Category Archives: New York

20 Oct

Buffalo Again

Observations and a few pictures from my second visit to Buffalo within the last month and my 47th two-wheeled trip to the Great State of New York:

1. Crossing the Homer Bridge in virtual darkness first thing in the morning, I spotted a fellow cyclist on the other side of the street traveling in the opposite flow of traffic without a helmet, a light or a brain.

2. When approaching the booth at U.S. Customs at the Rainbow Bridge, a car pulled up right behind me instead of waiting behind the explicitly marked stop signs, drawing the ire of the officer in the booth, who came out, put up his hand and yelled “STOP!” at the offending driver. When they say stay behind the stop sign and wait until the vehicle ahead clears, they mean stay behind the stop sign and wait until the vehicle ahead clears.

2a. I would have loved to have been that proverbial fly on the wall for that driver’s inspection.

2b. As I’ve said before, my respect for the CBP increases with every visit.

3. Having just missed a bus, I made for the Portage Road Transportation Center to catch the next one. There, I purchased a day pass from the machine inside, which was particularly finicky about the $1 bills I was putting in. Several of them were rejected and I was lucky I had enough with me that the machine accepted. Had the need arisen, however, there was a change machine inside, which accepts bills as large as $20 and returns $5 bills.

4. The washroom at the Portage Road Transportation Center, in sharp contrast to the one at the Metropolitan Transportation Center in downtown Buffalo, was an absolute dump.

5. All the homies at the Portage Road Transportation Center waiting for the same #40 Buffalo-bound bus seemed to know each other, which made me stand out even more, since I was one of only two Caucasians within a one-mile radius.

6. Complimentary gum for “valued Metro bus customers.”

7. NFTA should seriously consider adding more buses on the #40 route as the bus was practically full in both directions.

8. Seated near the back door, I noted once again that it opened automatically and that departing passengers don’t need a battering ram to get it open. Unlike the case in a certain part of the world where I used to live.

9. Spotted near Sheridan Drive was a sign “Support America. Support Unions.” To that I would add, “Pick One.”

10. I listened with interest as a guy behind me named Bob, a waiter, told all his fellow passengers that he made $102 in tips from Tuesday’s lunch crowd and another $80 on Wednesday. After he told the person on the other end of the line about how his buddy left his number for a female patron and invited her to a party, he shared his story about the time when two old ladies came in and ordered a bottle of wine with their meal. Despite being a little tipsy, they drove home, but he was happy that they left him with a $20 tip on their $80 order. Then he went on to tell everyone about another one of his buddies who had fathered several children with multiple women, only one of whom was his wife. “You’ve got to protect yourself,” was what he told his MVP (Most Virile Parent) buddy, but better advice would have been to keep his pants zipped up or something even more radical like remaining faithful to his spouse. All told, I was seriously disappointed when this guy got off near Busti Avenue. There was undoubtedly much more to hear.

11. Scenes at the Metropolitan Transportation Center in downtown Buffalo. Unlike the case in a certain part of the world I once called home, it was relatively clean and not Ground Zero for bums and the like.

12. Just after stepping inside the washroom at the Metropolitan Transportation Center, a black guy came out of the handicapped stall without a shirt and went to admire himself in the mirror. Who exactly was he trying to impress in there?

13. While taking pictures around the McKinley Monument in Niagara Square, an older woman openly holding out her wallet with credit cards and bills plainly visible kept walking around and around the circle. Methinks some mental health issues were in play.

14. Bail bondsmen parked at Niagara Square for the convenience those patronizing the courthouse across the street. Or bondspeople.

15. Someone forgot to “inpect” his sign before putting it up. And paying for it.

16. I never realized what a major problem parking is in downtown Buffalo.

17. Kudos to the City of Buffalo for the number of bike racks they provide throughout the downtown area.

18. I couldn’t agree more, which is why I would urge my American friends to vote Republican in the coming midterm elections. Just like I urge my Canadian friends to vote Conservative.

19. People who walk across our border illegally are not “immigrants,” they’re criminals.

20. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this bottle of “Buffalo melted snow” at the Buffalo Niagara Welcome Center. As I said to one of the people behind the counter, you don’t know about snow. Or cold.

21. While talking to a fellow cyclist on North Division Street who was waiting for a bus, he told me that they were serving chicken at a nearby mission on Eagle Street if I was hungry. I know I’m cheap and don’t live extravagantly, but do I really look so haggard that someone would think to point me to a mission for a free meal?

22. While waiting for the #40 Falls-bound bus at the Metropolitan Transportation Center, a couple of guys came running out to flag down a departing #1 bus. In a scene eerily reminiscent of those I’ve seen far too often another part of the world I used to call home, the driver ignored them and kept going.

