October 01, 2018

Trail Gaps Along the Don

While Toronto’s bikeway network has lots of gaps to fill, east-west connectivity is arguably much better than north-south. Especially north of St. Clair where continuous routes are limited to the Don River and Humber River trails, as well as the bike lanes on Royal York which go to Dixon Road. Back in August, I biked the Don River trail system to Sheppard Avenue to identify trail gaps and better understand how the trail system fits with the Lake to Lake Route.
Wayfinding signage used on the Lower Don Trail


What is the Lake to Lake Route? It is a planned 121 kilometre recreational trail stretching from Lake Simcoe to Lake Ontario. Despite the lack of promotion by the City of Toronto compared to York Region, Toronto’s part is almost complete except for a few key gaps. Specifically near Wilket Creek Park (north of Eglinton Avenue) and York Mills Road.
Lake to Lake Cycling Route with Connections (Via York Region)
West enders can choose to start the Lower Don Trail at the Lake Shore and Cherry intersection – an unpleasant intersection to navigate – or Corktown Common, while east enders start just west of Lake Shore and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP).

The Lower Don is one of my more frequent trails along with the Waterfront and the Humber. A couple of improvements were done when the trail reopened last year including bright orange wayfinding signs and the Belleville Underpass, though this trail badly needs repaving and lighting. Especially where the trail isn’t near the DVP. One night in late August, another cyclist almost collided into me because he didn’t have lights; something a few others didn’t have either. Always bring your lights, folks! Especially as daylight hours get shorter!
Except for the Belleville Underpass, the Lower Don trail surface needs repaving
The Lower Don provides several useful connections along the way. The Pottery Road trail leads you to the Bayview trail and the Evergreen Brickworks to the west, as well as to Todmorden Mills and a steep uphill to Broadview and Mortimer to the east. By continuing north, the hills become more noticeable and the old wayfinding signs are found again. Hope the new signs get rolled out across the city soon.
Turn left for the West Don Trail or keep straight for the Taylor Creek Trail
Overall, the Lower Don is pretty straight forward from the Martin Goodman Trail to the DVP – Don Mills exit where the trail splits after going under Don Mills. Going straight brings you to the Taylor Creek Trail, while those wishing to stay on the (West) Don Trail need to turn left onto an arch bridge. A third trail – the East Don – is under construction which should provide a direct connection to the Gatineau Hydro Corridor or the Meadoway.
No wayfinding at this trail fork on the West Don south of Eglinton
The West Don is where trail wayfinding starts to fall apart. After going under Don Mills (again), a couple of park access roads which could be better marked bring you back on the trail just south of Overlea. Just before Eglinton, the trail forks without giving users any sense of direction. Going left would send you to Serena Gundy Park, Sunnybrook Park, and the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood, while you need to keep right to continue the Lake to Lake Route.
Turning right at this intersection (Route 45 Ends) brings you to the multi-use trail on Leslie
After passing Eglinton, there are two routes available. Taking the second right allows you to continue north to the Toronto Botanical Garden at Leslie and Lawrence, which requires you to go east on Lawrence to get to the Don Mills Trail. I ended up taking the first right to go on Leslie.
Cross-ride in front of Toronto Fire station - Note the multi-use trail on the west side of Leslie
There is a narrow multi-use path on Leslie which can be used to get to a fire station and a bicycle crossing signal, though some brief sidewalk riding is needed to get to OTT Financial and the Don Mills Trail access.
Small dirt gap before the Don Mills Trail
The trail access has a small dirt section right before the Don Mills Trail where you have to push your bike through; something not ideal for those with cargo bikes or bike trailers.
Which exit on the Don Mills Trail is this supposed to be?
The Don Mills Trail is a nice trail which – except for a signalized crossing at Lawrence – gives trail users a direct route from north of Eglinton to York Mills. Railings, benches, and tree-like bicycle parking can be found at various exits, but signs are needed to show where the trail exits are.
Buffered bike lanes on York Mills Road
At York Mills, buffered bike lanes – which should have had protection added – guide people on bikes across the bridge to Lesmill Road, where wayfinding signs along industrial streets do a good job linking York Mills Road to the Betty Sutherland Trail. For an alternative option, the York Mills bike lanes could be extended to Don Mills, while the west sidewalk on Don Mills from York Mills to Duncan Mill could be converted into a multi-use trail.
Wayfinding signage used to direct cyclists from York Mills Road to the Betty Sutherland Trail
The Betty Sutherland Trail allows for a safe crossing under Highway 401, but it abruptly ends at the southeast corner of Sheppard and Leslie without notifying people on bikes the trail continues at the northwest corner. The wide intersection is unpleasant to navigate and could use some dedicated bicycle crossings to help guide people just as what was done at Eglinton and Renforth.
Betty Sutherland Trail at Highway 401
While I couldn’t go much further north than Sheppard due to the heavy rain – thank goodness for the nearby subway station – the trail does connect with the Finch Hydro Corridor and ends at Leslie just south of Steeles. Those wanting to go further north would go north on Leslie to a dead end at Bercy Park and take a trail from there. I’ll bookmark the Finch Hydro Corridor and the York Region part of the Lake to Lake Route for another time.
Sheppard and Leslie lacks wayfinding for cyclists wanting to go further north
If the gaps at Wilket Creek and York Mills could be addressed, Toronto would have at least one continuous north-south route from the Waterfront to Steeles. A second one along the Humber River would be completed once the Mid-Humber Gap on Weston Road south of Highway 401 gets filled in. A third is in the works along Etobicoke Creek, though planned MTO work on the Queen Elizabeth Way is expected to hold up progress for a few years despite the progress made further north. Finally, some continuous north-south on-street routes are needed with Yonge Street being the most likely candidate if City Council can get REimagining Yonge right after the election.

Happy trails!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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