November 07, 2018

North York's Cycling Black Hole

When looking at Toronto’s cycling map, there appears to be a large black hole in North York bounded by the Don trail system, the Finch hydro corridor, the Humber River Trail, and the Beltline Trail (or Eglinton). It is a reality I face whenever I bike to work near Dufferin and Lawrence via the West Toronto Railpath and Caledonia. Bike lanes do exist on Marlee – which I used often when heading to certain downtown destinations after work – but they don’t connect to anything north of the Beltline. It is a shame, given the large amount of employment lands along Caledonia and near Downsview Park. Last month, I checked out the proposed York University and Downsview connections while doing some municipal election volunteering with Progress Toronto to better understand how to fill this hole.
Toronto's cycling map - note the large gap in North York

To start things off, I brought my bike on the subway to Downsview Park station. Downsview Park itself has a bunch of smaller off-road trails, but don’t do much for on-street connectivity. The nearest on-street bike lane is found on Sentinel Road at Dovehouse Avenue, which meant braving Sheppard Avenue for almost two kilometres. Given the width of Sheppard, it would be a no brainer to put in a multi-use path from Vitti Street – the entrance to Downsview Park – to Sentinel and give neighbourhood residents a safe cycling route to the subway. Especially considering the Downsview proposal called for a short bi-directional cycle track on the south side of Sheppard from Sentinel to Sunfield.
Sentinel Road at Dovehouse Avenue
The existing bike lanes on Sentinel were meant to be extended from Dovehouse to Sheppard, though that wasn’t done at the time I was there. The City recently issued a construction notice for bike lane installation on Dovehouse from Keele to Sentinel. While it would help reduce the distance needed to travel on Sheppard heading westbound, a signalized crossing would be needed at the northern John Drury Drive entrance to allow for safe access to Downsview Park station.
Finch Hydro Corridor at Sentinel
The existing painted bike lanes on Sentinel go through a residential area, which helps reduce the stress level when riding towards York University. While it bears repeating paint isn’t enough to keep people riding bikes safe, traffic calming measures should be enough in this case. These bike lanes provide connectivity with the Finch hydro corridor and The Pond Road. Some bike lanes were called for on Evelyn Wiggins Road to link with an existing trail next to a bus only corridor, though they weren’t yet installed. To make matters worse, there isn’t a curb cut from Evelyn Wiggins to that trail.
Lack of curb cut at Evelyn Wiggins Road
The Pond loops around York University and leads to the recently installed cycle tracks on Shoreham; a first for North York. Shoreham runs next to the Aviva Centre stadium, though there are a couple of weaknesses. The first is the unsafe right turn mixing zone at Murray Ross Parkway – expected to get a boulevard trail to Steeles – while the other is the premature end at the Black Creek bridge.
These right turn mixing zones should be discouraged
The remainder of the cycle track to Jane Street is waiting on sewer work to be done, while a crossing could be added at the bridge to allow for safe access to the Black Creek Trail. If only the major corridor study on Jane north of the 401 could proceed, Shoreham would prove to be a valuable east-west connection.
North York's first cycle tracks on Shoreham Road
Looking forward, the Finch West LRT is currently scheduled to be completed in 2023 and will include some form of bike lanes. (Hello, Mobility Greenway?) As for the bike plan, getting Transform Yonge through council in early 2019 will be critical for improving cycling access in North York, as will the need to provide a safe crossing under Highway 401. There are also calls for a trail on Bathurst north of the 401, as well as a route using Faywood, Wilmington, Wilson, and Dufferin. Unfortunately, one of the main weaknesses of the bike plan in North York is the lack of dedicated east-west routes, though an update to the plan is expected in early 2019.
Unlike the east end where a few key route additions can complete the grid, filling North York’s black hole will require a lot more work. Having said that, a few strategic moves such as Downsview – York University and Transform Yonge could help build a catalyst for further improvements beyond the build out of the current ten year bike plan.

Fill that hole!
Rob Z (e-mail)


  1. It takes me 5 minutes to walk from where I live to the Sheppard/Keele corner of Downsview Park.

    I regularly cycle commute from home, through Downsview Park, and eventually finishing just down the hill from Casa Loma Castle. My route completely avoids Sheppard Avenue and Keele, although I need to cross both. The only arterials I am on are Wilson and Dufferin - for about 1 km each.

    From my place I go north about 1/2 km to Dovehouse, then I climb the hill, cross Keele and am in Downsview Park. From there I take quiet, smooth (about 2/3), wide paved paths south through the park, including taking a pedestrian/cycling bridge OVER Sheppard Avenue (the bridge is just a few hundred metres east of Keele). After the paved paths of Downsview Park I go through a new residential area (not quite 100% complete), then connect to an old residential area via a short pedestrian/cyclist pathway. I eventually get to Wilson via Dubray Avenue. From here it is Wilson, residential, Dufferin (under the 401), Ranee, through Lawrence Square, residential, Marlee, short L/R jog on Eglinton (this can be tricky), residential, then through Cedarvale Park and path which surfaces just north of St. Clair West subway station. From here it is mostly residential again until the top of the hill across from the castle. Then it is down the hill and the end of my commute. About 15 km one way.

    My return trip is mostly the same, except I usually go from Ranee, through Yorkdale Park, and then take Yorkdale Road (parallel to the Allan and then 401). Getting from the small park onto north bound Yorkdale Road can also be tricky. I used to take Dufferin under the 401 and then immediately turn L. But there is no left turning lane and all that is needed is a speeding motorist to not see me and up goes another ghost bike. So now I cross Dufferin at the lights then take the west sidewalk under hwy 401.

  2. I have always known the 35 year strong Councillor for the area, Maria Augimeri, to be pro-cycling. She has been pushing for a bridge over the New Market / Barrie rail line to connect the area north of Wilson Avenue (east side of tracks) with the new residential area on the west side of the tracks (technically part of Downsview Park). Once built, cyclists coming from the downtown area and going to York University can completely avoid Wilson, Sheppard, and Keele. Two unfortunates though: (1) Last I heard it is expected to be at least 10 years before the bridge over the RR tracks is built and (2) Maria Augimeri is no longer Councillor. Instead, non-cyclist supporter James Pasternak has been elected.