23. NFTA should seriously consider installing backup horns on their buses instead of forcing drivers to keep honking when they’re backing out.

24. At the stop on North Division Street, three Muslims got on waving a VISA card wondering where they should tap it. No transit system I know of takes credit cards on the bus. Cash, tokens or passes only. They seemed a little miffed over having to dig out cash once the driver explained that little detail, but they eventually managed to scrounge up enough. Then in spite of not being disabled in any way, they sat down in the priority seating and while there, tried to catch a few winks. How successful they were as the suspension-challenged low-floor bus made its way through the pothole-filled streets of Buffalo is anyone’s guess.

25. Being picked up or dropped off at the curb seems to be a genuine luxury when it comes to Metro buses.

26. On the GO bus back to St. Catharines, rather than tell the driver where he wanted to go, someone boarding at Niagara College instead flashed it to the driver on his phone.

26a. Niagara College is indeed a popular stop.

03 Dec

A December Cross-Border Cycling Adventure

Pictures and observations from my 40th two-wheeled trip to the Great State of New York:

1. Holiday gifts “avaible” now:

1a. The same error was made on the other side as well. As they say, two wrongs don’t make a right.

2. Flashing on the overhead signs at the US Customs inspection plaza at the Rainbow Bridge were new reminders to take off hats and sunglasses, turn off cell phones and to have your documents ready. It all seems like common sense, but these days, common sense isn’t all that common.

3. The CBP officer who served me seemed a little taken aback when I presented my NEXUS card as opposed to a passport. I suppose I couldn’t blame him, since being a NEXUS cardholder on two wheels who doesn’t drive undoubtedly puts me among a very distinct minority.

4. Spotted at One Niagara Center was a souvenir Niagara Falls license plate with the name “Gavin” on it. I know at least one reader will appreciate that reference.

5. There was warmer air outside than what was coming out of the hand dryer in the washroom at One Niagara Center.

6. Progress on the new Hyatt going up near the bridge:

7. A sign spotted outside a Unitarian church on Main Street giving some sage advice for parents who spend more time on their phones than with their children:

8. A New York State legislator is referred to as an “assemblyman” and not an “assemblyperson”? Heavens to Murgatroyd, what is this world coming to?

9. Nothing quite screams “Niagara Falls, New York” like this scene:

10. An exciting opportunity awaits an enterprising entrepreneur who is looking to invest in the limitless potential of one of North America’s great tourist destinations:

11. Street art. Right across from the courthouse.

12. Seeing street signs like this that don’t give the indicator as to whether it is a street or an avenue reminds me of Transcona, now a suburb of Winnipeg but formerly a separate city, which for years, was littered with such signs. Perhaps only I care enough to remember that.

12a. In the background are more of those exciting opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs.

13. The new Amtrak station in Niagara Falls:

14. One of many homeowners on Lewiston Road who dumped all his leaves and assorted yard waste into the middle of the street:

15. Scenes along Center Street in Lewiston:

16. Scenes in the Lewiston honorary international peace garden:

17. None of the three employees working at the Orange Cat had a nose ring. Don’t tell me they’re going all normal now.

18. I’m sure the Orange Cat’s muffins are fabulous, but the overweight woman who hobbled in and put an undue amount of stress on the rustic old chair she was sitting in really didn’t need any of them. But from how loudly she smacked her lips, even the people waiting in line out the door could attest to how thoroughly she enjoyed hers.

19. Seated across from the Muffin Lady was someone who began doing some odd neck contortions as she was working on her laptop. It reminded me of a former colleague who would inexplicably stand up during meetings and start making all sorts of weird gyrations. He was only part of our group for a short time, but he made a lasting impression.

19a. Among the certifications this former colleague made a point of bragging about holding was the MCSE designation. Though it officially stands for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, another former colleague termed it Must Call Someone with Experience.

20. Seemingly half of Western New York was on hand as Santa was airlifted in by helicopter in the middle of Academy Park.

21. Is there a part of Lewiston that is non-historic?

22. On my way back up the escarpment on Route 18, I spotted a New York license plate with the first three letters “DJT.” Make America Great Again!

23. While at the Duty Free store at the Lewiston Bridge, I got a couple of strange looks from Canada-bound motorists. Perhaps they were unaware that cyclists are indeed allowed on that bridge.

24. While crossing said bridge, the driver of a U.S.-bound Jeep with SPRM plates was madly waving at me as if he knew me. As I’ve said before, that place does keep following me around.

24a. I spotted a Bison Transport truck on the 405 and another on the Garden City Skyway on my return trip. Again, the SPRM keeps following me around.

24b. You do realize that it’s been more than 40 months since I defected from that place.

25. After breezing through the dedicated NEXUS lane (yes, cyclists can use it), I pulled up behind a car from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the toll gate ready to donate another 50 cents to the coffers of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. The attendant, however, stuck his head out of the booth, waved me through and declined the toll. Maybe it was part of a new promotion where every 40th trip is free. Shrug.

