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Sustainable Commuting

Posted by Guest Contributor / March 5, 2009

When it comes to commuting to work, we have many options to choose from. We can drive to work, take public transit, telecommute, walk, bike, rollerblade, skateboard, fly, take a train, or ride a bus. The list goes on and on. At different points in my life I've experienced most of the aforementioned methods of commuting.

Each method has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. For the last 4 years in Toronto, I have been commuting using the most sustainable and rewarding method of transportation I could possibly imagine: walking.

It's the most relaxing, reliable, healthy and sustainable method of transportation that exists. I live in the King West area which puts me within 40 minutes walking distance from hundreds of thousands of jobs. It's amazing how much freedom comes with walking to work.

Not only do I walk to work, I walk almost everywhere I go. As long as I can reach my destination in an hour or less, I'll be walking. The odd time I need to drive is when I play hockey, do groceries or when I'm visiting friends/family out of town.

When I walk to work, I don't need to worry about traffic, gridlock, gas prices, road rage, flat tires, accidents, break-downs, stress, transit delays, overcrowding or snowstorms. I'm free to go wherever whenever, and I always know what time I will arrive at my destination.

According to Statistics Canada, as of 2006, 72.3 percent of Canadians still drive their car to work. But even setting aside the environmental impact from cars, they still aren't a sustainable method of mass transportation in a world of 6 billion people; there simply isn't enough space. Therefore, we'll always have the need for public/shared transit and walking or biking to work will never go out of style.

Embedded above is a video of my 20-minute commute to work along King Street West, compressed into a 3-minute video, featuring Winnipeg, Manitoba band The Weakerthans with Civil Twilight.

Written by guest contributor James Schwartz.



Davin / March 5, 2009 at 10:09 am
I also prefer my 30 minute walk to work over the Queen West streetcar. The very rare occasions that I think of taking the streetcar are usually a great disappointment in the service and often in humanity.
Yes. / March 5, 2009 at 10:25 am
This is awesome. I loved it. And I was never much of a fan of that Weakerthans song, but this acoustic version makes the lyrics and melodies stand out a lot more. Unfortunately I'm a delivery driver... so my job revolves around my car... I do see a lot of the city on a daily basis though!

Threnody / March 5, 2009 at 10:32 am
Walking to work really is excellent. Transit is great to get to far away places off-peak when it's not too busy, but rush hour TTC is not something I miss.
jen / March 5, 2009 at 10:32 am
I have a very similar routine as're a bit further west and you walk past my building in the video. I work at John/Richmond so my walk is about 25 minutes. I'm so thankful I keep finding jobs in the area...whenever I take the TTC at rush hour (especially street-level), I want to tear my hair out when it takes several minutes to get through a major interesection. While walking I've noticed that the majority of cars on the road seem to have only one person in them.
Parkdalian / March 5, 2009 at 10:37 am
Amen, Guest Contributor.

With my walk to work being a mere 20mins., I also feel really, i mean really, lucky.

Unfortunately, the majority of our society does not have this luxury. Even folks "within" the city drive to work, when the TTC is perfectly at arms reach.

I'd suggest, in a dream world perhaps, that downtown employers let their workers, the ones who live out in Barrie or whatnot, to work from home. Then the government can give these employers tax breaks for saving the environment.

Crazy idea? Probably.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from Yes. / March 5, 2009 at 10:46 am
The other day I saw a Dominos Pizza Delivery man taking the subway (with his delivery). I guess the recession is hitting everyone.
Andrea / March 5, 2009 at 10:48 am
I live 10 minutes walk from work and my life is much more enjoyable because of it! I'd rather pay a little more rent to live somewhere central than spend time on the TTC every day. Plus, I can go home for lunch break and have a nap!

That said, my landlord has decided she wants my apartment so I'm being forced to move. Still hoping I'll be able to find somewhere to live close to the office...
Jerrold / March 5, 2009 at 10:50 am
If only we could all live within an hour's walking distance to work. I'd choose walking/biking over driving/TTCing if it were possible.
James / March 5, 2009 at 10:54 am
I wonder - do you find it worth it to drive for groceries?

I walk everywhere too and hate being forced to choose grocery items not based on budget, but on what I feel like carrying (man, I miss pizza pockets).

reckoner71 / March 5, 2009 at 10:56 am
When I had a drove a car everywhere, everything was always about the A to B, and never the in-between.

