Airport Road Travelogue
Part I: The Longest Street Revisited

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As I said two years ago, Yonge Street cheats to achieve its former world record length of 1896 kilometres between Toronto and Rainy River. That’s not Yonge Street being measured, that’s historic Highway 11. Not only does the current Highway 11 end north of Barrie, the road itself is not continuous. It takes right turns at intersections in the centre of towns. It’s known by several different names as well as Yonge Street. Yonge Street as a name ceases at the south end of Barrie.

This series actually got me some attention, on this blog, and even on CBC Television’s six-o’clock news. I was chided as a bit of a party pooper, and that Toronto was losing its world record status, with both Yonge Street and the CN Tower’s records now in question (Burj Dubai will become the tallest freestanding structure when it opens this year).

But Toronto should buck up. The indisputable minimum length of Yonge Street is still roughly 56 kilometers. That’s the length of the road that starts at Queen’s Quay on the shores of Lake Ontario and runs continuously, without break or jog or right turn at intersection, north through Toronto and York Region to the Holland River at the southeastern edge of Bradford, where it becomes Bridge Street. If you forgive the break and turn in Bradford, and continue north to where the name Yonge Street ends in south Barrie, then we have a length of 88.5 km.

Colfax Avenue

And that’s nothing to sneeze at. Looking around, there’s some dispute as to what the longest street in America is. Many people cite Colfax Avenue in Denver. Running from an intersection with Mt. Vernon Canyon Road through downtown Denver to Aurora Airport, it has an indisputable minimum length of 50.5 km. If you excuse its break at Aurora Airport, then the road runs for an impressive 81.6 kilometers to the town of Strasburg, but that’s still shorter than the broken version of Yonge Street.

Western Avenue in Chicago is cited as another candidate. Running from West Howard Street in Evanston to 147th Street deep in the South Side , it has an indisputable minimum length of 44.25 kilometers, still shorter than Yonge Street (although of all of the candidates, it could well be the most urban). Forgive its break and jog as the Dixie Highway (plus another at West Crete-Monee Road) and this takes Western Avenue to West County Line Road, a trip of 82.4 kilometers, but still shorter than the named portion of Yonge Street.

So, while Yonge Street may be much shorter than its advertised 1896 km length, if somebody were to finally investigate and solve the question of what is the longest street in the world, Yonge may still be close to the top of the list. (A few other candidates can be found here)

But until somebody starts this investigation, we’re left with guess work and investigations conducted with limited resources, and we first have to agree on what the criteria is. For me, the “perfect” street is one which follows a single path, without break or jog. It doesn’t turn left or right at intersections; it continues straight through. The “perfect” street maintains the same name for the length of its route. A street which continues on as a separate name falls under a different category (call it longest local road). Finally, the “perfect” street should be a street, or at least a country road. It should have sidewalks or, failing that, driveways. The 401 is an expressway, it’s not an address, and it can’t be safely walked. Once you start including limited access freeways in the mix, then the record very quickly falls to the American interstates.

Again, as I had limited resources to conduct my investigation, I couldn’t look far afield, but my search did turn up two candidates within the Greater Toronto Area itself. And the one that I travelled the length of, and photographed, is none other than Airport Road, starting in the northwestern part of the city.

I wrote up an article about my experience, and was able to publish a section in the community paper Caledon Perspectives about a month ago. Unfortunately, the article is almost 10,000 words long and is not sellable, unless I were to combine it with other trips and write a book. But I’m still happy to publish my findings here on this blog, for your enjoyment.

Airport Road is the first arterial most visitors to Toronto encounter after disembarking at Pearson International Airport. It is a wide, screaming strip of asphalt, lined with industries and hotels; an unpleasant gateway to the city. But as I followed the road in both directions on a map, I was startled by the continuous run of pavement I encountered.

In the south, Airport Road ends at the boundary between Mississauga and Toronto, but it merges seamlessly with Dixon Road, curving from a north-south alignment into an east-west one. Dixon Road heads into Toronto before making a sharp turn and merging into Scarlett Road. Scarlett heads southeast to end at a railway bridge and a T-intersection with Dundas Street.

North from Pearson, Airport Road makes a bold run toward Georgian Bay. It loses its name at the community of Stayner, taking on the mantle of Highway 26 as it follows the shoreline northwest into Collingwood. In Collingwood, the road’s name changes again (to Hume Street) before ending at a T-intersection with Hurontario Street in the middle of town.

Total length as an unbroken local road: 121.84 kilometres. As a “perfect” street, Airport Road itself runs from the Mississauga/Toronto border to just south of the community of Stayner, an 81 kilometre stretch, 25 kilometres longer than the “perfect” section of Yonge Street.

What would it be like to drive this stretch of pavement, ignoring the intersections until you couldn’t anymore? What would you encounter along the way?

Only one way to find out.


Further Reading


Next: The Journey Begins at Scarlett Road

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