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What are the best streets for cycling in Toronto?

Posted by Staff / May 18, 2012

Best Streets Cycling TorontoThe best streets for cycling in Toronto help one to recapture that pure, unrestricted joy that made you climb onto the saddle in the first place. These are places where cycling becomes more than just commuting or getting from A to B. Rather than put together a utilitarian list focused solely on safety and cycling infrastructure — there's an app for that — the criteria we had in mind when selecting these candidates was a bit more subjective.

Is the street pretty? Can you go fast? Are there interesting things to look at? Think of it as destination cycling, where the road is the main attraction of the ride. Here are 10 great streets to ride on in Toronto. Add your suggestions in the comments section below.

Russell Hill Road / Poplar Plains
This pair of roads offers the best of both worlds. Coming down the former, you best take the whole lane because unless you ride the brakes, you'll be up around the posted speed limit as you barrel down the windy section south of Clarendon Avenue. Those willing to roll the stop sign near the bottom face the prospect of near-perfect corkscrew turn at Boulton Drive (there is, alas, a speed bump to contend with). You certainly won't go as fast on the way up Poplar Plains, but it's great little tree-lined climb for enthusiasts (and those looking to avoid the traffic on Bathurst.

Leslie Street Spit
Once you leave the traffic behind and enter the off-road section, Leslie Street reveals itself to be truly spectacular. South of Commissioners, the street becomes quieter and narrower as it turns into the bike path for Tommy Thompson Park. Ride it to the end and let the awesome size of Lake Ontario blow you away (sometimes literally). Bring a pair of binoculars if you're into bird or skyline spotting.

Lake Shore Avenue
Pick a time when the Toronto Islands' main street isn't packed with wobbly tourists on tandems and this beautiful bike-friendly cruise past Gibraltar Point Lighthouse and Centreville is hard to beat in terms of natural beauty and car-free delight. This is definitely a bike ride to slow down and savour on a quiet afternoon away from work.

Rosedale Valley RoadRosedale Valley Road
Although the pathway on the west side of the road isn't in the greatest condition, it's still hard to imagine a better stretch of pavement to ride a bike on in Toronto than Rosedale Valley Road between the Bayview Extension and Park Road. As is the case with most streets in Toronto, it's more fun when heading south(east) on account of its slight decline, but the gorgeous ravine scenery stays consistent regardless of the direction you're heading.

Beverley/St. George
St. George and Beverley (lumped together for this post) between Queen and Bloor are everything city biking streets should be: relatively quiet, smooth, and, of course, bike-friendly. The University of Toronto campus section has a refreshing scholarly air while south of College, Beverley is a handy north-south connection between Queen West, Baldwin Village and Chinatown. The green space of Grange Park is a definite highlight.

Colborne Lodge Drive
Call it cheating, but all the roads that cut through High Park are a cyclists dream: pleasant scenery, slow-moving traffic that's easy to avoid, and just enough undulation to keep things interesting. If you like to go fast, the section south of Centre Road can be exhilarating. Just make sure to watch out for the speed bumps and wayward squirrels.

Glen Manor Drive
The winding, tree-shaded street between Kingston Road and Queen East is a welcome break from the ubiquitous ruler straight routes that dominate Toronto's grid. Although it's far from challenging, taking some of the downhill curves at speed is a pure delight when there's no-one else on the road. Mist tends to linger in the ravine after a rainfall giving the ride an distinctly eerie feel.

Cycling TorontoOld Finch Avenue
You don't have to go too far to feel like you're riding in the countryside. Most of the roads around the Toronto Zoo accomplish this, but none are as interesting as Old Finch. It's a bit hilly, of course, but the winding nature of the road is what makes it interesting. Traffic levels are typically low, though one needs to be careful when approaching the one-lane bridges.

Broadview
The street's name says it all really. The view of the city skyline heading south from the Danforth past Riverdale Park is one of this flat city's best vantage points and great recreational spaces. Sure, you have to contend with a streetcar or two as you cruise toward Gerrard but there's always time for a pit-stop at Rooster Coffee House. Like all hills, the ride back up will make you sweat.

Unwin Avenue
Although you might once in a while have to contend with a dump truck or two at the western end, Unwin Avenue in the Port Lands is otherwise a quiet street that's been attracting road cyclists for years. Even though the Martin Goodman trail runs immediately to the south, the post-apocalyptic looking Hearn Generating Station is worth skipping the path for. A resurfacing job on the eastern section of the street has greatly improved the enjoyment factor for cyclists who ride informal crits around the Port Lands.

