For a few seasons, eons in cyclist years, one crosstown Toronto bike route went from best to worst.
Underutilized and outdated, kind of blah – that may have been the consensus among planners about the east-west stretch of Queens Quay from Parliament to Bathurst, before the road's new redesign. But on a bike, it was a reprieve.
Like everything in cycling, there are the positives and not so positives. The route always held the promise of lakeshore cycling, even if the bulwark of waterfront buildings regularly blocks any glimpse of actual lake.
The wind, on rare occasions, could feel sirocco-strong in the wind tunnel created by the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel. And on some weekend summer afternoons, the road was impassable around arty, foodie Harbourfront Centre. But mostly Queens Quay always felt quieter, the street broader, the traffic lighter versus the downtown congestion (said derisively flicking a finger) north of the Gardiner Expressway eyesore.
Add to that the rotation of bike characters on this stretch: the old-schooler labouring on his single-speed, muttering under his breath whenever passed; the middle-ager intent on pounding his biggest mountain-bike gear and knee cartilage to dust; the fellow enthusiast comparing his cyclo-cross bike with mine; the stylish commuter gliding by, all upright back and high knees and flowy blouse.
Each come and go, their commutes and weekend ride schedules syncing, and then not, with mine, just as potholes and wheel-snatching crevices come and go over the years – that two-wheel feeling of impermanence, acceptance.
That is, until the wholesale redevelopment of the Toronto waterfront started.
Amid all the construction, the two separate halves of the multiuse Martin Goodman Trail, stretching along the lakefront to the east and west of the downtown, will be connected through Queens Quay to become a continuous shoreline path.
And along with laying new streetcar tracks, new sidewalks and a newly narrowed road, this involved cordoning off for at least a couple of years sections of road, diverting bikes onto sidewalks, around fencing and into pedestrians, all strategically collision-placed.
There was never a good solution for bicyclists. Choice A meant continuing down the one open lane of traffic, avoiding raised, crash-inducing manhole covers on the half-paved road.
Choice B meant reluctantly skirting over to the official detour route, the meandering, discontinued bike path a block north under the Gardiner, where broken glass goes to die. That path only lasts a few blocks and ends in small jostles with pedestrians, solemn and eye-to-eye, bull to matador.
So for the approximately 2,700 cyclists said to travel along the waterfront on an average weekday and the 2,300 on an average Saturday or Sunday (numbers courtesy of Waterfront Toronto), the scheduled full completion next week of the new Queens Quay path should come as a huge relief, a return to the tranquillity of old.
I'm not so sure. There was a lesson in the construction detours.
Lot after lot along the eastern stretch of the route past the Redpath Sugar refinery, where you naturally pick up speed on a bike, are reserved for soaring condo towers and mixed-use high-rises still to be built. The developers' mock-ups show far more congestion than now.
And already the Pier 27 condo development, with its glass and steel strips laid horizontally along the lakeshore, shows what that will be like, blocking not only much of the waterfront but large swaths of sky. Closer to Spadina, older beige-brick apartment blocks are being painted shades of grey, a cosmetic touch-up for the condo community's glass and steel fetish.
Of course, all of this is only a blur by bike.
And like the developers and planners, we cyclists are caught up in our own paths of desire, carving direct lines that don't always adhere to every traffic rule or planned pathway. During construction, no two cyclists ever seemed to obey every detour sign. Of course not. The veteran single-speeder and the stylish commuter are too much of a study in contrasts.
The section of bike path at the foot of Yonge Street is an area that illustrates potential problems.
The dilapidated Captain John's boat restaurant has been mercifully unmoored and towed away (even if fish and chips and coleslaw smells still somehow linger, or is that imagined?). The space has opened a larger view of the harbour, fitting for the end of Yonge. The new path courses past.
Cyclists travelling down Yonge to meet the bike path, however, particularly at speed, never seem sure where to join it. Cars leaving the parking lot across from the Toronto Star building add to the confusion. Those of us who have cycled the route for years will undoubtedly try to avoid this and swing onto the road, maybe joining the path further along, maybe not.
But just as that decision seems to sort itself out, there's more confusion ahead. At the intersection with Lower Jarvis, where the Guvernment nightclub formerly stood, the new path flies into pedestrians coming from the recently constructed Corus Entertainment and George Brown College buildings, as well as Sugar Beach park (the most inviting addition to that section of the lakeshore).
Some cyclists go from path to road to avoid the pedestrians, others go from road to path to avoid the traffic light. Most times this is no big deal. Cyclists, drivers and pedestrians can figure it out.
But not all the time: A couple (seemingly novice riders on new racing bikes) were riding along that stretch one summer day, unsure where or if to move from road to path. I had to slow down behind their erratic riding.
Their dialogue was overheated and distracted. Sure enough, one of them hit a few bits of gravel near the raised maple-leaf designs embossed on the road, which are there to warn cyclists of danger. She fell, splayed across the path.
That's not anything the planners could prevent. It's cycling. It's taking what comes, adapting to the here and now, getting back on and pedalling.