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.

20140925_001_sunrise

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.

20140925_005_usborderstation

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.

20140925_004_welcometony

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

20140925_007_nybikeroute5
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.

20140925_008_niagaracenter

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.

20140925_014_384_sb_pastrainbowblvd
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.

20140925_024_senecaniagaracasino
Seneca Niagara Casino.

20140925_034_384_sb_rainbowblvd
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.

20140925_035_384_sb_acheson

20140925_064_384_nb_dupont
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.

20140925_042_61_nb_past384
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.

20140925_049_61_sb_jct384
I took this shot at A Street. Not to be confused with B Street. Or C Street. Such imagination from city planners.

20140925_069_384_nb_portageroad
A state historical marker from 1936. From the look of things, not much has improved in this area since that time.

20140925_077_384_wonder
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.

20140925_081_rainbowmart_pop
One reader will understand why I stopped for this shot. The rest of you won’t.

20140925_084_apartments
Sadly, this was all too indicative of what you’ll find on this side of the border in Niagara Falls.

20140925_085_missingwheel
Someone with a little car trouble.

20140925_092_384_nb_end
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.

20140925_089_smokinjoes
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.

20140925_102_104_mainst
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.”

20140925_103_rmparkway_nb_past104
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.

20140925_110_104_uspo
The U.S. Post Office.

20140925_119_us62bus_sb_past6th
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.

20140925_134_182_eb_bridge
The signs greeting visitors after crossing the Whirlpool Bridge. This bridge is only for cars and NEXUS card holders.

20140925_163_104_deveauxwoods
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.

20140925_152_31_wb_jct104
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.