BONUS

Mount Pleasant Cemetery

This is one of the most tranquil places to ride in the whole city. Just keep the speed down and your thoughts contemplative. Access points from Yonge, Mt. Pleasant, Moore and Bayview.

MAP

SEE ALSO

Writing by Chris Bateman and Derek Flack

Photos (in order) by Scott Snider, yedman and DdotG

Discussion

44 Comments

iSkyscraper / May 18, 2012 at 09:47 am
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Best street to bike on? Bathurst, where you can bike right up to the island airport, get on a plane and fly to New York, a big city that treats bicyclists properly and builds them the infrastructure they need to be part of society.
Mike B replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / May 18, 2012 at 09:54 am
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@iSkyscraper-
Hopefully next time you can buy a one way ticket. For the millionth time, this is not New York, or trying to be New York...if you don't like it, go to New York.
you're a tool / May 18, 2012 at 10:16 am
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Mike B if that was the thinking we would still be living in caves. When you see something that works better you try and progress, not throw in the towel and move. This city has terrible public transit and biking facilities, I had to use both yesterday after my 3rd flat tire of the month from riding through pot holes on the way to work.
Andrew replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / May 18, 2012 at 10:19 am
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I'm with you on that one! New York City has added 300miles (yes, miles) of bike lanes in the last 5 years! Toronto, as Mike B implies, isn't a bike embracing city. As cyclists, we'll have to face the music. Cars and a couch riding population, never mind a moron for mayor, make this city something to be ashamed of!
Rolf / May 18, 2012 at 10:20 am
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im pretty sure iSkyscraper lives in NYC, he mentions it in just about every post he makes.
akswun / May 18, 2012 at 10:21 am
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I say Yonge Street starting at Eglinton down all the way to the lake. The drivers make it interesting. And most of it is downhill. Not a ride for the average biker, street sense and skill needed.
Ben / May 18, 2012 at 10:38 am
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Great choices. I ride down Russell Hill Road every day on my way to work, and it really is (sadly) one of the best parts of my day. Added bonus: Recently someone graffiti'd the mailbox right at the top of the hill for cyclists and wrote "Tuck! Tuck! Tuck!"

The ride home up Poplar Plains every day though is great motivation to cut back on the cigarettes.

Canadianskeezix / May 18, 2012 at 10:43 am
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As far as I am concerned, the real bonus of Rosedale Valley Road is that on hot & muggy summer days, it is always several degrees cooler in that ravine and it is just a pleasure to be down there.
Canadianskeezix / May 18, 2012 at 10:46 am
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While MikeB's comments was a bit too harsh in my opinion, I am sympathetic to the sentiment of his post. While we should as Torontonians be looking to other places for inspiration, sometimes we also just want to celebrate the good things we have here. And it can be grating when someone comes along to say that the best thing to celebrate here is getting to NYC. You like NYC, we get it.
the lemur / May 18, 2012 at 10:49 am
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NYC has bike infrastructure that is nicer than ours and they're building it more rapidly. But their network is still patchy and I wouldn't say there's that much more respect for bikes there than here.

If you can make them work for you, some of our trails and parks make for better bike routes than some of the lanes. I really want to like Harbord and College but the layout and the drivers make it less than ideal.

Other decent streets are Bedford, Davenport, Barton/Lowther, most of Huron, Shuter and Lakeshore/Cibola on the islands.
MikeB replying to a comment from you're a tool / May 18, 2012 at 10:52 am
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I was implying that iSkyscraper move, as I don't see him/her offering any solutions or "try to progress" as you say. But you may know something I don't. There is generally no harm in trying to compare with others, but New York? It's (big) apples and oranges, in my opinion. Plus the article is the best roads to bike on, not to make sarcastic comments about how lousy the system is here.
Cycle for Sight / May 18, 2012 at 10:58 am
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I agree with akswun. Yonge is a great and scenic yet challenging bike ride.
Lauren / May 18, 2012 at 11:03 am
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The Leslie St Spit used to be my default go to, until they put in small (read: you have to come to almost a full stop) speedbumps along the whole length! Bummer for us road bikers... there goes the fun/speed!
corona / May 18, 2012 at 11:20 am
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Oh god I cannot get up Poplar Plains on my bike...yet anyway. I call it "murder hill".
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from Mike B / May 18, 2012 at 11:21 am
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I've lived in New York since 2000, so I guess you could say I took your advice.

