Toronto cyclists find their way online

As a year-round cyclist, Yvonne Bambrick knows how to get around Toronto. So when she goes from Queen and Spadina up to York Mills and Leslie to work, she knows exactly what path to take. That is, until she found another path on a website called Ride the City.

“We’re creatures of habit and sometimes it just takes a new application like this to find an alternative,” Bambrick said.

Ride the City, an online trip planner for cyclists, gave her an alternative route along the Don Valley bike trail.

“It’s definitely safer and greener. But the most direct route the site suggested is even more direct than I would take,” Bambrick said.

Ride the City made its Canadian debut in Toronto two weeks ago. Bambrick said the site is unique because it offers three kinds of routes – the safer one, the safe and most direct one, and one showing street elevation.

Two cycling advocates first launched the concept in New York City in 2008. The flagship website got so many hits that the creators, Vaidila Kungys and Jordan Anderson, decided to expand to other cities.

“I took a trip to Toronto a few years ago and I was simply amazed by the biking culture. It’s a lot like Europe in terms of the culture,” Kungys said. “And since we were getting so many requests to go international with Ride the City, we thought Toronto would be a good place to start.”

“It’s something we’ve heard a lot of cyclists in the city actually wanted,” said Bambrick, also of the Toronto Cyclists Union.

Although she also praised the existing City of Toronto free bike map, Bambrick said cycling in Toronto can be intimidating.

“This website … has the potential to attract newcomers to the city as well as people who are not frequent cyclists but might want to go cycling on the weekends,” she said.

Sgt. Tim Burrows, of the Toronto Traffic Services, has seen countless collisions involving cyclists. He applauds the new website too.

“I can’t tell you if it would have prevented any single accident,” Burrows said, “but if you can be better prepared before you head out, rather than having to make split-second decisions on route changes while you’re on the road, it’s far safer.

Burrows said he tested the site by searching for a route from Cherry Beach to city hall. He knew the most direct route was taking Lakeshore up to Bay Street.

“But the planner suggested I take the Martin Goodman trail, which runs parallel to the Lakeshore and then continues on other bike paths,” he said, “a much safer option.”

He also praised the site’s feedback system, which allows users to personalize their routes by saving preferred roadways.

Kungys said that in the two weeks since the launch of the website in Canada, Toronto has already managed to grab 26 per cent of all the traffic going to Ride the City. Compared to the viewers of D.C. Metro, which only has four per cent of all viewers, Kungys said the Toronto website is doing extremely well.

“Perhaps there are just more cyclists in Toronto than we initially thought or it’s all the buzz created on twitter, but the response has been great,” Kungys said.

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