Now I walk almost everywhere from my Financial District home. I am more fit, and I get to experience more of Toronto's hidden gems.
Ryan L. / March 5, 2009 at 11:02 am
According to Google Maps my walk to work would be 3 and a half hours, one way. Suffice to say, I take the TTC.

Sometimes your job doesn't allow you to be as green as you'd like. The company I work for requires 4 fairly large buildings to house all of their equipment (which I should add sets the standard for green-ness in this industry). As a result, most companies within the industry tend to be located in places like Markham, Missisauga, Richmond Hill, Barrie, etc. There simply isn't room for them in the city.

I'd be more than willing to move to Markham, however it isn't a region that tends to cater to walkers and public transit users. Part of my hour-long journey takes me down streets that don't have sidewalks or even shoulders. I cut through parking lots to avoid walking along roads with traffic and am sometimes forced to hop into a snowbank to avoid being hit by a truck that is too close to the curb. I could walk to work, but I would have to take transit to tackle groceries and other errands as retail stores are large and spaced far apart.
James / March 5, 2009 at 11:03 am
It's amazing to me how far some people drive to work every day. I couldn't imagine driving 1.5 hours each way to work. We're definitely fortunate to live so close to work; walking is a great way to reduce stress.

I think in the future telecommuting will become more common for people who live outside the city. But the trends are indicating that people are starting to live more urban lifestyles, so we should see a good influx of people in the city (You can see the construction all over the city right now, even with the sliding economy)

[Guest Contributor] - James
Parkdalian replying to a comment from reckoner71 / March 5, 2009 at 11:05 am
Great point Reckoner71. We do take for granted the "in-between". Our interactions with people and the element of surprise, you may find something interesting in the middle of your walk. In our go-go world, we take alot for granted, especially our health.

James: Your car = groceries point is valid aswell. Though, zipcar and autoshare help in that department. But i know what you meant.
noni / March 5, 2009 at 11:18 am
Walking *is* a nice stress reliever, but to tell the truth, I also like driving very much as well and really don't mind a 1-hour commute by car. But these days I work from home, so my "commute" is something like 25 m from bed to desk.
James / March 5, 2009 at 11:21 am
noni, I guess it depends on where you're driving. I know the DVP isn't particularly a lot of fun during rush hour. What do they call the DVP? The world's biggest parking lot?

But I agree that driving is fun, especially when I only drive once or twice a week.
Annexy / March 5, 2009 at 11:25 am

Whoah, a 0.025km walk to your desk!
Ming-Ming / March 5, 2009 at 11:36 am
I love walking, if I woke up earlier (cough cough) I would walk more often.
I think I aim to walk more especially when the weather gets nice.
Mainly a) metropasses are so expensive and b) I never learned to ride a bike >.>

I don't really like walking in winter because it is SO COLD!

And I love The Weakerthans!
jen replying to a comment from James / March 5, 2009 at 11:48 am
I don't drive at all...for groceries I either walk and use a shopping cart, TTC there and back with my bags, or TTC there and take a cab back if I'm overloaded. A big knapsack and strong reusable bags really help.

I also use Grocery Gateway (too expensive though) and try to pick up smaller items on my way home from work.
jack / March 5, 2009 at 11:51 am
Me too, used to live in thornhill and work downtown.. now i live only two blocks from my office..have not taken the subway more the 5 times in the last two.. save so much money on Metropass, gas.. that can all go into my mortgage or nicer meals
john / March 5, 2009 at 12:19 pm
My walk to work is 45 min. I usually take the subway, but I think you've inspired me to take the time out of my way to walk. I could do without the sardine can in my life.