Sorry for always being the jerk in the bleachers taking pot shots but I find an outside perspective is sometimes eye-opening. Toronto is too complacent compared to what other cities do, an attitude that is soaked deep into xenophobic Ford Nation but present in pols and leaders of other stripes as well. Bikes are a good example.
asdf replying to a comment from Lauren / May 18, 2012 at 11:22 am
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I am with you on that... they are horrible! I'd like to write the city about that one. I've seen a few children bail on those too!
the lemur replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / May 18, 2012 at 11:32 am
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The difference between Toronto and NYC is that Toronto doesn't seem to have realized (yet) that with increasing density, population and traffic levels it will become increasingly smart to encourage cycling and other non-driving forms of transportation rather than treat them as irritants and afterthoughts. That and the fact that Toronto seems to get mired in endless evaluation and compromise-seeking rather than building what was originally intended, which is why we have bike lanes with gaps in them and lanes that suddenly end, and we can't seem to build truly separated bike lanes because of the twin sacred cows of on-street parking and overly wide sidewalks.
the lemur replying to a comment from Canadianskeezix / May 18, 2012 at 11:34 am
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That's true, and it's the same with the other ravines as well. The one question is have about RVR is why you would want to ride it only to end up on Bayview at the end?
Dan / May 18, 2012 at 11:40 am
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You beat me to it Lauren. The rough section before the bottom end was bad enough, but tolerable for an extended section with no traffic or traffic controls. Those new speed bumps make it unrideable, which was probably the idea.
Whatajerk / May 18, 2012 at 11:43 am
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MIKEB. Maybe you should move. If you don't like people griping about our city, maybe you should move to a city where people don't gripe about it.
Condomonium / May 18, 2012 at 11:47 am
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Iskyscraper.

I too agree that outside perspective can be valuable, it's unfortunate most people living here in Toronto can't (or won't) provide any.

I've traveled to and spent some time in many different cities in my lifetime, I can see where Toronto goes wrong, and I could see where it goes right. Unfortunately. It doesn't go right in very many areas. There's something that can be said for honesty, even if it is brutal and unpleasant. It's unfortunate we try and emulate the states, we ought to be emulating the European nation.
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from Mike B / May 18, 2012 at 11:51 am
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As for productive comments, I offer the following suggestions for how to improve streets in Toronto to be more bike-friendly. These sorts of reports by NYC Dept of Transportation for public presentation are exactly the kind of quality and content that Public Works in Toronto should be producing, instead of relying on lines from Minnan-Wong like “I agree with minimizing the conflict between cyclists and motorists, and one of the ways you can encourage that is removing the cyclists, and trying to encourage them to use the trails".

Sample reports on bike infrastructure:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/201109_1st_2nd_aves_bicycle_paths_cb8.pdf

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/20100616_8th_ave_extension_slides.pdf

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/201109_8th_9th_cb4_slides.pdf

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/rivington_stanton_suffolk_wb_bridge.pdf

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/201203_29-30-st-crosstown-lanes_cb5_slides.pdf

And just to show I'm not completely biased, here is a bike plan report from Chicago complete with best-practices suggestions for various components of bike infrastructure:

http://www.bike2015plan.org/chapter1/index.html
FUn FUn replying to a comment from akswun / May 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm
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That is a solid rip! Done it many times.
MikeB replying to a comment from Whatajerk / May 18, 2012 at 12:17 pm
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That makes no sense. I obviously love living here enough to defend it. I am not saying one does not have a right to gripe, I just wish there were more positive comments about TO. I bike to work everyday (unless it is raining and I take the TTC) and although it is only about 5K, I find it easy and enjoyable.Of course it is a straight shot from Danforth and Pape to Bay/Bloor, so not too bad....I guess i am just somone who makes due with what I have, and not complain on the internets...
Name / May 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm
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despite these being perhaps the best, there's no such thing as a good street for cycling, unless they're devoid of cars to avoid, traffic lights to stop for and pot holes dodge.

for the best cycling, stick to trails, like the don river trail from the lake to edwards gardens or humber river trail all the way to woodbridge
CanoeDave / May 18, 2012 at 12:50 pm
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Seems to be a very downtown bias for the best rides. The safest extended Toronto ride is Lakeshore, west of the Humber all the way out to Port Credit. Wide road, no speed bumps, little traffic, few lights and you can come back along the Waterfront Trail if you want the scenic route.
the lemur replying to a comment from CanoeDave / May 18, 2012 at 01:11 pm
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How is a ride that begins almost in Etobicoke and goes to Port Credit a Toronto ride?
Chris replying to a comment from MikeB / May 18, 2012 at 01:58 pm
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Look at it this way. Iskyscraper claims he (or she) currently lives in New York and yet is commenting on a Toronto-based blog, more specifically on an article about the best streets for cycling. This suggests someone who isn't just casually browsing the site, but rather someone who actually takes some time here.