20 Sep

Back to Buffalo on Two Wheels

Observations and a few pictures from my third two-wheeled trip to Buffalo and my 38th such trip to the Great State of New York:

1. Before going across the Rainbow Bridge, I spotted some tourists waiting to cross a street having tremendous difficulty trying to figure out how to use the walk button. I hesitate to laugh, but it’s not exactly a complex piece of machinery that requires years of training to operate.

2. After clearing customs, I waited for the #40 bus on Third Street in front of the Sheraton where I noticed this ad on the bench. Would you expect them to put it on the ad if their food wasn’t delicious?

3. Metro is the only municipal transit system I’ve seen where the drivers use lap and shoulder belts.

4. There was no need for the driver to honk at the car from PA in front of her on the Niagara Scenic Parkway who wasn’t going fast enough for her liking. The state builds four-lane divided highways so that you can pass slower traffic. Besides, she was taking the left exit less than a mile away anyway.

5. There were automated stop announcements as well as an overhead display flashing the name of the upcoming stop, yet the driver also yelled out the name of the stop. Shrug.

5a. I nearly laughed out loud when we passed the Tops on Grand Island and she yelled “TAHPS” as if she was from Western PA.

6. I got off just past the Scajaquada Expressway and made my way down Potomac Aveue, then Delavan Avenue toward Delaware Park. En route, I passed by an abandoned gas station where this Trump sign was proudly on display in the window:

6a. I only wish Trump was our prime minister, especially after he kicked some serious butt at the UN the other day. Knowing of him from the USFL era, I was skeptical when he first took office, but he’s looking like the best president our southern neighbors have ever had.

7. At Main Street, I got a number of highway pictures like this one of the Scajaquada Expressway, which will be making their way to a website near you:

8. Scenes at Delaware Park:

9. It appeared that the trail encircling the park was one-way, like it is at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, yet the area was bereft of signage to that effect. Perhaps it was one of things you’re just supposed to know.

10. Oy. I’m surprised the intersection ahead wasn’t painted in rainbow colors.

11. While I was waiting to cross Delaware Avenue, someone rolled down his window and asked me if this was Delaware Avenue, apparently oblivious to the sign at the intersection and the much larger sign on the Scajaquada that brought him there. You have to wonder how some people pass the written portion of their driver’s test.

12. Proceeding north on Delaware Avenue, I couldn’t resist stopping for a shot of this sign. I don’t eat pork, but I still thought it was funny.

13. As I went through the Village of Kenmore, it marked the 15th different municipality that I’ve been in with my bike in the Great State of New York.

14. Further proof that New York has got to be the most over-signed state in the US:

15. It wasn’t too far from here in the City of Tonawanda where I saw a house that had been featured on an episode of House Hunters. I also spotted another such house earlier in the day closer to Delaware Park.

16. When ordering tea in a US restaurant, you need specify “hot tea” if that is indeed what you want. Not that I cared much since I just needed the liquid and a place to rest for a while.

17. Behind the counter at the McDonald’s in Tonawanda was someone with a nose ring who exclaimed, “I’m so freaking hot today I feel like I’m melting.”

18. I was at that McDonald’s close to noon and the place was deserted. The once-iconic symbol of the golden arches truly is a dying brand, at least in the US. But they got my business because they had a bike rack, unlike their competitor across the street.

19. Applause to the clerk who was so kind and courteous with the customer who dropped his half-eaten meal as he was going to toss it in the trash.

20. A shot from Tonawanda Island:

21. The dedicated trail along River Road in North Tonawanda was nice, as was the wide paved shoulder through the Town of Wheatfield, but Niagara Falls has some work to do on its stretch of that roadway leading to Cayuga Drive.

22. Before returning to Canada, I stopped for a break at the Niagara USA Visitor Center, where I saw a tourist dragging a suitcase. Then as the #40 bus she was apparently hoping to catch kept going through the roundabout without stopping for her, I watched as she hurriedly ran back in the opposite direction, where she was thankfully able to catch it a block to the east.

The bus stop sign was removed after the stop was relocated, but the bench is still there, and an unsuspecting tourist could be forgiven for not knowing better. It might not be a bad idea to put a sign at the bench indicating where to catch the bus.

23 Aug

Return to Buffalo

Yesterday, I set out bright and early for what would be my 27th two-wheeled visit to the great state of New York since defecting from the SPRM just over two years ago. This day’s destination was a return trip to Buffalo after first visiting the city in May of last year.

