It’s been well over a year since I’ve been back to Toronto. There was a distinct feeling of being in a state of limbo in a recent trip home.
This is a common feeling for people returning home after living abroad. With each visit, it takes longer for the strangeness to subside. Even when venturing over to familiar stomping grounds, there is a lingering notion of being ungrounded, almost floating aimlessly. In riding a bike, I hope it would bring about a familiarity with past memories.
While many things stay the same, there is always change. I’ve been on the fringe when hearing about the transformation of cycling in Toronto. However it was near impossible not to notice the Bike Share program used by both locals and tourists. I got a $15 3-day pass that allows for a 30 minute ride before the bike needs to be docked again in order to avoid extra usage fees. It was easy to ride from one end of the town to the other with all the solar-powered stations peppered throughout the city like 7-Eleven convenience shops.
Then there are the glorious dedicated bike lanes in the heart of downtown along Richmond, Adelaide and Bloor street. Riding along them felt as if I had just come out of a wormhole from a different dimension. If Toronto wants to shed the label of the Wild West of urban cycling, this is a Neil Armstrong-est step in the right direction.
Riding a bike here was just like how I remembered it. Within the first 5 minutes, I got into an argument with a cab. Taxis are like raccoons in Toronto. They’re everywhere and unpredictable and are the most dangerous thing on the streets. But once I got going, feelings of déjà vu blended nicely with first impressions of forgetting how civilized biking is here. Especially in contrast to riding in parts of central Amsterdam. There were no swathes of tourists who drift into bike lanes mistaking them for sidewalks, no scooters whizzing by or bikes appearing out of nowhere. In Toronto, traffic was predictable and moved in one direction.
This of course changes during rush hour when the nuisance factor multiplies. Bicyclists get pinched between the curb and cars along places like Queen Street. Many have mastered the waltz of dodging side mirrors while performing a one-legged stutter step while some will ferociously ring their bell along the way.
But what appealed to me is just observing the diversity and vibrance among bicyclists. Social Media can cloud reality with an impression that Toronto is composed of helmet wearing, whistle-blowing, obstruction-crazed photo taking, neon vest wearing “cyclists.” This just isn’t true. There are riders who wear helmets, those who don’t, people who wear headphones, drink in hand or puff a cigarette. They come from all walks of life and it’s glorious.
I place value on a city by it’s cycling culture. Toronto may not have the bike lanes, but it has the numbers and more importantly the attitude. It’s the everyday bicyclist that weaves casualness and normality into the fabric of city life. My return reminded me that they are icing on the cake in what is truly a world-class city.