This suggests that, even though they clearly are fond of New York and so forth, they don't necessarily hate Toronto either. Why would you bother investing the time to peruse a site dedicate to a City you hated or didn't give a crap about?

Yes, it can be tedious to constantly hear how Toronto doesn't measure up to New York, but in fairness, that would be the case for most cities around the World. New York is considered one of the world's greatest cities, and its been that way for probably 200 years. OF COURSE Toronto won't measure up - we've only been the big dog in Canada (itself a small and fairly unimportant country on a world scale) for what, 30 years? There's nothing wrong with acknowledging that, though proximity puts the issue more in our face for sure.

However, the fact that articles like this constantly generate so much comment both for current and apparently former Torontonians, just seems to me a like a sign that we care.

*Rant over* - on to the topic at hand:

I'm a fan of the Spit, abd Unwin Dr. as I live nearby. Both are nice, leisurely rides, well-suited to novice riders and have nice views as their payoff.
Tommy replying to a comment from the lemur / May 18, 2012 at 02:07 pm
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There is a bike path a bit north of the RVR and Bayview intersection on the east side (NOT the Don Trail) that will take you all the way up to the Brickworks.
TheWord / May 18, 2012 at 02:16 pm
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Not sure if someone already said it, but Davenport is also a good way to go east-west. It's less busy than College and better road surface.
the lemur replying to a comment from Tommy / May 18, 2012 at 03:36 pm
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That's true, although considering where RVR begins, if you want a downhill ride through a shady ravine to the Brickworks, Milkmen's Lane or even the Park Drive Reservation is nice.
Mark A. / May 18, 2012 at 03:59 pm
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I just want to chime in and express frustration with the slowpokes the run every stop-light and sign on Beverley/St. George. What the fuck? You're just making cyclists look bad as a whole.
moe / May 18, 2012 at 05:30 pm
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blogto definitely does not the city well enough, thank god my heavenly playgrounds are not mentioned. I would however reveal them if this staffer begged me.
McRib replying to a comment from Whatajerk / May 18, 2012 at 10:52 pm
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that is one of the most nonsensical things i've read on this site. and Mr. Potato posts here.
McRib replying to a comment from Mark A. / May 18, 2012 at 10:55 pm
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haha, i agree with that. pass them over and over and then they cycle right past you through the red light. I've never really liked Beverley/St. George much, its a handy north-south street and the bike lanes are nice, but there are too many stop signs/lights to get much momentum, and its hardly beautiful or fun to ride.
Mark A. replying to a comment from McRib / May 18, 2012 at 11:25 pm
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Beverley/St. George is the most direct way between home and my current employment (but only for two more weeks, woo!). Unfortunately most avenues in the area have one-way blocks that flip and oppose each other. I'm thinking now I should just switch to Spadina.

The problem specifically on this stretch is that there are many intersections where there's no vehicle traffic crossing the signed/signalled intersection, so I guess more cyclists don't think it matters.
Maynard Switzer / May 19, 2012 at 06:27 pm
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I would like to offer my opinion of riding here in Toronto & NYC. Having just moved here from NYC after being away from T.O. for 23 years, I find that riding in and around Toronto has gotten worse since I left.I have been an avid rider for almost 30 years as a member of some form of cycling club. I think that you have to divide the riding into 2-3 categories. Someone who commutes to work into downtown T.O. may find the cycling acceptable, while a person who only uses the bike paths or trails may also find it acceptable, albeit lacking in overall miles. I fall into a 3rd group, one that uses a road bike & the road system because I like to ride in a large group, am able to go much faster than would be allowed on a bike path & don't use my bike to commute to work. My rides are usually 40-60 miles. Having a city that is a great cycling city starts at the top with a Mayor & city council that understands the cyclists needs & is willing to work with them & the people who drive cars to come to some forum of compromise. Fortunately, NYC has that in Mayor Bloomberg & Toronto does not in Mayor Ford. The differences are stark. Most serious riders in NYC go out of Manhattan to do their serious riding or train in Central Park because it is closed to cars from 10-3 each day & all day on the weekends & is a very challenging 6 mile loop. Great if time is limited. The road is in fantastic shape. Please don't mention High Park. The road is in terrible condition & it is only a 1.1 mile loop. Not used to Km's yet. But here is where cyclists as a group could help themselves. If Mayor Ford wants less cyclists on the road, convince the city council to at lest repave High Park so it is more attractive to cyclists to use so that they don't have to go in & out of the park for a training loop. Cyclists have to join together to make their voices heard. And by the way, cyclists in NYC are always in conflict with the the drivers in Manhattan unless they are on the bike path's or riding in a designated bike lane. Also, the only people that don't wear helmets are some of the bike messengers & they are usually wiped out on a regular basis because of that. You don't like the speed bumps on the Leslie Street Spit, protest it with mass rides there until someone listens to you. That's how things are done by the cyclists in NYC. They don't sit ideally bye as there roads are taken from them.
ZAPPA / May 19, 2012 at 11:37 pm
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HAZTE ALL THE SPEED BIKERS THAT THINK THAT THE BIKE PATHS ARE THEIR PROPERTY. YOU MS. SPEED IS A SHOW OFF NOOB. WANT TO SPEED GO TO RIDE IN THE BLUE NIGHT YOU SUCKERS.
Rena / May 20, 2012 at 09:25 am
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For streets that don't have a bike lane but are pretty good anyway, I like Christie, especially at that big hill at Davenport. It's way more manageable than the hill at Bathurst and Davenport.