Rather than tackle virtually the entire distance on my own, as I did last year, I crossed the Rainbow Bridge and caught a #40 Metro bus that took me into the heart of downtown Buffalo. Normally, the bus stops at the first light past the customs plaza, but on account of the congestion around the bridge at this time of year, I had to catch it a couple of blocks to the south at the Niagara USA Visitor Center. There is a sign to this effect at the stop, but no mention of an alternate location to catch it, so I had to rely on a printed schedule I had picked up at the visitor center on a previous trip. You can also download a PDF of the schedule from NFTA’s website.

The bus soon arrived and I loaded my bike on the front rack. The racks are slightly different than the ones some readers might be familiar with on the GO buses. First of all, the handle you have to squeeze to bring down the rack is quite finicky. On my return trip, the driver advised me to jiggle it around before squeezing the handle. Secondly, when loading your bike, rather than twist a handle to bring around a fixed metal bar to lock in your front wheel, there’s a spring-loaded bar you have to pull out to secure it. For a video on the procedure, check NFTA’s website.

Also on their website, NFTA states that about two-thirds of their buses are equipped with bike racks, but throughout my extensive travels in WNY, I have yet to see a Metro bus without one.

I then purchased a day pass for $5, but if you’re just going one way, the regular fare is $2. Note that they only accept U.S. currency. Sorry, no Canadian dollarettes.

daypass
Note that even when standing and waiting at a bus stop, you need to be attentive. If you show the slightest bit of disinterest, the driver will pass you by. NFTA operators are not in the business of reading your mind.

After taking my seat, the driver sped south across Grand Island and through Tonawanda, and I was quickly in downtown Buffalo. I swear they must recruit from the ranks of retired race car drivers. This isn’t Winnipeg Transit, where they often dawdle along.

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One of my first targets was the First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres. Outside the arena was the Tops Alumni Plaza, where they honor Sabres greats from the past. The statue out front honors the French Connection line, but I was disappointed to see no mention of former Jets goaltender Joe Daley, who once played in Buffalo.

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Nearby, on the site of the former Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, more commonly referred to as “the Aud,” was a statue of Tim Horton. Though today, he is noted for the wildly successful chain of coffee and donut shops bearing his name, he was a former NHL defenseman who last played for the Sabres before his death in 1974 right here in St. Catharines. Drunk as a skunk, he died in a one-vehicle accident on the QEW near the Lake Street exit.

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The Tim Hortons location just across the street from the statue.

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Shots around the Canalside park. This is site of the former Aud and the concrete jungle in the background is the Buffalo Skyway and the adjacent interchange with I-190.

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Across Main Street. In the distance to the right is the building which houses the offices of The Buffalo News.

As you would expect, it wouldn’t be a bike trip for me without getting shots of some highways, so I went for a short ride around the downtown area. One of the spots I ended up at was Niagara Square, right in front of City Hall.

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I can still picture Scott Norwood, the former Birmingham Stallions kicker who also played for the Bills, who tearfully dedicated the entire 1991 season to the city of Buffalo at this very spot. Little could I have imagined that one day I would actually be standing here.

With still much ground to cover, I returned to the Erie Canal Harbor Station to catch a Metro train.

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At the station, I noticed this bike-sharing service, similar to what they have in Minneapolis, Hamilton and Toronto. Of late, I have been reading about Winnipeg’s thriving bike-sharing service, where nowadays, even one lock isn’t enough to keep your bike from being involuntarily shared with a scumbag. No, I don’t miss Winnipeg, if there are any readers left who still possess a shred of doubt.

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I wheeled my bike aboard at the wheelchair platform and went to the back to one of the two spots in each car designated for wheelchairs. Unlike the trains in Minneapolis, there are no racks, and you do have to hold on to your bike as it speeds through the tunnel between downtown and the University station.

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Inside the train.

The fare is the same as it is on Metro buses and there are machines where you can purchase tickets. It is free to ride above ground, but a paid fare is required farther north when it goes underground. As is the case with GO and in Minneapolis, it is policed largely on the honor system, though NFTA officers can ask to see your proof of payment. I still laugh when I think of how such a system would fail so miserably in Winnipeg.

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After a short ride, I took my bike into the spacious elevator and returned to street level. From there, I proceeded north along US 62 to NY 324/Sheridan Drive, stopping for many highway pictures en route. Following a brief break at the Walmart in Amherst, I continued west along Sheridan Drive towards the South Grand Island Bridge, where I planned to reconnect with the #40 bus.

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I had to stop here for a shot of the Amigone Funeral Home in the Town of Tonawanda. Not to be confused with the City of Tonawanda. Or the City of North Tonawanda.

I suspect it’s an Italian family name pronounced something like “am-eh-go-nee,” but it can be interpreted very differently when preceding a funeral home. If you’re the guest of honor, you don’t need to ask. You’re gone.

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These giraffes tower over Adventure Landing, an amusement center.