Hopefully I'll discover some "hidden gems" for myself in the city.
Andrew / March 5, 2009 at 12:35 pm
I drive.. to the end of the block and back. Why? Because I can! It makes babies cry, and I love it.
Parkdalian replying to a comment from Andrew / March 5, 2009 at 12:52 pm
I love comedy as much as the next guy Andrew, but try to make a "serious" point aswell. That way, we all win.
Diane / March 5, 2009 at 01:00 pm
The last leg of my commute is a 15 minute walk (instead of paying the TTC to take me 3 subway stations). I enjoy it immensely, but it should be noted that Toronto is not a particularly amenable environment to pedestrians. Daily, I have to contend with:

- hugely uneven surfaces due to heaved or missing paving stones, large cracks or crumbling pavement
- construction barricades (whether there is active construction or not)
- window washers' barricades, ropes, equipment (and careless spills of dirty water)
- sandwich board signs placed illegally in the middle of the sidewalk
- temporary detour signs for motorists placed (legally?) in the middle of the sidewalk
- bus shelters, trash cans, bike racks, newspaper boxes and other "street furniture" narrowing the sidewalk to single file
- subway grates poorly designed with slick surfaces (never mind what they do to people wearing heels)
- cyclists who think riding on the sidewalk is a great way to speed past cars
- motorists who block crosswalks while waiting for their lights
- motorists who think that it's a good idea to park with two wheels up on the curb
- police who think that it's a good idea to park with all four wheels on the sidewalk so motorists won't see them right away
- traffic lights designed to cause accidents (anybody else notice that when they started counting down to the walk signal they shortened the yellow to 3-4 seconds?)
- crackheads in sleeping bags

...not to mention the added challenges that come with snow and rain.
jen / March 5, 2009 at 01:13 pm
I walk every day and unless you're physically challenged, I don't really see those things as having much of an impact.
Danielle / March 5, 2009 at 01:17 pm
I live in the same building! Our commute is almost identical. Gotta love how close everything is.
James / March 5, 2009 at 01:47 pm
Diane, you must be walking along Yonge Street ;)

I find most streets are more pedestrian-friendly than Yonge street.. Maybe try hitting a side street to find your hidden gem :)
Darlene / March 5, 2009 at 02:23 pm
Wow Diane. It's a wonder you're able to leave your home in the morning.. I don't know how we all manage to navigate through the sea of sandwich board signs and crackheads...
Justin / March 5, 2009 at 02:55 pm
Nothing beats flying to work.
rachel / March 5, 2009 at 03:01 pm
I walked my 30 minutes down Bathurst (not always a pretty walk) until a job change made the walking route just a little too far. I really do miss the walk, especially in nice weather after beinging stuck inside an office all day.

I still have about a 10 minute walk to the subway each day where the newest obstacle I am faced with is a pedestrian crosswalk which must baffle some drivers who speed right through despite having ample break time, with the lights flashing and me pointing to cross the street. I've even seen police officers pull over drivers who have blatantly sped through the crosswalk. As a former driver, I find it ridiculous that these crosswalks are ignored.
jamesmallon / March 5, 2009 at 03:15 pm
Crosswalks are too often ignored, but they are also incredibly badly designed. If cars are supposed to stop and not kill pedestrians, why aren't they RED and STOPLIGHTS? Yellow doesn't mean stop, it means yield in all other applications, and when you drive you look to where cars, bikes and people might be (horizontal to where you sit) and where lights might be (diagonal), not vertically to where the crosswalk signs are!
Justin replying to a comment from jamesmallon / March 5, 2009 at 03:27 pm
Agreed. There was a time I was walking along Hardbord near my old place, attempting to use the crosswalk across from the Flip Toss and Thai when one of those parking lot rental cars flew past me, coming within about an inch of knocking me flying. Interestingly enough the lot for the car he was driving was about 50 yards beyond that, so he got a piece of my mind while basically acting like he didn't know what I was talking about. No, not worth a night in jail.
Now maybe the flashing ambers high above work for most people, but for self-absorbed hipster douchebags more concerned with getting a Mini Cooper back in the lot so it's not an extra 6 bucks than pedestrians' right of way, it might be time to install something that gets their attention a little better.
Leslie / March 5, 2009 at 03:38 pm
I live in New York City work for an organization called the Design Trust for Public Space, an organization focused on improving the design, utility and understanding of NYC's public realm. We have been doing a series in our blog called "My Morning Commute" and I'd love to feature this video and some of your stories about your Toronto commutes on our blog. None of us can walk to work, as we all live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan, so it'd be great to include some walking stories in our collection. You can read our NYC Morning Commute blog posts here:

As an ex-pat, I read blogTO to get a Canadian perspective on a daily basis and just to keep up on public space issues in other cities.
Leslie replying to a comment from Diane / March 5, 2009 at 03:40 pm
Also -- Diane, if you think your Toronto commute is bad, you should try getting to work in NYC's garment district. It's like an obstacle course.
DS replying to a comment from Ryan L. / March 5, 2009 at 04:33 pm
@Ryan L: I too commute to the deepest of 905 for my work and take the GO out here. I don't mind it, as I spend most of my time asleep or catching up on books and articles versus staring at the brake lights ahead of me. Walking would probably take me half the day.

