My commute lands me up in the Highway 7 and Leslie area, the city that hath no name. It's technically half Richmond Hill, half Markham, but that's beside the point. What does matter is that the employment area north of Toronto is so vast that it's difficult to have organized group commutes from one place to another.
Desperate for some company, this morning I met up with the southbound group commute from Yonge and Lawrence, heading to city hall. I would only ride with them far enough to qualify myself for a free t-shirt, which I decided was Eglinton Avenue.
The group was well formed upon my arrival at 7:25 AM. There were two cycling ambassadors who were busy giving out t-shirts. Two police officers were among the group. One was sporting a bullet proof vest, one just wearing his short sleeve uniform shirt. They must have turned down the free t-shirts before I got there.
One cycling ambassador announced that we'd be leaving in about two cycles of the lights. We were told that we would try to stick together as a group, and if the group was separated by a red light, the front of the group would wait for the others. A police officer added that we should all ride to the right, in single file. Many of the cyclists looked around at each other, a little surprised by this. There were at least 40 cyclists here. The other officer asked if we could ride two abreast. They had a quick, quiet discussion and announced that we should ride single file, so the right lane was still available for cars.
I didn't ride in the group commute last year, but I did show up at the gathering point. In 2006, it happened to be on the day of the TTC strike, so Yonge Street was entirely jammed. That day the discussion was about whether to ride as a group behind the cars, or to try to "filter" up the side past the cars. The decision was to ride as a group in the right hand lane. I heard from others there that in previous years, the group used the full right lane.
Back to 2007. Eventually one person piped up and said it didn't make sense for us to ride single file. With this many cyclists it was safer for us to clearly take the full right lane. The officer reiterated his position that we should ride single file, but added "you don't have to listen to us". As surprising as that was to hear, it was actually a very truthful thing to say. The way we ride on the road is up to us. Each of us has to look out for ourselves, and essentially what the officer was telling us was just his advice, and not the law. At the same time, "advice" from a police officer carries a certain weight.
Although I don't commute South on Yonge Street, I use it often to get downtown. I know there are only about 2 or three short sections where it's wide enough to share the right hand lane with cars. The rest of the way, I take the full lane. One of the wide sections is just south of Lawrence, and another is just south of Davisville.
After sorting out what to do with the left-over t-shirts, we set off. The crowd spilled out onto the street and pedaled down Yonge Street. It felt good to be with so many other cyclists, and judging by the smiles around me, my neighbours must have felt the same way. One cyclist commented to me that riding on Yonge Street for a commute was a unique experience. I suspect many stick to side streets and the Don River trail. There was even a tandem bike among us. Its cyclists must have been happy to take advantage of this comfortable ride down Yonge.
For the part of the ride I was there, most cyclists in the front of the pack rode 2 abreast and chatted. The back of the pack was riding single file. Over 2 kilometres, one car managed to use the right hand lane to pass some other cars.
The ride was pleasant and casual. I turned around at Eglinton and headed north. Since I didn't make it to city hall, I'll have to speculate pancakes were eaten and enjoyed. I hope it was a good enough experience that a few cyclists are willing to keep going even without free t-shirts and breakfast.