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What's the fastest way to get around Toronto?

Posted by Chris Bateman / January 23, 2013

toronto bike bellIf, like me, you've ever wondered whether getting from, say, one end of the Danforth to the other is faster by bike, car or transit, the eternal question may finally have been solved. A Google Maps API featured on Atlantic Cities this morning allows users to chart a route between two destinations and compare the speeds of various modes of transportation. Right now, Google doesn't let you see all three as you go.

I cite the Danforth in particular because it's the road I'm most frequently able to overtake cars on my bike and easily remain ahead. As I'm riding, the subway rumbles by a block north, a hidden competitor in the quest for Broadview Avenue. The fastest vehicle between Woodbine and the Don Valley is, according to the system developed by an American mobility expert, still the car. But it's close.

Driving on a clear road, no red lights, at the posted speed limit takes 7 minutes. The API estimates riding a bike under the same conditions takes 13 minutes. The subway splits the two, taking 10 minutes to make the trip. Still, lights and parking cars included, I'm still willing to bet the bike is a little more competitive.

toronto travel methodsLet's take the route from the blogTO office to my neighbourhood in the east end as another example. I've wondered for a while now whether (when there's a lower risk of frostbite) if it's quicker to jump on my bike or get on the subway. According to Side-by-Side Router, it's only a minute quicker to use the TTC and walk the remaining distance. I wouldn't lose any time pedaling to Monarch Park via Shuter, River, Dundas, and Jones. With no traffic, taking a car would still get me to my destination fastest.

But what about a route that's well served by transit, bike markings, and, of course, roads? Between Bathurst at Harbord and Yonge at Wellesley there's a decent bike lane (some sharrows) as well as a streetcar and subway connection (via Bathurst and Bloor) so this time the results are much closer. Driving still wins, followed by biking, then public transit.

toronto travel methodsNow, these results obviously don't account for transit wait times or other unforeseen hinderances like a bad run of lights, but there seems to be a sign here that driving isn't always as fast as it might seem, especially when there are practical alternatives. Do tools like this underscore the need for widespread building of car alternatives? Could dedicated bike lanes and stats like this encourage more riders?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: "This Bike Is My Car" by cookedphotos/blogTO Flickr pool and Side-by-Side Router/Google



josh / January 23, 2013 at 08:59 am
I'm not really against any one form of transit in Toronto. I personally think it's pretty stupid to to only ride a bike, or only drive a car when different trips benefit different means of transportation.

That said, when I google map a bike path, I usually take the indicated time, and it's usually pretty accurate, with driving I usually add another 15-30 minutes. I spent the last 5 years driving a delivery truck in this city and generally found you'll always need more time with driving then with biking.
Paul / January 23, 2013 at 09:19 am
I own a car but get around mostly by bike. Why? It's way faster. The biggest reason is parking. It's far easier and faster to find a bike parking spot, one usually right in front of where you need to be, then a car parking spot.
alex / January 23, 2013 at 09:25 am
Obviously the more central parts of the city with their constant congestion will have close results for all three modes of transportation, and it'll vary depending on time of day, weather, etc. Though for the most part, biking distances of a couple of kilometres there would probably be fastest considering a lot of cyclists go between cars, disobey red lights, and go on the sidewalk if need be.

Of course, anywhere in the outer boroughs the car will win hands down, even if you are brave enough to bike down yonge, bathurst, or steeles in north york.
Notahipster / January 23, 2013 at 09:30 am
In Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough the car is the fastest way.
Mark / January 23, 2013 at 09:34 am
as lame as it might be, the fastest way around Toronto during rush hour is without a doubt an E-Bike.
Jer / January 23, 2013 at 09:52 am
Well if you add in running through red lights, stop signs, past TTC open doors, not giving right away to pedestrians, wrong way on one way streets, on sidewalks, and a variety of other things that way too many cyclists seem to be doing then I would say that cycling wins hands down for most trips.

