Friday, September 3, 2010

30 Days of Biking: West Toronto Rail Path

September 1st marked the first day of 30 Days of Biking, which aims to see participants bike everyday for the month of September. Seeing as biking is how I get around, this should be pretty easy. However, I decided on the first day to bike somewhere I'd never been to before in Toronto, so my biking partner and I went on a trip to the West Toronto Rail Path.

First, I can't believe I've now lived in Toronto for four months and didn't know this pathway even existed. Second, "trip" is probably a misnomer as the path is only 2km long and hardly takes any time to ride from start to finish. Be that as it may, it's still an interesting and worthwhile ride.

The path starts at Dundas Street West and continues north along an old rail line up to Caribou Street, which is a few blocks south of St. Clair. This section, called Phase One, was completed in October of 2009. There is a Phase Two, but it has been delayed due to the Georgetown South Project and the Pearson Air Rail Link. Phase Two would see the rail path extend further southeast toward the edge of Liberty Village. Both the Toronto Cyclists Union and a group called the Friends of West Toronto Railpath are pushing for the completion of the project.

The path reminded me a lot of the bikeways in Minneapolis, a lot of which are paved over old sections of rail. To me, these are the perfect spots for urban bikeways as they are already separated from the grid of the city. Just put down some smooth asphalt over the old rail lines and bob's your uncle: a perfect separated bike lane that hardly interferes with the street system. I believe Vancouver is looking at turning the old rail tracks through the Arbutus corridor into a bikeway as well. Also, it was nice to be off the ball-busting, utility-scarred roads of Toronto and ride on a surface that didn't rattle my teeth too much.

But the best thing about the path is not where it takes you but what you see along the way. It follows an industrial area, with a plethora of brick buildings and factories, their old uses still stamped onto their fading sides (what is oiled clothing?).

Smoke stacks point up into the sky, while graffiti provides a colourful mural along the pathway in places where both sides aren't dripping with vegetation.

Riding through the rail path feels almost like you have been transported to a different place. The sounds of the city virtually disappear and there is no car traffic to contend with. It's a view of Toronto I hadn't had before. We encountered only a few other cyclists. One lady was out walking her dog, who ambled on ahead of her. As we passed from behind, her dog unknowingly began to veer left into our path and she shouted out, "Riley, right! Right," leaving us both to wonder if you could actually teach a dog right from left.

Sculptures by John Dickson line the path, an homage to its industrial legacy. The first one I came upon just confused me: a big, mesh triangle extending out of the ground like a shark fin.

However, the others are reminiscent of factories and smoke-stacks.

At the north end where the rail path ends at Caribou Street, there is what appears to be a car repair/junk yard where there are some interesting decrepit cars filled with broken glass, beer bottles and various other garbage.

At the south end where the unfinished rail path rudely dumps you out onto hectic Dundas Street West it can take a few moments to reorient yourself into the city riding frame of mind. It was hard to go from the blissful rail path to being squeezed between a coughing city bus and the curb. Hopefully the city continues the project because it would be a great, safe and quick ride through Toronto. Also, the Junction neighbourhood is a short ride away on Dundas West and we found it was a good spot to have a cold beer after Day 1 of 30 Days of Biking.


  1. Cool! Thanks for the article. I need to take more advantage of the bike paths around here. I'm always dodging cabbies on the main roads.

  2. Great write up. Before we had synthetic materials, people would often oil or wax their clothes for waterproofing. Just an FYI!