.

I still hate Toronto traffic for biking, though. In the morning I ride on College street for just two blocks, between St George and Elizabeth Street, and there are always AT LEAST two delivery trucks parked in my lane. Bikes have to swerve around the delivery trucks into car traffic, and that’s way more dangerous than not having the lane there in the first place (and being in the car lane the whole time). It makes no sense. The delivery trucks and commuting cyclists use the lane at the same time of day…
And then people start cycling on the sidewalks, and that’s just making everything worse.

Okay, rant over.

Having lived in Seoul for almost seven years, I very much dread even thinking about the TTC when I visit Toronto. The TTC is rotten, and the concept that “public transit” should be profitable is simply ridiculous.

Check this out.

Seoul’s subway system opened in 1974. It currently has over 290 km of track, 266 Stations, 8 Lines, and at the most, its 1,100KRW per ride (roughly $1.10CAD). In addition, they are expanding the system by at least three lines as I type.

Toronto’s subway system was opened in 1954!!! It currently has a pathetic 69 km of track, 69 Stations, 4 Lines, and costs what these days; $2.50? There are ten stations with bathrooms? What is up with that garbage? No subway to the airport?

Public transit in North America is so bad…I don’t know if I could ever move back.

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