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I stopped for another breather here outside the Town of Tonawanda Aquatic and Fitness Center. For the record, I really don’t care who the town supervisor is.

From there, I continued west and didn’t have long to wait before the #40 bus came and took me back to Niagara Falls. I got off near the Rainbow Bridge, paid my 50-cent toll and waited in a long line with all the other tourist traffic.

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The hour-long delay allowed me to get this shot from the bridge.

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After clearing customs, I made it back home without incident, having packed a long and intensive experience into a few hours.

07 Jul

Return to Tonawanda

This past weekend, I took my 12th tour of Western New York on two wheels since coming to St. Catharines. I covered 60.9 miles in a trip that took me through Niagara Falls and across Grand Island before returning through Niawanda Park in Tonawanda.

Leaving bright and early, there wasn’t much of a lineup at U.S. customs at the Rainbow Bridge, but I was a little worried when I saw the cars ahead of me getting a much higher level of scrutiny, no doubt on account of the Independence Day holiday. The guards normally stay inside their booths, but they were coming out to meet the cars and checking around the back before going inside to process the passports. Luckily, they let me through with little fanfare.

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From the bridge, I followed the trail that runs alongside the Robert Moses State Parkway from Niagara Falls State Park to the North Grand Island Bridge.

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I took advantage of the seasonally open washroom there before walking across the nearly mile-long bridge to the island. Grand Island itself has a lot to offer the cyclist, but on this day, I simply cut across the island on Grand Island Boulevard/NY 324.

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After crossing the South Grand Island Bridge, I took the trail that follows River Road/NY 266 through Niawanda Park, so named because it follows the Niagara River in Tonawanda. Surely they can do better.

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This journey was easily the highlight of the trip. Much like what I found encircling Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, the trail is separated into bike and pedestrian sections and is just as scenic.

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On one side is the mighty Niagara River and Grand Island and on the other side is thick greenery.

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There are many places like this to rest and enjoy the view before continuing on towards North Tonawanda. Along the way, I spotted ample parking for those coming in a car and there were no less than three sets of public washrooms between the bridge and Seymour Street/NY 265. The only downside were some cracks in the pavement closer to the bridge.

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I didn’t take the time to go there, but on the way, you can see the boats docked at nearby Tonawanda Island.

I stopped for a rest at McDonald’s, which once again got my business because, unlike some other quick-serve restaurants, they welcome cyclists by providing a bike rack. Following the break, I continued back on a circuitous path towards the Rainbow Bridge through North Tonawanda.

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Longtime readers will understand why this sighting grabbed my attention.

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It wouldn’t be a proper trip without snapping some pictures for my road photos site and I was able to supplement my collection with shots like this, soon to appear on a Web site near you.

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Along Oliver Street are these painted horses. Such horses can be found at the nearby Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, which the city takes great pride in as “Home of the Carrousel” is proudly proclaimed on each sign entering the city.

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When going through Wheatfield, I passed by this one-time Polarski & Son customer, who is obviously dissatisfied with their tree service. I sense some business for members of the legal profession in both parties’ future.

I stopped once again at the park by the North Grand Island Bridge, where a gentleman approached me. Mistaking me for someone he knows, he started asking when they were going to build the third bridge to the island, but all I could give him in response was a blank stare. After establishing that I wasn’t the person he thought I was, he began a little American political dissertation and I just let him talk, leaving my citizenship out of the mostly one-way conversation.

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Once I got back to the Rainbow Bridge, I paid my 50-cent toll and then waited for a half hour in line at Canadian customs, where a snarky officer all but insinuated that I was a disloyal slob for cross-border cycling. There are plenty of great cycling opportunities on the Canadian side of the border, which I continue to take advantage of, but that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to the many equally fine places to explore on the U.S. side well within reach.

I look forward to a return visit.

03 May

Let’s Go Buffalo

Yesterday, I set off on an epic 67.4-mile biking adventure that took me to Buffalo for the first time, consuming much of the day in the process.

Knowing that Buffalo was a little beyond what I could handle in a single day, I loaded my bike on to a Niagara Regional Transit bus that runs from the St. Catharines downtown terminal to Target Plaza in Niagara Falls, giving me a 14-mile head start. From there, I took the scenic route along the Niagara Parkway to Fort Erie and the Peace Bridge.

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I followed the signs and walked my bike over the bridge for what would be the first of four crossings of the mighty Niagara River.

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Though there were no problems on the bridge, I was a little surprised there was no guard rail separating vehicle traffic from the sidewalk. I can see why there are so many signs urging cyclists to walk their bikes over the bridge. I hope this will be addressed with the planned makeover this bridge is getting.

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After going across I-190, I approached the border station, where you press a button and wait until a guard buzzes you into the building. Cyclists leave their bikes at the rack just outside the door and then go inside.