I have been riding BIXI for the last few years (but driving into downtown areas) and I cringe at what people do to "save time"...
Mike / January 23, 2013 at 09:54 am
My state-of-the-art matter transporter, but I'm really not supposed to tell anybo - well, I've already said too much.
phil / January 23, 2013 at 10:24 am
this is pathetic, everyone is saying bikes only go faster because "hey, they're cheating!". I stop at all stop lights and signs and behind streetcars. Everyone has always known that if you are going less than 5km in an urban area (including the burbs, just not the highways) you go faster by bike. always.
shorty / January 23, 2013 at 10:25 am
Huron St from Harbord all the way north to Dupont and then Poplar Plains Rd all the way to st clair is the bestest barely used shortcut in the city
Cindy / January 23, 2013 at 10:28 am
Time of day is a big factor. I bike into the downtown at 4:30AM and it is fantastic and only takes me 20 minutes. I return during evening rush hour and my best time is 45 minutes but it usually takes an hour to get home and I am completely frazzled by the time I get out of the core.
Matt / January 23, 2013 at 10:30 am
Ditto to what Jer said. Cycling is great, but usually only faster if you ride around like a crazy person.
the lemur replying to a comment from Matt / January 23, 2013 at 10:35 am
Nonsense. I don't do anything of the things Jer mentioned and biking is still faster much of the time - faster and more direct than transit within the core and definitely faster in stop-and-go traffic than driving.
Steve replying to a comment from phil / January 23, 2013 at 10:40 am
People are notorious for seeing only what they want to see to support their theories. It has gotten worse with the information age, if the cannot see it, hear it, or read it in 3 minutes they have all the information they need.
This endless argument about how bad cyclists are fail to take into account there is almost no infrastructure for cyclists. Do you think drivers are behaved? What carnage we would have if roads were not designed and built they way they are.
me / January 23, 2013 at 11:23 am
No infrastructure = no need to abide by rules. Got it.
Matt / January 23, 2013 at 11:25 am

Yes, I think drivers are better behaved overall than cyclists (I say that as a cyclist). Also, elementary ethics: Two wrongs don't make a right.

Infrastructure is bad for cyclists, and when I feel endangered on my bike, that enrages me. But it doesn't make me excuse the guy whizzing past stopped streetcars and through red lights. That has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with not giving a shit.
Brian / January 23, 2013 at 02:08 pm
Does it even need to be pointed out that cars can only win that contest in a fantasy land in which they are the only car in the universe and that they don't have to park? Bikes aren't stopped by heavy traffic, and they can almost always be parked right in front of the place you are going. That's what makes them faster.

Matt, Steve's right and you are wrong. We do see what we want to see. What would cause polite, careful cycling to be memorable? Of course people only remember the times when someone is being an ass.

I bike everywhere, and I mostly have no trouble with cars. It's the PEDESTRIANS that bring me closest to death. Every time I bike in this city, I am guaranteed to have a jaywalker step off the sidewalk in the middle of the block after LISTENING for traffic instead of looking, or weaving without looking through the gridlock that doesn't stop bikes. I always stop for streetcars, but am thanked for my trouble by the crowds of people who drift out into the road in front of me because they see a streetcar coming up from BEHIND me.

There are crappy people using all modes of transport. The ones obeying the rules are boring and invisible, so they never get mentioned. And yes, that includes pedestrians.
Roger / January 23, 2013 at 02:43 pm
By far, the fastest way around Toronto is by scooter. Quicker off the mark at stoplights and easier to maneuver than a car. Faster than a bicycle. And free parking virtually anywhere!
Mg replying to a comment from phil / January 23, 2013 at 02:48 pm
A few weekends ago, I had to drive from Warden & Danforth over to Pape & Danforth. From Victoria Park to Pape a cyclist and I played "traffic hopscotch" -- sometimes he was ahead of me and sometimes I was ahead of him. But in the end, his trip was slightly faster, crossing Pape a few seconds before I turned north. He stopped at every red light, and didn't perform any of the dangerous manoeuvres that apparently all cyclists are guilty of.