I also used to love biking up Spadina Rd. between St. Clair and Eglinton to get to work. It's a wide street with only one lane of traffic each way so there's definitely enough room for bikes to ride comfortably. Plus it's all the fancy, scenic Rosedale houses!
_n / May 21, 2012 at 08:11 pm
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I second Maynard's comment. I commute on bike, but I also do much longer rides, and in general I've found the path and road conditions here to be rather badly maintained. I would like to see the city start taking better care of roads in general, and also find a way to cut down on utility cuts, as nothing is worse that a construction crew chopping up a road in little square patches and then badly filling it in with bumpy asphalt.
Mend / May 27, 2012 at 04:00 pm
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I just moved here and i have to say that its sad to have to agree with iSkyscraper, prior to my arrival i was told about what a progressive, open minded,and green city this was, i was truly let down by what i found. The lack of infrastructure i something a first world city should be ashamed of, and should actively be be in a state of development and improvement on a massive scale. The cycling infrastructure in this city is non existent, you would think that with a lakefront like ours they would have an unobstructed bikers path all the way to Niagara, and a number of safe north south corridors. I learned of toronto cyclists union i am not sure if they have effected any change, but clearly more needs to be done, you may want to check them out, either way we all need to collectively demand that more be done, for the health of our city and the safety of its cyclists citizens.

As for the comments from "Mike B" your quick defense of the city is clearly spawned by your insecurity combined with an inferiority complex, both are not rooted in fact rather your own feelings, its attitude like yours that will prevent progress, there is nothing wrong with looking at other cities that have made progress and trying to emulate or better them... Your comments betray your insecurities..
Zed / May 28, 2012 at 12:03 am
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I actually just recently returned from NYC after doing the Five Boro Bike Ride there for the second time in as many years. This year I rode to the Island airport, folded up my bike, checked in with Porter Airlines, and not only did the Bike Boro but had my transportation throughout my stay in NYC. As always, I am more than surprised at the cycling infrastructure there, with designated multi-purpose trails around the entire circumference of Manhattan, and tons of separated bike lanes on many through fares. I realize this is also off topic of the original intent of providing information on great cycling routes in Toronto, but I must agree that NYC is well beyond where Toronto is in terms of cycling infrastructure.
Quark replying to a comment from Mend / May 28, 2012 at 01:36 am
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Mike B is just tired of know-it-all who pontificate on Toronto and believe that everything is easy to accomplish like in other cities, when it isn't easy, and the complaints are tiresome. If you or iskyscraper don't like it, please find another city to live in, or be more involved with your city to make it what you want.

Either way, stop trolling, the both of you.
Mend / May 28, 2012 at 09:38 am
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Quark, i do not think iskyscraper was pontificating at all he was stating an obvious fact, a glaring flaw in our city. To respond with a chest pounding "love it or leave it" is essentially saying we are "good enough" which is the wrong attitude if you hope to improve our city. Dictators do not accept criticism, democracies should assess it and if its accurate we should view it as constructive criticism and try to learn from it.

I have joined Toronto cyclists union and donated, if you know of other ways to contribute i would love to hear as i would ultimately love to live in a city with an amazing cyclist infrastructure, preferably Toronto.

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