Everything went fine, but I was a little unnerved when the officer’s handheld radiation detector was going off. He came out from behind the counter and waved it around me, but after taking it inside, he saw it was malfunctioning and let me through. Because it’s not intuitively obvious, he pointed out a door to go through and instructed me to proceed through the parking lot, under the bridge and on to Busti Avenue.

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Within minutes of setting foot in Buffalo, I again spotted this Reimer Express truck that passed me when I was walking over the bridge. For those who are unaware, Reimer is based in none other than the degenerate capital of the SPRM. One of my former colleagues, in fact, once worked there. What are the odds of seeing one of their trucks in Buffalo?

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From there, I continued south towards the heart of downtown.

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Across from the Adam’s Mark Hotel and WKBW, Channel 7.

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The train heading north on Main Street.

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By accident, I ended up across from Coca-Cola Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons, the AAA affiliate of the Center of the Universe Blue Jays. Apparently, there was a game this afternoon, which helped to dilute the otherwise seedy populace. Going on a weekend does have its advantages in terms of reduced traffic levels, but as they say, there is safety in numbers.

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The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library might have been a good place to visit, but I needed my bike to get back home. I suspect the bike sharing program they have in this area is much like the one they have in Winnipeg.

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After a lengthy tour of some residential areas that included many stops to take pictures of New York state highway signs, I stopped for a brief respite at George Washington Park. At left is I-190 that follows the Niagara River and at right is Niagara Street/NY 266.

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I continued north into a largely industrial area, where I spotted this state trooper cleverly camped out near I-190 and NY 325.

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Turning northeast, I followed this trail that follows NY 325 towards the South Grand Island Bridge in the Town of Tonawanda.

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Not to be confused with the City of Tonawanda.

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Loyal readers can probably guess why I stopped for this picture.

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Though I do have a fear of big bridges, needing to economize distance, I opted to take the short cut through Grand Island rather than the longer route through North Tonawanda. It also offered me the opportunity to get off my bicycle seat for a while. On a long outing like this, the seat can start to feel like a javelin.

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At least this bridge, along with the North Grand Island Bridge, has a guard rail separating I-190 traffic from pedestrians and cyclists. Interestingly, unlike the northern bridge, there is no sign on this bridge instructing cyclists to walk across the bridge and one cyclist actually passed me while I was walking.

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After cutting across Grand Island, I made my way back to Niagara Falls and the now-familiar route down Buffalo Avenue/NY 384 to the Rainbow Bridge. I stopped at the gift shop for a small, but noteworthy souvenir and a bathroom break, then repatriated myself and returned home without incident.

It was a long, but enjoyable experience, one that I’ll likely enjoy more on my next visit, now that I’ve been to Buffalo and am more familiar with the area.

09 Dec

A Trek to Grand Island

Yesterday, with the good weather, I took a two-wheeled trek across the border and visited Grand Island for the first time. I know there are some of you who haven’t heard of this island that lies between Niagara Falls and Buffalo, but it offers many scenic trails for a cyclist.

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Luckily, the construction on Buffalo Avenue at the foot of the nearly mile-long bridge that has been ongoing for much of the summer had been completed, but the walk across this bridge was the biggest obstacle for me.

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I have a case of bridgeophobia and being in such close proximity to transport trucks on I-190 in the middle of the Niagara River did little to ease my anxiety. Fortunately, I made it across with little difficulty and I was even able to stop a couple of times to enjoy the view of the skyline on the Canadian side.

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Vehicles travelling on I-190 have to pay a toll upon entering Grand Island, but I didn’t. Just because it’s me.

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As you can see from this shot at the southern abutment of the bridge, there is a dedicated trail that goes underneath and proceeds south through Buckhorn Island State Park.

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View of the marsh restoration project.

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Welcome to Grand Island.

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This trail links up to Grand Island Boulevard and NY 324. Readers from the SPRM will notice there is not a speck of snow on the ground. It’s OK to be jealous.

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There are trails that cover the shoreline, but for today, I just stuck to Grand Island Boulevard and took advantage of the wide shoulders on both sides.

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Passing by Kelly’s Country Store. Mooooo.

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Past this roundabout is another dedicated trail that leads to the South Grand Island Bridge.

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This bridge is 600 feet shorter than its cousin farther north and connects to Tonawanda and Buffalo. I will save a crossing of this bridge and a return to Tonawanda for a future trip.

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In this midst of this 51.8-mile outing, I needed a place to stop. There were two Tim Hortons locations at opposite ends of the island, but neither one had a bike rack. This McDonald’s did and that’s why they got my business.

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Returning back to Niagara Falls, cyclists take the on-ramp for I-190 north and turn off onto the trail that goes back through Buckhorn Island State Park. NYSDOT again gives a helpful reminder that pedestrians, bicycles and horses are prohibited on I-190. If you want to ride your horse to Grand Island, you’re probably out of luck.