I drive in the city almost every day. As for all of the red-light and stop-sign running, endangering pedestrians, etc., I've seen it happen. But only from a relatively small amount of cyclists. Most are riding safely, and certainly present less of a hazard than many of the car and truck drivers on the road. Of course, maybe I don't notice it that much, since I'm too busy watching out for other drivers running reds, wandering from lane to lane without signalling, talking on the phone....
Rob replying to a comment from Roger / January 23, 2013 at 08:40 pm
E-Bike aka Scooter is the fastest hands down. Easily maneuverable,faster,and unlike cyclists you don't have to break any traffic laws or ride on the sidewalk to get there.
Jim replying to a comment from Rob / January 23, 2013 at 09:54 pm
E-bikes and scooters are different vehicles. An E-bike is an electric bike that can only go about 30 km/h. The slowest scooter will go 65 km/h easy, while others can go over 100 km/h. Scooters have gas motors just like cars and aren't limited by having to wait and recharge your batteries after a trip.
Rob replying to a comment from Jim / January 23, 2013 at 10:09 pm
Jim, in the 21st century scooters can be electric and clearly you haven't seen videos like this if you believe electric bicyles are speed limited to 30kmh. Yes,legally,but not necessarily in practice.
Mg replying to a comment from Rob / January 23, 2013 at 11:15 pm
"....if you believe electric bicyles are speed limited to 30kmh. Yes,legally,but not necessarily in practice."

So much for your earlier comment that "you don't have to break any traffic laws ..... to get there."
Rob replying to a comment from Mg / January 24, 2013 at 02:11 am
Just because you can break laws doesn't mean you are. Unfortunately that logic is lost with many cyclists like yourself.
Chris / January 24, 2013 at 03:01 am
From my experience, late at night when there is no traffic, driving is faster. But during the daytime, especially on a road with a bike lane, biking is much, much faster. The main reason it is faster is that a bike can always go along the side and make its way to the front of the line, whereas during the day at many intersections cars may have to wait two signals to get through. Another advantage for bikes is that it is a lot easier to make a right turn on a bike because you don't have to wait as long for pedestrians to cross to allow you to do so. The last thing of course is that during the daytime finding parking for a car can take a very long time, but late at night parking is plentiful.
the lemur replying to a comment from Rob / January 24, 2013 at 10:12 am
Is that the kind of thing that doesn't require a licence here?
Josh / January 24, 2013 at 01:04 pm
I have a total bias against e-bikes and scooters. I may be wrong, but e-bikes, under municipal law are not considered motorized vehicles and are allowed to use bike lanes.

How is something that has a motor, considered un-motorized. E-bikes are heavy and have way more acceleration than bikes.

Sure they get you where you want to be faster, but I personally beleive it's at the expense of safety for regular bikers, roller bladders and skateboarders. I don't mind sharing the bike lane with those fellows, but if you have a motor you should be using the lanes for things with motors.
Alex / January 24, 2013 at 02:23 pm
My Roller Bladder is acting up again, must go pee....
the lemur replying to a comment from Josh / January 24, 2013 at 03:14 pm
They're classified as bicycles so there is no requirement for licensing or registration, but that also means e-bikes have to have pedals to qualify. You have to use the pedals if you want to ride in a bike lane, and you can't use the motor if you want to ride on a park path or trail.
Alex / January 24, 2013 at 04:08 pm
Dang, I'm adding pedals to my Harley than!!
Michelle replying to a comment from Rob / January 24, 2013 at 04:10 pm
What a tool.
Anthony / January 24, 2013 at 04:15 pm
I prefer riding my Bike. During rush hour in Downtown Traffic (while obeying the laws by the way,geesh) it is faster than a car or streetcar. Once I get out of downtown a car is much faster. My overall trip from Danforth and Coxwell to Liberty Village. Is probably faster by car most days, but a heck of a lot less aggravating by bike. Public Transportation is never faster and really really sucks.
Alex replying to a comment from Michelle / January 24, 2013 at 04:46 pm
Truth hurts eh?
Jim / January 26, 2013 at 02:58 pm
I have found riding an e-bike around the city is faster than a bicycle and can be faster than cars at rush hour, provided e-bikes were legally permitted to use bike lanes in the city, currently they are not.
Once allowed to use bike lanes you will see how much better traffic becomes when trying to get out of the city in the afternoon "rush".
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