Abandoned DVP on-ramp

Old DVP on-ramp from York Mills Road

Driving down the DVP a couple of weeks ago, I noticed an old roadway cutting through the brush just north of York Mills Road. I had a pretty good idea of what it was, but a quick look at Google Maps confirmed my suspicion: it was an abandoned on-ramp to the southbound Don Valley Parkway from westbound York Mills Road. The current DVP ramps at York Mills were reconfigured during construction to the overpass beginning in 2005. The northwestern loop of the cloverleaf was removed entirely. Or was it?

Old DVP on-ramp from York Mills Road

I went back by bike last weekend (the same ride where I blew out a tire) to investigate and was quite surprised by what I found. Not only was virtually the entire ramp still intact, but there had been no attempt to restrict access to it. I was expecting to see the traditional Toronto chain-link fence surrounding the road, but all I had to do was ride up a little hill before I was greeted by the remnants of the ramp in all its glory. I’m not saying that there should be a fence, just that I was expecting one. Toronto officialdom is so paranoid about putting fences and warning signs around everything more challenging than a sidewalk that I never imagined for a second that it wouldn’t be all locked up.

Old DVP on-ramp from York Mills RoadAlthough the subsequent landscaping at York Mills Road put the ramp’s remnants out of sight, the bulk of the road still sits behind the embankment, where it’s being slowly consumed by encroaching weeds. The posts that held up corrugated beam safety barriers around the perimeter of the ramp were cut down to the ground and a stone-lined drainage ditch has been dug across the roadway, but the ramp is otherwise intact to within a few metres of the highway.

Although you’re never farther than 100 metres from either York Mills or the DVP, the curving tree-lined ramp quickly isolates you from both. Even with the sound of traffic in the background, it’s surprisingly relaxing.

Old DVP on-ramp from York Mills RoadThe current Google Maps image of the area, probably taken in 2005 or 2006, clearly shows an excavator perched at the very bottom of the ramp, presumably preparing to rip up the 50 metres or so of the roadway that was removed.

At some point, the now-unused land here will probably be sold off for—what else?—condos, and another little piece of Toronto infrastructure will disappear completely. In the meantime, this hidden corner of the city is being rezoned by the local flora.

A version of this post originally appeared on Torontoist.

Improving the Ride for Heart

My trusty GPS guides me right down the white line.Now that I’ve finally ridden the Ride for Heart, I have a few suggestions for improving the experience, getting more people involved, and making it safer:

  • Separate it into two events: one race and one pleasure ride. It’s obvious that a lot of speed demons enjoy the opportunity to race along the DVP, but they really shouldn’t be mingling with riders who are just out for a leisurely Sunday pedal. With the racers leading the charge out of the starting chute at 6:45 a.m., it wouldn’t be a problem except that the 75 km course loops back on itself at the top, which puts the speedy peloton in conflict with much slower riders for at least a quarter of their ride. At the very least, the racers should start an hour earlier than other riders so that the two groups don’t conflict. Another option is to run the event over a whole weekend: multiple races on Saturday, pleasure ride on Sunday. I’m sure that racers would appreciate this just as much as the rest of us.
  • Push back the start time. I mean, really, who wants to wake up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning to go for a bike ride? More importantly, how many more familes would participate if the latest start time got pushed back from 9 o’clock in the morning to 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon? I know, inconvenience to drivers, blah, blah, blah. Spare me. This could tie into my previous suggestion: have races in the morning, leisure in the afternoon.
  • Let people start from somewhere other than Exhibition Place. What’s the point of forcing someone who lives in North York to drive down to the waterfront, ride up to North York and back to the waterfront, and then drive back up to North York? Wouldn’t it be better if they could just ride over to the York Mills exit and get on the DVP from there? I saw riders getting on and off at virtually every ramp along the highway, so people are already doing this anyway. And they’re probably not registering to participate, either. It’s not a problem for me to ride down to the Ex, but it would be a lot easier (and fun!) for me to use either the Don Mills or Bayview on-ramps.
  • Ditch the set course and just let people ride wherever they want. As far as I could tell, the course isn’t really enforced anyway. A fast rider could probably have done the York Mills–Bayview loop several times before time ran out, and someone who signed up for the 25 km ride could have done the full 75 km without being stopped. Indeed, for all the checking I saw, anyone could have started any route at any time. For maximum effectiveness, tie this in with the previous item: let riders get on the highway wherever they want, ride wherever they want, and get off wherever they want. Riders should pay a set access fee at whatever ramp they use to access the Parkway and that should allow them to go anywhere.
  • Do it more often. Why just one early morning in the spring? How about every Sunday through the summer? With different charities running it each weekend? Five bucks gets you on the DVP and Gardiner between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (with on and off privileges at any exit) every Sunday for three months. I know, inconvenience to drivers, blah, blah, blah. Suck it up.