Since the pedestrian crossing on the eastern span of the bridge was closed, I had to cross on the western span where I was facing traffic while walking my bike. It was a little scary having those transport trucks coming at you and comedian George Wallace, who often jokes about the relatively minor difference between a Mack truck and a Ford Ranger, has obviously not walked across this bridge. Nonetheless, I made it back to the mainland and returned home without incident. As Arnold Schwarzengger says, “I’ll be back.”

06 Oct

Crossing the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on a Bicycle

Yesterday, for the first time, I crossed the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on two wheels. It was a relatively painless experience, but the procedure is not all that straightforward and I found precious few details online when planning my trip. Since many of my fellow cyclists may have the same questions I did, for the benefit of the cycling community, following is a detailed and illustrated synopsis of the procedure:

1. Canada to U.S.A.

Even though the U.S.-bound lanes on are the south side, cyclists approach from the north via Portage Road.

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There is clear signage from both directions on Portage Road and the nearby Niagara Parkway directing cyclists into the parking lot. Proceed around the barriers on the sidewalk towards the toll booth as shown:

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Go past the toll booth towards the Toll Captain’s office.

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The Toll Captain will give you instructions to proceed across the road past the orange cones and into the U.S.-bound lanes, see map below (click to enlarge):

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As the Toll Captain instructs, proceed with the cars in the “Autos” lane. Note that the lane for commercial trucks will be on your right, so I would advise staying a little to the left of the white line. There are a total of five lanes on the bridge and the middle lane is reversible, so the cars may or may not have more than one lane to pass you.

Once on the U.S. side, proceed to one of the lanes designated for cars at the Lewiston Bridge Port of Entry. After being cleared, take the first exit on I-190 for NY 104, see map below:

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On NY 104, you can proceed north towards Lewiston on NY 104 or south towards Niagara Falls. NY 104 is signed east and west, so Lewiston-bound traffic would use NY 104 east. Cyclists are prohibited on the adjacent Robert Moses Parkway.

2. U.S.A. to Canada

Fortunately, the procedure for Canada-bound cyclists is not as complicated.

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Take the turnoff to Canada from Upper Mountain Road, just west of Military Road (NY 265), see map below:

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As with the crossing in the U.S.-bound direction, proceed in the “Autos” lane. Commercial trucks and NEXUS card holders will be on your right.

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Proceed directly to Canadian customs, then to the toll booth. Pay the 50-cent toll, then turn off to your right and through the parking lot to Portage Road.

Cyclists with any further questions can send me an e-mail using the link at the bottom of the page and I’ll do my best to answer them. The pictures used were my own and the maps are courtesy of Google.

26 Sep

A Run for the Border

Yesterday, I made my first cross-border cycling trip since coming to St. Catharines. Many of you who know me might be asking what took me so long.

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At the crack of dawn, I headed southeast towards Niagara Falls and the Rainbow Bridge, where I planned to cross over into the U.S. I had been in the U.S. on two wheels in each of the last three years, but every time, my bike was stored away on a tour bus as we headed south from Winnipeg. This time, I would get there on my own power.

Since details are oddly hard to come by online, I was a little nervous about the procedure. At sites I’ve reviewed, everyone says cyclists can cross at the Rainbow Bridge with no problems, but they fail to mention whether you line up with the pedestrians or cross with the cars. I was later told that you can go with the pedestrians, but since signage at each of the other bridges clearly differentiate between cyclists and pedestrians, I decided to go with the cars. There were no problems in either direction using this approach and it proved to be the right choice. Unlike the Peace Bridge to the south and the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge to the north, commercial trucks are not allowed on this bridge, which makes it a little less intimidating for a cyclist. Furthermore, the Rainbow Bridge connects regular streets, not freeways, so it is clearly the preferred option for two-wheeled travellers like me.

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At the U.S. border station, the two lanes on the right are for buses and the others are for cars and cyclists. I got in line and was served promptly by a friendly border guard who even addressed me by name.

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I was through in no time and shortly began exploring western New York for the first time on two wheels.

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New York has a number of dedicated bike routes throughout the state and the route that ends at Niagara Falls is, fittingly for me, number 5. For those inclined to traverse the state, a detailed map is available at the Niagara USA Visitor Center.

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While stopping to get this picture, I could hear music blaring outside the Niagara Center so loudly that it sounded like there was a ghetto blaster right on the sidewalk. It was not a positive first impression and it would only get worse as I made my way through the city.

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Those of you who know me will not be surprised that the acquisition of pictures of highway signs was the primary motivation in my choice of routes. The first such route was NY 384 that follows to the southeast towards Grand Island.

