Category Archives: Cycling

15 Sep

Bike Trip to Crystal Beach

Today, I covered 49.1 miles on two wheels in a bus-bike trip to Crystal Beach. For the benefit of those not familiar with the region, it’s located on Niagara’s south coast about midway between Port Colborne and Fort Erie.

Bright and early, I left the house and made my way to the St. Catharines Bus Terminal to catch the 7:05 #70 regional transit bus to Welland to give me a head start.

Unfortunately, the bus was 10 minutes late, but it was of little consequence to me. I noted with interest, however, that the driver was apologetic and was saying “Sorry for being so late” to each passenger. Once again, it sure beats the F-U attitude more commonly displayed in the Old Country. But I digress.

After getting to the Welland Transit Terminal, I made my way south along the trail to Port Colborne, then crossed the canal on Main Street.

I could have hooked up with the Friendship Trail linking Port Colborne to Fort Erie directly in town, but as most readers would expect, it wouldn’t be a proper bike trip for me without getting some highway pictures. So instead, I took Killaly Street east to the junction of Highway 3 in Gasline.

I know one reader will appreciate the name of this hamlet, as it would be a perfect retirement destination for a former colleague with a connection to the U.S. Postal Service who liked to treat us to plenty of his own gas.

After getting some shots of Highway 3, I turned south on Cedar Bay Road and followed the Friendship Trail to Gorham Road. Farther north, it’s known as Sodom Road and to the south it’s known as Ridgeway Road. It also carries the moniker of regional road 116. Take your pick.

I first headed north to get some shots of the junction at Highway 3, then turned around and headed for Crystal Beach.

As it says, the south coast of Canada.

A shot of the beach. Across the lake is the great state of New York.

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Shots around the park.

As I sat and ate my lunch, I gazed at the Buffalo skyline and recognized places and buildings I visited in a trip there less than a month ago.

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More shots around the park.

This is a shot of Point Abino and the lighthouse by the shore. Unfortunately, it’s a private community and the public is not normally allowed out there.

Homes by the shore, part of a gated community. Yes, access to the lake is a little limited.

For the benefit of one reader, the fire hall across from the Tim Hortons where I stopped.

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Rested, hydrated and fed, I returned to the Friendship Trail and headed west back to Port Colborne. It was my second time on the trail and it was like an Interstate highway for cyclists. As someone who has spent the bulk of his life in a cesspool so hostile to cyclists (and everyone else), I don’t think people in this part of the world fully appreciate how lucky they are to have resources like this in their own backyard.

Near downtown Port Colborne, I stopped for this shot before heading north to Welland to hook up with the regional transit bus once again. Once I got to the Welland Transit Terminal, I noticed a Welland Transit bus waiting, but I ignored it and instead waited for the regional transit bus. Fortunately, the driver noticed me standing there and explained that the Welland Transit bus was indeed the regional transit bus I was looking for. Every other time I had taken regional transit, it has been labelled as such, so for prospective riders out there, take note that you could be getting a local bus rather than a regional one. As the driver said to me, read the route number instead.

With my bike on board, I made it back safely and without incident. It was yet another quality experience I’ve come to expect from living here.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

These giraffes tower over Adventure Landing, an amusement center.

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.

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

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

23 May

Cycling Across the Niagara Bridges – A Reference Guide

Since coming to St. Catharines almost two years ago, I have acquired a significant amount of first-hand experience crossing the border on two wheels. Having even been asked by CBSA officers and tourism officials on both sides of the border on the procedures to cross on a bike, I have put together a guide for your reference:

Queenston-Lewiston Bridge (known by Americans as the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge)

With the non-intuitive process, I already did a little write-up on crossing this bridge, and I’ll point you to that blog entry here.

Given the heavy truck traffic on this bridge, I would highly recommend not using this bridge during the week and waiting until the weekend when the traffic is lighter.

When crossing from Canada to the U.S., there is a sign instructing cyclists to report to the toll captain before proceeding, but when I was last across, I asked the toll captain if I had to wait for him if no one was around. He said you don’t have to wait for anyone, and as long as you know the procedure, you can proceed.

Whirlpool Bridge

This bridge, connecting the downtown areas of Niagara Falls, Ontario and New York, is only for NEXUS card holders. I had to tell the CBSA officer who interviewed me for my NEXUS card the other day that, as per the NFBC’s website, cyclists are prohibited on this bridge, though there are no signs at the bridge expressly saying so.

