My experiences with transit and cycling in Toronto were almost uniformly overwhelmingly positive. If only it wasn’t so cold there, I’d totally want to live there.
When I first arrived, I got a GO bus and then the TTC subway into downtown Toronto. This had two complications. One, GO and TTC are different systems, so I had to pay for both. But the total was only about CDN$8, so it was still astoundingly cheap for an airport-to-downtown option. Two, the GO bus that I got on went to a station on the other side of the U-shaped line (Yonge/University/Spadina) than the part of the U I wanted to be on, but that was simply fixed by briefly transferring to the Bloor-Danforth line to cut off the bottom of the U. (On the way back I did what I should have done in the first place: take the Bloor-Danforth line to Kipling and the 192 Airport Rocket to Pearson, which costs only CDN$2.75 and is a TTC-only journey. The Airport Rocket has 10-minute frequency during the afternoons — pretty great.)
The TTC is kind of expensive on a per-journey basis, CDN$2.75 per journey, but if you’re taking a long journey it’s quite reasonable, and you can buy at a discount if you get a lot of tokens at once. Transfers between lines are allowed, though you have to remember to pick one up if you get on the subway, and they’re rather finicky about where you can use them — you can’t use them at the station where you got them, and you can’t use them at a station that isn’t a direct transfer between one line and another (though it wasn’t evident to me how closely this was enforced). The one time I forgot to pick one up at my origin, I remembered to get it at my first subway transfer, so that was okay.
It’s relatively quick and pleasant, although crowded (it sometimes required a lot of “excuse me, I need to get out”s). The subway has a minimum frequency of 4-5 minutes between trains, so you’re never waiting long, and I had good experiences with my attempts to find buses and streetcars and get help from their drivers. They could use better signs at stops about routes and timing, but many stops do have the necessary information.
I did quite a lot of walking as well, and found that a nice way to get around, even going into downtown, though it did take longer than the subway. But most of my time not spent on TTC transit was spent cycling around. It was an adventure for me because I was equipped only with a minimal map of the downtown area, and didn’t have a Toronto bike map (allegedly you can pick them up at various places but I didn’t try very hard and didn’t see anything obvious) so I was mostly going on faith and some helpful directions from the owner of my borrowed bike, Crazy Biker Chick. The downtown streets are narrow and often have marginal pavement quality. There are some bike lanes, but not a lot, and some designated routes, but from what I could tell people rode their bikes almost everywhere anyway. Streetcar tracks were frequent and nerve-wracking, and in several cases I put my box-turn practice to good use in order to avoid bad left turns over streetcar tracks.
The most impressive thing was that there were bike racks absolutely everywhere, every 10-30 feet on pretty much every downtown street. Mostly they were just a post with a circle through it that could hold two bikes, about as simple as you can get but very functional. I saw tons of utility/city/hybrid-type bikes, and very few road bikes, while I was there, showing that people are choosing practical options for their environment. I enjoyed riding a very upright bike (a Raleigh Twenty that looks much like the picture at the link — evidently a classic and much-loved folding bike). Most were equipped with a rack or basket of some kind.
I found that the majority of cars were quite polite. A few people passed too close, but by and large I felt that my head was safer unhelmeted in Toronto (I didn’t bring my helmet or any other protective gear) than helmeted here. There were a few cases in which construction and other adverse circumstances made me uncomfortable enough to temporarily decamp to the sidewalk. Shock horror! I think time in Toronto has largely cured me of my default sidewalk anger (one of my 101 goals!), though I still am annoyed by people who ride recklessly on the sidewalk or ride on it where conditions are not very good (too narrow — the sidewalks in downtown Toronto are very wide). I particularly enjoyed my ride on Toronto Island. I took the ferry to Ward’s Island, and rode around and back, enjoying myself in the park and taking pictures, and on my last day there, I was able to see many more things in one day than I could have managed without a bike, so it was not only fun but extremely useful.
One of the things I did on my last day was visit Urbane Cyclist, a wonderful bike shop focused on commuting cycles at 180 John Street, just north of Queen, in downtown. The shop was full of fascinating things. There were urban, folding, and recumbent, and cargo bicycles — including a bakfiets!!! Unlike most shops, rows of shiny new identical high-end road bikes were not the featured item. Instead, the rest of the shop was filled with racks, panniers, mirrors, gloves, jackets, and other useful items. There was a parts section in the back. I picked up a set of road bike bar-end mirrors and a copy of Momentum as well. What a great shop.
Hang on for part 2, about what I actually did between all my subway and bike rides…