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Seneca Niagara Casino.

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Though this may only interest me, this is an oddity I found throughout my travels on this day. On every state or U.S. highway I was on, without exception, a reassurance marker would be followed by another either in the same block or the next block. This is something I have never found in any province or state I have been in before and only officials at NYSDOT can explain the logic behind it.

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Niagara Falls, Canada is a world-renowned tourist destination. Niagara Falls, USA is an aging, dilapidated industrial town. The pictures don’t even tell the whole story. For anyone considering a visit to the area, there is no reason to cross the border unless, like me, you have ulterior motives that go beyond the more garden-variety tourist attractions.

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I point out this particular shot since it was in early July that I was taking a similar shot in Saint Paul of U.S. Highway 61. Less than three months later, I was at New York State Route 61. It was another stark reminder of just how far I have come since I left the SPRM.

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I took this shot at A Street. Not to be confused with B Street. Or C Street. Such imagination from city planners.

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A state historical marker from 1936. From the look of things, not much has improved in this area since that time.

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The only “wonder” about Niagara Falls, USA is that enterprising Americans have not done more to clean up the city and make it a more attractive tourist destination.

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One reader will understand why I stopped for this shot. The rest of you won’t.

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Sadly, this was all too indicative of what you’ll find on this side of the border in Niagara Falls.

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Someone with a little car trouble.

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After getting plenty of shots of NY 384, I returned to the area around the Rainbow Bridge before heading north along Main Street/NY 104.

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Smokin’ Joe’s Indian Trading Post. I can’t make up stuff like this. It ranks right up there with Big John’s Mine Shaft Tavern in Sioux Narrows.

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If they tried to build this sign assembly any higher, they would need to get clearance from the airport. I can imagine the confused looks from tourists as they approach this intersection and the planners at NYSDOT might well be advised to adopt the adage, “Less is more.”

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A helpful sign at the entrance to the Robert Moses Parkway. I’ll keep this valuable information in mind in case I ever think about bringing my horse.

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The U.S. Post Office.

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This particular shot has a story behind it. Immediately to my right was a group of scruffy-looking characters hanging out on a porch. The sight of this gringo coming around taking pictures of highway signs evidently aroused their curiosity and they all followed me out to the corner as I got some more shots around the nearby intersection. For all I know, they’re still scratching their heads wondering what I was doing there.

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The signs greeting visitors after crossing the Whirlpool Bridge. This bridge is only for cars and NEXUS card holders.

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I continued north towards DeVeaux Woods State Park. There is a marked change on the other side of the railway underpass and one for the better. Upscale, well-kept homes line the streets with lush greenery in abundance. From what my neighbor tells me and from checking out Lewiston on Google Earth, I suspect this is what I will find more of if I confine future trips across the border to the northern reaches of the state.

Interestingly, seconds after taking this shot, someone with New York plates stopped me and asked for directions. Once again, despite never having been in this area before, I was able to answer her questions accurately.

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I got some more strange looks from that cyclist who passed by as I took this shot on NY 31. Unlike the last group, however, he continued on his way and didn’t try to follow me around.

Rather than continuing north to the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, I turned around and headed back for the Rainbow Bridge. I was getting hungry and kept looking around for a Subway, but in retrospect, I was lucky not to have found one as I’m not sure I would have felt safe leaving my bike anywhere in the downtown area. Oddly, after checking online, the only Subway locations in the city are by I-190 near the outlet mall.

I made one last stop at the Visitor Center near the bridge, but not before being accosted by a couple of guys running a hot dog/hamburger stand next door. I don’t respond well to high-pressure sales and I would have sooner gone without food for the whole day rather than buy anything from them.

At the Visitor Center, I noticed there was only one person working there and she was tied up with a couple who had a long laundry list of items to cover. So I waited. And waited. And waited. When another mob of people came in, I just left. By contrast, the Ontario travel information center is fully staffed and they eagerly pounce on you when you get anywhere near the desk.

On the bridge, tolls are collected from Canada-bound travellers, including cyclists. The fare for cars is $3.50 US/$3.75 CDN, but cyclists are only charged 50 cents. I gave the guy two quarters and continued across the bridge to the Canadian border station. I was pleased to be greeted in the Canadian language rather than with a “Bonjour” and I almost said “Winnipeg” when the guard asked me where I lived, but I caught myself in time and responded with “St. Catharines.” Old habits die hard. He asked whether or not I had picked up any shipments or bought anything during my stay in the U.S. and after I said I didn’t, he sent me on my way.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative impression of Niagara Falls, NY, no doubt I will be crossing the border on two wheels again. I shot 183 pictures on the day, mostly of New York State highway signs, and there’s so many more out there for me to capture. As I’ve said before, no one squeezes more out of a travel dollar than I do and this outing was no exception.