Planes, Trains and the Pan Am Games

On a Sunny Sunday morning a few weeks ago I groggily found myself on my way to Toronto’s Centre Island for a fun birthday bike ride with my mom (whose birthday happens to be the day before mine).

Celebrating turning 25 was conflicting due to the fact that people simultaneously told me that I am both “still so young” but that they also can’t believe that “I’m already so old”– though we all agreed that I am “on the wrong side of 25.”

The one thing that I seemed to find the most conflicting, however, was the strange purple line that showed up on my Google Map leading south of Union Station when I searched the fastest route to get to the Island. It told me that there was some sort of streetcar that now runs south of the station?  Confused and groggy, I proceeded with caution.
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When I arrived at this mythical underground station, I ended up at the back of a line-up full of Pan Am tourists who were being guided by a PanAm volunteer who was shouting and instructing everyone with the proper procedures to follow when the streetcar arrives.

When one of Toronto’s brand new streetcars pulled into the station, people started cheering and raising their fists in the air.

As a Toronto native, this is an extremely confusing scenario, as a) there has never been anyone around to explain how to get onto a streetcar properly, b) there have never been such pristine streetcars in the city, and c) people NEVER. CHEER. for the streetcar.

Toronto has seen quite the transformation over the past few years with extensive development as well as preparations for the Pan Am Games. With increased TTC Service and an abundance of new bike lanes, it would seem that Toronto is at it’s peak of transit, amirite?

…or perhaps not.

The route to work over the past month is not without its flaws, with people taking drastic measures to get onto the HOV lanes and fly past all of those suckers who only have one friend or colleague to drive with them on the Gardiner Expressway or Don Valley Parkway.

The city has implemented a 3-person minimum in order to take advantage of the HOV lanes–that or you better get a motorcycle or become a licensed taxi driver. Even Uber’s carpooling service that really only makes sense in a city full of commuters could face five-figure fines.

It will be interesting to see what will become of the HOV system after the Parapan Am games are over. I definitely feel like VIP when I’m in a car with three people, laughing my way downtown.

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One of the city’s excellent improvements, however, has been the expansion of it’s bike lanes. It seems as though those who have been trying to avoid traffic on the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway have dusted off their bikes and inline skates and we have become a truly athletic city in the name of the games.

Along with these bike paths, the bike lanes that have been closed off to traffic have significantly increased the number of cyclists going through the downtown core–while keeping traffic pretty much the same despite the worry that it would get much more congested.
imageI personally enjoy the Joseph Workman Trail as a more scenic route to work–at least on days where the wind across the lake doesn’t make me feel like I’m biking into a brick wall.

The bottom line is, the games encouraged people to find a different route to work and it’s helped me to become reacquainted with a city that I’ve been away from for a while in a way I didn’t expect– expecially when faced with neon spandex wearing inline skaters.

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