Commute Etiquette: Important Knowledge for Students in Toronto

commute etiquette student wearing headphones waiting for bus
Photo by Henry Be via Unsplash

Toronto is home to several great universities and colleges, such as the University of Toronto St. George, Toronto Metropolitan University, The Michener Institute, George Brown College, and many more. There are thousands of students who commute to their campus on a regular basis. For students who are new to commuting in the city, it is important to be aware of the unwritten rules for navigating downtown Toronto. Everyone has their own direction to go, and their own method of travel. To ensure that everyone is safe and happy, this advice must be shared until it becomes common sense among every Toronto commuter. Whether you’re a pedestrian, cyclist, or driver, here are some major things to remember when it comes to commute etiquette.

1) Be Mindful

Treat everyone with dignity. Don’t cut people off when the sidewalks crowd at rush hour. Before you cross an intersection, watch for vehicles because there are people inside them! We all share the roads, so do not ignore one another.

2) Right-Hand Side

When walking on paths and sidewalks, the commute etiquette is to stick to the right-hand side. It is frustrating when people do not follow this rule because it can cause traffic jams. Walking on the proper side will ensure that everyone maintains a good walking speed without interruptions.

3) Stairs and Escalators

When taking the stairs or the escalators, you also have to stay on the right-hand side. This will allow other people to pass you if they are in a hurry and ensures that their way is not blocked. Many Toronto commuters despise it when people refuse to stick to one side, especially on escalators.

4) Pay Attention

Do not walk and look at your phone at the same time. This is terrible commute etiquette for a variety of reasons. Texting or scrolling your social media feeds while walking means you aren’t giving your full attention to your surroundings. This is a distraction. The worst-case scenario would be walking right into the path of an oncoming vehicle or bicyclist. If you have to be on your phone, wait until you’re seated somewhere safe or standing away from major routes and walking paths.

Another reason to put your phone away is so that you are not delaying others walking behind you. Some people might be in a hurry, so if you’re walking really slow while looking at your phone, they will not be too happy about that! This is especially important during rush hour.

5) Identify Your Surroundings

To expand on the previous point, it is important to be attentive to your surroundings. Downtown Toronto consists of a bombardment of stimuli that can overwhelm your senses: engine noises, cars honking, people chatting, shouting, pleasant and unpleasant aromas, as well as the sight of so many people and buildings and lights blinking everywhere. You might become so accustomed to the stimuli that you tune it all out. This is not a good thing. Stay alert by refraining from listening to loud music on your headphones. Or refrain from listening to music at all, especially while walking or bicycling. Otherwise, you won’t hear an oncoming vehicle.

Keep your eyes on everything going on around you. Look at the details, such as who has the right of way or which light is green. Watch out for construction hazards above and at the surface level. Stop, look, and listen well! Commute etiquette means being mindful of everything happening around you.

6) Traffic Signals

Take your attentiveness to the next level and obey your traffic signals as a pedestrian. Drivers become frustrated when pedestrians don’t follow their own traffic signals, out of ignorance or deliberately. When pedestrians break those rules, it makes the roads more dangerous and unpredictable for everyone. When your pedestrian crossing signal displays the walking symbol, look around first for any vehicles that might be coming or trying to make a last-second turn (yes, some drivers risk it). Also, when crossing the intersection, check all directions in case there are any oncoming hazards. 

7) Pedestrian Crossing

If the road you’re crossing is a very wide street, such as University Avenue, you might experience a multi-tier pedestrian crossing. When the light indicates a countdown and you’ve just arrived at the edge of the sidewalk to cross, you are not supposed to cross! The countdown is for pedestrians who are already well into the intersection and are supposed to clear it quickly. Don’t challenge this because you could get caught in the middle of the intersection on a platform halfway.

8) Avoid Jaywalking

Jaywalking is defined as crossing a road at a point that is not officially designated for crossing and without regard for oncoming traffic. First of all, jaywalkers are putting themselves in danger. For example, a driver approaches an intersection just as a pedestrian steps out a few meters in front of him to cross the road, nearly causing an accident.

Unfortunately, some pedestrians aren’t the best at understanding reaction time and believe that everyone will unconditionally stop their car for them. It is annoying and dangerous to assume that drivers should predict your every move. Don’t be that unpredictable person, and do not jaywalk, ever!

9) Bicycle Paths

If you’re a cyclist, it’s important to practice patience with pedestrians who accidentally step on the bike lane for too long. An example would be the designated “bicycle only” paths near Sugar Beach and Harbourfront area. Simply ring your bell or communicate politely to pedestrians that they need to clear the way. As a general note, don’t bike too fast, even though you would probably love to do that. It’s best to prepare for last-second sudden stops so you can yield to unsuspecting pedestrians. Another thing to remember is to obey the cyclist traffic lights where applicable, which are there just for you. A good example is the crossing at Queen’s Park right outside the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto St. George campus.

10) Stay Calm and Drive On

For drivers, stay calm and patient with pedestrians. The commute is already stressful enough, especially when you’ve been in that seat for over an hour. It is important to exercise empathy. Honk if they cross when they are not supposed to! However, honking should be used as an alert, not a display of aggression. Communicate with pedestrians if needed, and make eye contact to let them know they can safely cross in front of you when you’re about to make a right turn.

Left turn advance green lights can also be a challenge in downtown Toronto because some pedestrians will assume they can cross since they see no cars coming…but they didn’t look close enough! As a driver, always check the intersection and be patient with those who are breaking the rules. Check your blind spots and approach slowly when turning in either direction. Go 50 km an hour (or slower, when applicable) to prepare yourself for any sudden stops.

Safe travels and remember the proper commute etiquette! Looking for more information? Then check out Don’t Make These Mistakes on Your University of Toronto Commute next!

Published on January 12, 2021

About Tashiana Lusterio

Tashiana is an architecture graduate working in the field of architectural design. She enjoys illustrating, translating envisioned projects into built realities, and creating electronic dance music on the piano.