Toronto, Canada: Wheeling Streets & Sidewalks

The summer is the top tourist season but our weather makes travelling in three of four seasons viable for the wheelchair user. (I personally would pass on winter unless it’s a work trip! Go south I say.) If you stay downtown you may find that wheeling is the best way to get around for much of your stay.

Toronto is not particularly hilly, but it’s not flat. Curb cuts are the norm. Quality can be another matter although generally cuts downtown aren’t too bad compared to some cities I have visited. We do have our share of potholes due to construction and weather. Manual wheelchair users may need to wheelie over streetcar tracks at some crosswalks to avoid being dumped out on the road. An alternative to the streets is found in downtown’s underground PATH, recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest underground shopping complex (30 km/19 mi).

The PATH connects many buildings, hotels, attractions and several accessible subway stations (currently Union, St. Andrew’s, Queen, and Dundas). It offers more stores than you can visit, as well as full service and “fast food” restaurants. It is particularly awesome when the weather is poor or excessively hot and humid, and although you miss the architecture and points of interest above, the PATH’s smooth surfaces make wheeling easier than the street. The PATH is not 100% wheelchair accessible, but apparently in excess of 90%. Unfortunately sometimes it is that remaining percent that matters, as well as how one finds their way! The PATH can be challenging for anyone to navigate much less a newcomer in a wheelchair who doesn’t know the accessible routes, and if accessible routes can be found. It is not laid out in a grid pattern like the streets above, and you will encounter steps. There are quite a few small “personal” elevators to bypass a few steps, some of which might require assistance to operate – press the call button and wait! There is a very general, but useful map online (and an app), but sadly it doesn’t provide any details on wheelchair access other than a note to look for wheelchair signs indicating an alternate route if stairs lie ahead. (An email to the PATH about access went unanswered.)

I believe wheelchair users can count on going roughly from south of Front Steet northward to the Eaton Centre/Dundas Square although some sections/buildings (both north/south and east/west) don’t offer accessible connections. While the PATH is open on the weekends, its shops and food courts cater to office workers so retailors shut down on Saturdays and Sundays. You may encounter more difficulties in accessing elevators from the ground level to the concourse on the weekend. Most people use escalators and you may find staff sometimes have to “call” an elevator… perhaps they have sorted out this ridiculous system. Once you emerge into daylight you may find that the building isn’t wheelchair accessible to get to the street. Even during weekdays I’ve had difficulty finding an unlocked accessible door to enter an office building and thus access the PATH.

Despite these challenges I wish the ENTIRE city were connected to the PATH! I love the PATH. Too bad much of the “Entertainment District,” west of University Avenue opted not to connect to it. During weekdays more than 200,000 people navigate underground in the PATH. Hopefully one of them can help you find an accessible route if you choose to spend some of your vacation below ground!

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