One thing that gets me out here though is the amount of surprise I hears from my colleagues when they learned I didn't drive out here by choice. It was almost like I was illiterate. After six months, many still can't believe it.

Diane / March 5, 2009 at 04:49 pm
"Diane, you must be walking along Yonge Street ;)"

You got it in one!

"I find most streets are more pedestrian-friendly than Yonge street.. Maybe try hitting a side street to find your hidden gem :)"

A good idea -- I'll try that.
Parkdalian replying to a comment from DS / March 5, 2009 at 04:58 pm
DS: You ARE brave for not driving to the 905. There's no quick transit there.

When i lived in Etobicoke and had to travel to Oakville for school, it took me almost TWO hours to commute.

So, I move 5 minutes from my school the next year.

I don't care how many things one can do in a GO train, nothing beats a breathtaking 5-10min. walk to wake you up and start your day.
M / March 5, 2009 at 05:31 pm
As soon as the snow goes I'm trading the TTC for an hour bike. Little Italy to Don Mills. I'm excited, because I HATE the TTC. I wish I could walk!
Peter / March 5, 2009 at 06:02 pm
Does anyone remember that study on this subject from a few years ago? Turned out MANY more Torontonians were walking to work than anyone had ever expected. It was really the only mode of commuting whose traffic levels had never been measured before. And those numbers helped city officials realize that for many people, the higer-profile options of taking transit, driving, bicycling or taking a taxi are not at all preferable their own two feet.
Kenny / March 5, 2009 at 06:20 pm
If I lived downtown and worked downtown, I'd walk everywhere... but I don't and don't so driving it is... plus I make a lot of trips to the burbs so a car is a necessity for me.

I stayed at my bro's place downtown, only drove to/from work (in Mississauga) but spent most of my time walking everywhere downtown. Definitely worth it. BUT... it is way too easy to spend money!
W. K. Lis / March 5, 2009 at 07:23 pm
I find it interesting that walking outdoors is considered to be something that the underclasses only do. Especially when they may spend a half an hour on a treadmill that goes nowhere, and paying for the honour the gym to walk on it as well.
DS replying to a comment from Parkdalian / March 5, 2009 at 08:04 pm
Parkdalian: Working in 905 came to me as a surprise and it was my choice to go there as it's part of my career objective. It's not permanent and there's no way I would move out there unless I were given a substantial incentive to do so. I am thankful that one bus from Yorkdale takes me to a 5 minute walk from my office as I've braved Mississauga's system as well. I have some wonderful tales of being in a rusted out city bus on the 401 while the driver played chicken with trucks but this is not the forum to tell them.

W.K. Lis: I agree with your statement. Walking seems so pedestrian to many, especially since they are often the ones driving to the gym to work out. Why not walk aimlessly for an hour and investigate just what makes a community tick and take photos of it all while doing it?
Miriam / March 6, 2009 at 10:37 am
You see things on the way to work you wouldn't get to catch when sitting on a streetcar or bike. It's just a nice time to yourself, very relaxing. Nice video glad you put it up. We did a similar project for class last year as well. :)
eagle3 / March 7, 2009 at 10:35 pm
I used to drive north of the city to go to school everyday, taking just a little over an hour one way, so 2hrs a day. I absolutely hated it! I was there all day so I experienced morning traffic and evening and I kept thinking how do people do this every day for a job. I would sooner shoot myself than commute like that. I found it so stressful, not only because of other drivers but weather as well.
Its amazing though the attitude of folks that live outside the city, they are entirely dependent on their cars and make no effort what so ever to walk anywhere. They love their cars, their smartcentres and mcmansions and make no apologies for it.. Its quite pathetic..
Karrie Buckner / May 1, 2009 at 10:49 am
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