All of these suggestions would get more people on the road and probably raise more money. If these changes were made, I’d anticipate a minimum of 150,000 cyclists taking part. Just set up tables at each entrance, sell wristbands for $5–$10 and let people cruise at will.

Ride for Heart

Ride for Heart, 2008

After years of stubbornly refusing to wake up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I finally made it out to the Ride for Heart today. I thought it went fairly smoothly. I got to Exhibition Place just before 6:30 a.m. and settled into the starting chute for the 75 km ride at 6:32, about 15 minutes before the scheduled start. Quite a number of late arrivals rode along the adjacent sidewalk or lawn to get to the front instead of taking up their spots at the end of the line. Nice.

Although well within my range once I’m in cycling shape for the year, today’s total ride length of 98 km (including 23 km round-trip from home to the starting/finish line) over four and a half hours was two hours and 40 km longer than I’d gone since October. You betcha I’m sore. But it’s a good sore. And next weekend, I’ll ride farther.

Right at the front of the starting chute was a large group of riders who raced the entire 75 km. I don’t know who won, but I do know that the peloton (and its police escort) lapped me around the 40 km mark.

I was surprised by the number of people who got flat tires or were injured along the ride. I stopped to ask at least a dozen people with flats if they needed assistance (one of the moral duties of those who carry tool kits), but they all waved me on. Injuries along the route included a guy who was screaming in pain as he was hoisted onto an ambulance stretcher, a woman with a nasty gash on her head, several other people receiving roadside attention from paramedics, and at least two other ambulance sightings. All but one of the injuries I saw were on straight sections of the track, and the course wasn’t really that crowded after the start. Another guy was walking with his bike tilted up on the rear wheel, the badly twisted front wheel hanging uselessly in the air.

While I was pondering the causes of all the accidents, a woman passed me on the right, looked back at me as her rear wheel slowly drew even with my front, said, “Passing on the left,” and then cut right into my wheel. I would almost certainly have joined the injured if I hadn’t braked in time or if someone had been behind me. Just goes to show you that idiots drive all kinds of vehicles.

It was good to finally get out to this event, although it felt a bit like Friday’s Big Critical Mass Adventure took the wind out of some of the novelty.

My own personal Quay to the City

Taking the lane big time

With the TTC strike on (and possibly over by tomorrow), I thought I’d get out and enjoy the promised bike lanes on Queen’s Quay. I couldn’t find them at first, but then realized that in all its wisdom, the City had put them smack in the middle of the road. And what wonderful bike lanes they are: nice and wide, smoothly paved, and grade separated. I think this temporary installation is even better than the original Quay to the City almost two years ago. I could live without all the streetcar tracks cluttering the lane, though. What’s up with that?

I was surprised that the new bike lane was so deserted on such a nice day. I heartily encourage more cyclists to take advantage of these lanes while they last.

Highway Traffic Act Roulette #3

Section 148-7 of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act offers up this requirement:

Where one vehicle is met or overtaken by another, if by reason of the weight of the load on either of the vehicles so meeting or on the vehicle so overtaken the driver finds it impracticable to turn out, he or she shall immediately stop, and, if necessary for the safety of the other vehicle and if required so to do, he or she shall assist the person in charge thereof to pass without damage.

I cite this as proof that drivers people (and the law) used to be civilized. I’m sure this clause had application at some point in our distant past, but it seems quaint and head-pattingly naive to suggest that someone today would get out of his car and help another driver to pass him. Unless flipping the bird and shouting out the window could be considered “assistance” in this context.

River watching: couch potato edition

Camera watching for traffic jams on the Don River

The appearance of yet another traffic camera in the city is hardly remarkable. But it is a little unusual when that camera is watching traffic on the Don River just south of Pottery Road. Although it was used extensively for transportation in its almost-forgotten past, the Don is not exactly known for its 21st-century traffic jams and accidents.

The camera, installed about a year ago beside a gauge house that monitors river levels and flow, is actually used by Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) to provide visual correlation of data from other instruments. While a gauge may indicate only that river flow is lower than normal, the camera can see an ice dam. This camera is currently the only one in TRCA’s stable, but they’re trying to identify suitable locations for more.

