(5) Royal Botanical Gardens

Burlington – June 2012 // Of all my bikes and transit day trips to-date, over 25 so far, 35 if you count the 10 times I’ve taken the GO Train to Ajax!, this one to Burlington’s Royal Botanical Gardens is one of the hardest.

Rough terrain? Big hills? Traffic or wind from all directions? No, not at all. The “RBG” is only 4.7 kilometres from the Aldershot GO Train station, and over 90% of the route is flat bike lane.

This intermodal ride is challenging because it is the first on BikesandTransit.com that asks you to use transit and your bike just to get there. Once you arrive, park your bike and enjoy the day on foot. Not easy for people who like to bike all day to see the sites.

On this trip, “intermodal” means changing your transportation habits in situations you may not think of. It’s about using the bus and your bike to get to work, the subway and your bike to go to the movies, or the train and your bike to get to the front gates of one of the most amazing botanical gardens anywhere in the world!

With this in mind, my wife and I set out in late May to spend a sunny afternoon at the Royal Botanical Gardens. We made it as stress-free a day as possible by using the Don Valley Bikeway and Waterfront Trail to get to the train at Toronto’s Union Station.

On the way home, we got off early at Toronto’s west end Mimico GO station and rode the bike lane up Royal York Road to pick up our kids. Then a short walk – with our two bikes and two kids – to the Royal York TTC subway station, and a late night lift from transit home east to Broadview station after dark.

In previous Bikes and Transit Travel blogs I’ve described the steps you take to get your bike onto a GO Train. Union, Aldershot and Oshawa GO train stations are the easiest for that, as the train sits and waits with the doors open before departing. That said, it’s always a thrill connecting at stations where the train comes rolling in. You’ve got about 20 seconds to get your bike onto the train. But never worry, the GO Train door operator is always watching – from the middle car – and will never close the doors on you or your bike.

Arriving at Union Station with plenty of time to spare before the train, we bought one-way tickets (with a credit card in the ticket machine), skipped the elevator, and carried our bikes up the stairs to the platform. Waiting until other passengers got on, we placed our bikes in their ‘official’ spot at the end of the train car, and sat back relaxed for the train ride of just about an hour.

Upon arrival at the Aldershot GO (and VIA) station, be sure to exit on the south side and head toward the back of the train. The parking lot there leads you to Masonry Crescent, then west up the little hill to Waterdown Road. From there turn left, south, for a few hundred metres to Plains Road West.

Amazingly, this short bike ride from the train station to Plains Road West is the only part of the Burlington end of the trip that is NOT in a bike lane. Their mayor and city council have been, for quite some time now, true leaders in Ontario and Canada providing safe on-road community cycling.

And, as I said in a Letter to the Editor published in the Toronto Star in 2008: “Cyclists, you’re in good hands with the drivers of Burlington.” Certainly regular bike commuters from this beautiful west end of Lake Ontario can beg to differ – but on this trip, as usual, 9 out of 10 Burlington drivers pulled out to pass my wife and me as we cycled west. Most of them put two car wheels over the centre line – despite the fact we were already in a bike lane!

The only tricky part of the bike ride to the RBG Welcome Centre is at Spring Gardens Road. It’s busy and quite wide there, and one has to “take the lane” to get to the centre turning lane. Instead – keeping with the truly relaxing nature of the day – we simply pedaled a bit further on Plains Road West and stopped at the light to cross. From there, we just curved back around on Botanical Drive to the front gate.

True to bike-friendly form, there is a bike rack right at the RBG entrance. Not only convenient, it is also in plain view to hinder theft. We locked up our bikes and entered, knowing full well that bikes are not allowed within the gardens.

The grounds are open daily from 10am to 8pm – so take your time. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and $7 for children 5 to 12 years of age. To get the most out of your day, check the website beforehand to see “What’s in Bloom”, and any special programs the RBG may be presenting that day.

One thing I recommend is lunch at the Rose Garden Teahouse situated in the RBG’s Hendrie Park. Signs throughout the grounds tout the values and positive effects of “local food” and the menu is no exception. My wife and I enjoyed a filling sandwich platter and ploughman’s lunch that we’ll never forget! Our compliments to the chef, and to the wonderful restaurant staff who served us!

After more garden touring, the rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying the new wide open spaces of the RBG. To reduce their carbon footprint they have cut back severely on cutting the grass. The results are new beautiful sprawling meadows where manicured lawns once dominated.

On the way back to the GO station, remember to cycle a little further up Waterdown Road, over the train tracks to turn right. Unless you bought a two-way ticket, you have to buy your return ticket at the north, main entrance of the station. If you have a lot of time before the train – you can park your bike on the south side and use the tunnel to get your tickets.

Either way, any time in the spring, summer or fall, you’ll find yourself at the end of the day planning a return trip to the Royal Botanical Gardens – with the help of bikes and transit!

Donald Wiedman
Toronto, ON

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