13,000 Cyclists Take Over Toronto Highways

We often complain about how Toronto favours the driver over the cyclist, but for one day a year cyclists rule the city as the two main highways are closed down for the Becel Ride for the Heart, a fundraiser for the Heart and Stroke Foundation sponsored by a margarine company. (Michael Pollan would not approve)

So while the cars slogged their way across town below us, 13,000 cyclists flew across the elevated Gardiner Expressway, turning it into a soggy cyclists' paradise for a couple of hours.

All kinds of riders, all kinds of bikes and all ages participated, but nobody looked too happy on the first leg, with a driving rain and a cold north wind. It has been so warm and sunny in Toronto recently that most people were under-dressed and soaked to the skin. We then turned north from the Gardiner, a controversial elevated highway that should never have been built and many want to tear down,

Northbound onto the Don Valley Parkway, which bashes through the most beautiful ravine in the City and wouldn't have a hope of being built today. But it is a pretty road.

They call it a 50 km ride, but it is really a 25km slog uphill as we ride up from the lake past the shores of ancient Lake Algonquin (the waters edge after the ice age) and stop for a break at the high point;

It is all very well organized, with only a 30 second wait for a loo.

With the 25km slog over, one then has the joy of a 25 km glide down to downtown. One of my favourite postcard views of Toronto is this one, where the road sweeps down the escarpment and all you can see are trees, with the CN tower improbably stuck on top of the Bank of Montreal building. It looks so much better without cars.

Southbound towards the Prince Edward Viaduct, one of Toronto's landmarks and an interesting demonstration of intelligent planning ahead: it was designed in 1915 so that mass transit could be added after. When the east-west subway was added in 1966 they were able to just stick in that lower deck and install the tracks without any other structural changes. The viaduct was a suicide magnet in Toronto, so a competition was held to design a barrier that would stop the jumpers but still look good; Derek Revington won with what he called the Luminous Veil, which alas, looked much more beautiful in the renderings. The bridge is the setting for Michael Ondaatje's novel In the Skin of a Lion

Toronto architect Martin Kohn pausing while I take a picture of the CN Tower (too boring to include). Martin thinks that the people who want to tear down the Gardiner are wrong, and that Les Klein's proposal:

Where Klein wants to build a high line type linear park on top of the existing highway while leaving the cars on the lower deck, is worse. Kohn thinks we should keep the Gardiner for pedestrians, cyclists and perhaps street cars, and let the cars fend for themselves below. Gliding across the city, enjoying the views every second, I think I agree.

Finally, you run the gantet of cheerleaders with pompoms and you are back in a city where you have to share the road with honking cars, all seriously aggravated about the inconvenience. it is an annual secret pleasure.

Tags: Bikes | Biking | Toronto

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