Seconds after taking this photo, a cyclist flashed past me on the sidewalk. In the suburbs, this is a relative non-occurrence, something I hardly even noticed until the raging granny article in the Toronto Star reminded me of the photo I had taken.
Etobicoke isn’t exactly bike-friendly. People do opt for two wheels, but a significant portion of these cyclists stick to the sidewalk.
Getting around on a bike in the suburbs isn’t for the faint of heart. Granted, the downtown has streetcar tracks, congestion, and cars parked along major streets, but suburban cyclists have a different set of obstacles. Unless you’re part of one of those uber-professional-looking posses of cyclists who wear lots and lots of spandex and aerodynamic helmets, there isn’t much â€œstrength in numbersâ€ in the western fringe of the city. And depending on your route, chances are you might have to go head to head with transport trucks going really, really fast in the more industrial parts of town.
Dundas sticks out as a street that sees a large amount of sidewalk cyclists. Near the Mississauga-Etobicoke border, The Westmall Crescent curves to the south, and the 427 looms above, dumping a steady stream of cars and trucks onto the multi-lane street.
Cyclists and pedestrians both have it tough in this part of town. In the winter, the walkways aren’t cleared of snow — forcing pedestrians into traffic if the snow is too high or melting into formidable, ankle-deep bogs of slush. Sunny weather isn’t terribly better — below the ramps, the area is dark, dank, and full of suspicious-looking puddles even in dry weather. Families of pigeons roost around the overpass lights, creating hills of droppings and the occasional body of a feathered casualty. One summer day, I counted the corpses of five dead mice.
As an arterial street where car is king, Dundas forces suburban cyclists to make this decision: pedal on the sidewalk or compete for space with vehicles doing 70km/hr in the darkness of the overpass.
I’ve stepped aside for many cyclists in this area. Pedestrians and cyclists share sidewalk space — I don’t think too many walkers begrudge them for taking this route.
It happens along other parts of Etobicoke countless times a day. I’m sure there are complaints and safety concerns about having bikes on sidewalks, but I’d wager that in a region of the city where cars are the preferred method of travel, pedestrians and cyclists are on the same side.
Unless you’re around the Kingsway. That’s where the first photo was taken. The signs appear frequently — about every block or so — between Islington and Royal York on the Bloor. The difference between this part of the city and Dundas and the 427? The Kingsway has actual pedestrians.
It’s easier to step aside for a person on a bike when you’re the only pedestrian for miles. But when cyclists compete for space with the more numerous amblers in the well-heeled Kingsway district, the signs come out.
The cynic in me wants to say the signs are there to keep the shoppers, restaurant-devotees, and bar-hoppers in the area happy. But the disconnect between the â€œstay off the sidewalkâ€ signs and the actual cycling conditions of the suburbs leads me to wonder: if cyclists are forced off the sidewalks, will Etobicoke lose a large part of its cycling population?