TRCA monitoring station map from trcagauging.caNot only can TRCA monitor the Don—indeed, all of the rivers under its purview—from its Downsview offices, but thanks to a new public web site (login with username “public” and password “public”), you can play Conservation Authority from the comfort of your parents’ basement. For more than a dozen locations, you can view real-time results from monitoring gauges, or graph water level and flow trends over time. There’s even a version of the data optimized for viewing on your Blackberry. With practice, you’ll be able to tell when the Bayview Extension is flooding or when your new bridge is in danger of being washed out. And yes, you can even see the current view from that camera pointed up the Don. What more could a budding environmentalist, river geek, or curious writer ask for? The site is still under active development and will eventually have more features and display data from more gauge stations.

Most of this is probably not terribly exciting to the majority of people, but it’s notable as one of the few online government projects that gives the public access to detailed real-time information rather than just watered-down summaries after the fact. Most effort of this variety seems to be directed towards car drivers, showing not only camera views, but also providing analysis of current driving speeds. It’s a little refreshing to see agencies applying some of the same principles and technology to other uses.

Map from trcagauging.ca. Thanks to TRCA’s Don Haley for his assistance. A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

What snow?

Workhorse bike on a snowy day

Yes, I went for a quick ride on Friday afternoon. It was after the worst of the storm had passed, but before it had stopped snowing and before most of the roads were cleared. Now that I’m working from home again, I haven’t had nearly as much opportunity to ride as I did earlier in the winter.

Despite the media spin, which always leans towards panic and gross exaggeration (with the occasional level-headed commentary masquerading as satire) when it comes to the weather, it was just not that bad a day. I went downtown for some shopping in the morning, ran a quick errand by bike in the afternoon, and then went up to North York for dinner. All in all, it was a pretty normal Friday for me. Oh, and I had to shovel a couple of times. Whoop-de-do.

Although the blowing snow wasn’t all that pleasant, it was certainly not the worst I’ve ever seen, nor was it anything that a warm coat and scarf or balaclava couldn’t deal with. It definitely wasn’t anything to get anxious and paranoid about. The sidewalks seemed well-used, the parks I passed through had obviously seen a day full of playful dogs, and I even encountered a couple of other cyclists while I was out. People generally seemed to be in good humour, taking it all in stride. Yet to read the paper or watch the news, you’d think that the sky had just fallen, that Toronto lay in ruin after the worst natural disaster in all of recorded history struck down the entire city.

Why the overreaction? It was hardly an isolated incident, either; the media regularly predicts mayhem and destruction any time a weather event is on the way, ready to menace the city. Yet from my hours tootling around the city by foot, bike, and subway on Friday, it seemed to me that the people most affected by the weather were those in cars. And most of those were people who simply didn’t use common sense. You know, like if the snow on the street is a foot deep and your car only has six inches of clearance, you’re probably not going to make it all the way down the block. If the roads are covered in snow, you’re probably going to need to give more room when you pass and slow down a bit when you turn. If you’re driving on summer tires and Pottery Road hasn’t been ploughed yet, find another, flatter, route. If you’re trying to zip through that left turn as the light is turning red, you’re probably going to slide into the curb.

Personally, I think that our winter traffic woes would be lessened considerably if winter tires were mandatory on all cars in Ontario being driven within two (three? five?) days of a snowfall. If you don’t want the expense, bother, or safety of winter tires, that’s fine; just leave your car at home a few days a year. If common sense doesn’t tell you to do it, maybe the law should.

A real man's SUV

Best scooter ever. I can’t decide whether this beauty from the latest Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue is the best sport utility vehicle ever or a mere curiosity. It doesn’t really matter either way, because I really want one.

With a range of 15 miles (24 km), it could handily transport me and my lunch to work on those rare days when I really don’t feel like cycling. But I imagine its primary use in my life being for grocery shopping, picnicking, making Risa embarrassed to be seen with me, and impressing the hell out of the neighbours.

A vehicle like this reduces motorized personal transportation to its essence: wheels, an electric motor, and a trunk to carry your stuff. Most people don’t need more than that for commuting and running errands. And just imagine the jaws dropping when you steer this sweet ride up to your next tailgate party.

Image from Hammacher Schlemmer.

Highway Traffic Act Roulette #2

Section 77 of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act declares:

Every person travelling on a highway with a sleigh or sled drawn by a horse or other animal shall have at least two bells attached to the harness or to the sleigh or sled in such a manner as to give ample warning sound.

They must provide ample warning because, of course, horse-drawn sleighs are the real menace on our roads.