Rainbow Bridge

This bridge at Niagara Falls is by far the best for a cyclist to use due to the fact that commercial trucks are prohibited and that it connects residential streets rather than Interstate-equivalent freeways. There are no longer any NEXUS lanes, but simply proceed with the cars and pay your 50-cent toll upon leaving the U.S.

For those looking for an extended journey, there is a stop for the #40 NFTA bus, which links Niagara Falls to Buffalo, at the first light past customs. Most NFTA buses have bike racks, and for $2 US, you can extend your range substantially. For more information, consult NFTA’s website.

Peace Bridge

On this bridge, connecting Fort Erie to Buffalo, cyclists must walk across in either direction. Unlike the NFBC, the bridge authority provides details and maps on their website, and I urge anyone crossing there to visit the site or watch the following video from the bridge authority:

I personally have not crossed into Canada on this bridge on two wheels, but I have walked over in the opposite direction. Do not proceed with the cars and instead approach the building on foot, press the buzzer and wait. Leave your bike outside at the rack provided and enter the building when prompted by a CBP officer. Inside, you will be processed and the officer will wave a handheld radiation detector around you as part of the inspection.

Once cleared, proceed through the parking lot, under the bridge and onto Busti Avenue. Downtown Buffalo will be to the south, and to the north, you can head toward the Shoreline Trail that follows the river north into Tonawanda, going under the South Grand Island Bridge and through Nia-Wanda Park.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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





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.

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.

Longtime readers will understand why this sighting grabbed my attention.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

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?

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

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

The train heading north on Main Street.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

Not to be confused with the City of Tonawanda.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

View of the marsh restoration project.

Welcome to Grand Island.


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.


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.

Passing by Kelly’s Country Store. Mooooo.

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


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.

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.

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.”

04 Nov

Covering the Friendship Trail from Port Colborne to Fort Erie

Yesterday, as part of an epic 69-mile trek, I covered the Friendship Trail on two wheels from Port Colborne to Fort Erie for the first time. Knowing in advance that the entire journey from St. Catharines would be well beyond my range, I took Niagara Region Transit from the downtown bus terminal to Welland.

Every Niagara Region Transit bus is equipped with a bike rack and I found it easy to use. Instructions on the front direct you to pull down on the rack, where to place your front wheel and hook on the lever so your bike doesn’t end up as scrap metal as the driver speeds down the 406. Between St. Catharines and Welland, the bus only stops at the Pen Center, Brock University, the Seaway Mall and finally, at the Welland Transit Terminal, where I got off. The ride took less than 40 minutes and I was soon headed south towards Port Colborne. Niagara Region Transit does offer a link to Port Colborne, but those buses are not equipped with a bike rack, so cyclists like me have to get there on their own.


There were a couple of places where the “patway” was under construction south of Welland, but I went around them on side roads and was soon in Port Colborne.

After a brief tour and some pictures, I made my way to the Friendship Trail, which is located at the south end of town, six blocks south of Killaly Street on the east side of the canal.




The trail proceeds due east towards Fort Erie in a straight line along very Saskatchewanized terrain. Though you are not far from Lake Erie, you will see very little of it on the route. Instead, you see plenty of bush and farmland. For the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, it reminded me very much of Birds Hill Park.

Looking at the map before going, I had underestimated the total distance. It turned out to be a total of 28 km from Elizabeth Street in Port Colborne to Mather Park in Fort Erie, where pedestrians and cyclists can access the Peace Bridge and cross into the U.S.

In Fort Erie, there are a number of public beaches easily accessible off the trail where you can get a good view of the lake. This was one such beach where I stopped for some pictures and a little rest.

Waverly Beach in Fort Erie.

The Buffalo skyline.

The Peace Bridge.

Along the route, there are plenty of benches where you can stop and rest, but much like the Niagara Parkway that I followed on my return trip, there are no bathrooms. When in Fort Erie, do your business there or forever hold your peace. Or hold something else.

Simply because of how far it was away from home, I don’t think I’ll be frequenting it that often, but for those a little closer or with transportation, it is a very nice, well-maintained trail that is another significant asset for cyclists in the region.

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.


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:


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



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):


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:

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.

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.

Seneca Niagara Casino.

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.


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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

Someone with a little car trouble.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

The U.S. Post Office.

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.

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

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.

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.

08 Sep

Voyage South of the Falls

My most recent scenic tour of my new home region comes south of Niagara Falls. For this particular outing, I eschewed Google’s recommendations and took Taylor Road past the outlet mall and up the escarpment to Mountain Road.


The climb up the escarpment was in two manageable stages and there were paved shoulders on both roads. In addition, the roads seemed well-maintained and were not littered with potholes, unlike what I’m accustomed to from my years in the SPRM.

Passing Walker Industries. Disclaimer: I have no connection to this organization.

Turning east at Mountain Road towards the QEW.


From atop the escarpment, you can see all the way across the lake. In the distance is the C.U. skyline.

I proceeded south on Dorchester Road, east on McLeod Road, then south on Portage Road past Marineland.


Everyone loves Marineland.

I then headed through the village of Chippawa. As the sign says, Chippawa is the home town of James Cameron, a famed Hollywood director who worked on many films including The Terminator, a true classic.

While taking some shots at the bridge over the Welland River, an older couple sitting on a nearby bench kindly pointed out the weasel. I talked to them briefly and they asked me if I moved to St. Catharines for school. Those of you who know me may pause for a moment to laugh hysterically.

After passing through Chippawa, I found the Niagara Parkway Trail and headed south. The sign said Fort Erie was 24 km away and that journey will have to wait for another day. Nonetheless, I did make it past Navy Island, cycling through scenery that reminded me of scenes from Gone with the Wind. I kept expecting to find Rhett Butler on his horse coming around the next bend.




Pictures don’t do the area justice.

I imagine this would be a popular golf course for those who are so inclined.

I turned around here and headed back to the Falls, stopping for more pictures along the way.


This humble abode was for sale. $3.2 million or best offer takes it.


The Willoughby Historical Museum. Curiously, the sign on the door said it was closed for the season. Since when is early September out of season in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations?



More homes along the route.



The historical marker for Navy Island at the south end of the island.


Clear water. It’s still a novelty to see, coming from the murky shores of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.





Farther north on the trail, I stopped at the Chippawa Battlefield Park, site of another famous battle during the War of 1812, or more appropriately, the War of 1812-1815.


The northern shore of Navy Island. Interestingly, Navy Island was once mentioned as a prospective site for the United Nations headquarters following World War II.


The northern bridge connecting Grand Island to the mainland in New York State.


Robert Moses Parkway. This is why the Canadian side of Niagara Falls remains much more popular than its American counterpart as my neighbor, a native of Niagara Falls, NY, can attest.




Near Main Street in Chippawa, the trail cuts across the water towards the Falls.


The Niagara Falls skyline. That’s mist coming from the falls, not the aftermath of an arsonist, one of the ten most popular occupations in my former home city.


The dam as part of the hydroelectric generating station.



Another couple of skyline shots.




The mighty Niagara River.


At Dufferin Islands, or “Daufferin,” as my late grandfather would say.




I stopped by the Floral Showhouse, but I’ll save a trip inside for a future visit. The price of admission was a reasonable $5.65, but I was outraged to see that they want $5/hour for parking. There’s a difference between charging a fair price and gouging. This falls into the latter category.




The incline railway and adjacent Welcome Center.



Before heading inside to the Welcome Center, I had to hunt high and low before finding a rack to lock up my bike. Given the number of cyclists who traverse the Niagara Parkway, the lack of facilities for guests arriving on two wheels is a rather significant oversight that I hope is addressed in the near future.


Once again, I know I was not alone. You may understand. You may not.


I know one and perhaps only one reader will appreciate this.



Elements on the Falls. Any connection to a former pair of colleagues from my distant past is strictly unavoidable. Most readers, even my close friends, will not understand.



Tourists line the railing to get a good view of the falls.



Still others want a more up close and personal look.


Before leaving, I took a ride down Fallsview Boulevard and noticed a traffic jam in front of the Embassy Suites Hotel. I presume this is for the valet parking.




The Fallsview Casino, an ATM for the government.


I couldn’t help but stop to get a shot of this billboard. The farmer did not make my eggs today, a chicken did.


A reminder of a piece of my past. I wonder if it’s a fighting moose or just a regular moose. One reader will understand more than most.


Political incorrectness in its most egregious form.

It was an interesting outing and yet another positive experience. Once again, I only wish I had come here sooner.