Tag Archives: Grand Island

11 May

An Improbable Visit to da ‘Burgh

On Monday, I had the pleasure of accompanying a good friend who was visiting from Winnipeg on a day trip to Pittsburgh. I had certainly heard enough about the city and its fanatical passion for its football team from a long-lost friend and former colleague whose ex-wife hailed from the area, but I never thought I would ever visit Pittsburgh in person.

Bright and early, we crossed the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, known as the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge to the Americans, and entered the great state of New York.

Most people would have taken the QEW to the Peace Bridge, in part to avoid the $1 toll at Grand Island, but I did not object when my friend suggested the Lewiston crossing. Not only did I want to show him the bridge I had crossed several times on two wheels, but more importantly, I wanted to get some additional shots of I-190 that I wouldn’t have otherwise have been able to get. Shots that will be appearing on a website near you. Sooner or later. More likely the latter, given the backlog of pictures I’ve been accumulating recently.

The $1 toll was a small price to pay for shots like this. Here, we are approaching the toll booth just on the other side of the north bridge, one that I’ve walked over several times.

Past Grand Island into the Town of Tonawanda, not to be confused with the City of Tonawanda or the City of North Tonawanda, the latter being in a different county, there was a fair bit of traffic heading into Buffalo. This is undoubtedly another reason why people heading over the river use the Peace Bridge instead.

Passing under the Scajaquada Expressway. As I explained in the car, I finally learned how to pronounce it listening to a couple of guys talking while at the Tim Hortons in Sanborn a couple of years ago.

Approaching the Peace Bridge. You can watch the traffic on this stretch of I-190 from the Niagara Parkway in Fort Erie.

Past Buffalo and onto the Thruway, we stopped at the Lackawanna toll barrier. Entering the tolled section of the Thruway, travelers paying by cash pick up a ticket. When exiting, you hand that ticket to the attendant, who calculates the toll based on how far you’ve gone. Those with E-ZPass simply drive through, where sensors read the transponder upon entry and exit and deduct the appropriate charge from the user’s account. It’s kind of like a Presto card for drivers. You know, the Presto card that you can use throughout the GTHA, Ottawa and even Gatineau, but not here in Niagara. But I digress.

For the benefit of drivers who need a break along the way, rather than force them to exit and stop for an interim payment, the great state of New York provides many service areas along the Thruway like this one near Angola. Here, there is a food court, a staffed tourist information booth and a service station. Toto, we’re not in Manitoba anymore.

Past the Angola service area, there are these signs warning of a rough road ahead as the Thruway passes through the Seneca “Nation.”

The road is indeed quite rough, but as I understand, long-standing disputes between the state and this “nation,” which must give authorization for the state to work on tribal lands, is holding up what is a badly needed rebuild of this stretch of America’s longest Interstate highway. From its eastern terminus in Boston, it runs over 3,000 miles before ending in Seattle.

Just as I did when I passed by on the way to Erie in October 2015, I noticed this sign for the Big Indian Smoke Shop along with an Indian doing something much too similar to a Nazi salute. Upon closer inspection, the Indian is holding his palm up as if he’s looking for money, a familiar sighting for anyone who has walked the streets of downtown Winnipeg. A sighting I don’t miss, by the way.

Here is a sign notifying motorists that they’re in a correctional facility area and warning them not to pick up hitchhikers. Not that it’s a terribly good idea to pick up strangers under the best of circumstances, but in this case, it’s even more dangerous, as in the distance is the water tower for Chautauqua Institution, a jail with thick barbed-wire fencing right along the Thruway.

Here, we approach the Ripley toll barrier to pay our stipend before being allowed to leave the great state of New York. Unlike the case on the 407, however, the tolls are quite reasonable and the trip between Lackawanna and Ripley only sets you back $3.15. Though I had enough American money, they do apparently take Canadian dollarettes, discounted at a rate of 30%. Subject to change, I imagine.

Just past the Ripley toll barrier is the state line. Here, we are welcomed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Inside the welcome center were washrooms, free Wi-Fi and a staffed tourist office. Normally in these places, the staff pounce on you as soon as you walk in the door, but the person in the office was content to sit and continue working while I browsed through the place.

At the main door is this sign giving “The Rules” as set forth by the Commonwealth. Some long reading material for those who care enough and have the time to go through it all.

Past the welcome center, there is this sign for North East. North East what, you may ask? It’s just North East. Well, North East Township to be exact.

Following a short break in nearby Erie, it was time to head south along I-79 toward Pittsburgh.

Just past the I-90 interchange is Bargain Road, a fitting sighting for a current and ex-Winnipegger traveling together. For the benefit of the uninformed, Winnipeg is the discount capital of North America.

Here, we pass I-80, another of the country’s longest Interstates. This one links New Jersey to San Francisco, roughly following the path of the old Lincoln Highway. As you can see from the foliage, this stretch of highway through the rolling hills of the western part of the Commonwealth is a beautiful and highly recommended drive.

We stopped again at Grove City, where I had lunch at this gas station/Subway.

Walking back to the outlet mall, just as I did when I last visited Erie, I noticed how pedestrian-unfriendly this part of the world was. There were hardly any sidewalks around and much of the ground wasn’t even flat, yet in the above shot, they made a big effort to put wheelchair ramps at the light. It had the look of something done just so some bureaucrats could say they had fulfilled ADA requirements.

I went inside the Stillers outlet store and picked up a little souvenir of the occasion before we continued on our journey south.

Here, a horse and buggy proceeds west along Route 208 as we waited to get back on I-79.

Approaching the PA Turnpike.

Seeing this sign, I couldn’t help but recall one of the favorite expressions of former Seattle Seahawks coach Chuck Knox. When he felt something was common sense, he would say it was “eighth-grade Sewickley.” Little did I ever think I would ever end up in the same area code as his hometown.

Here, we cross the Ohio River, or the Ahia in Pittsburghese. I found it odd that the signage was not bilingual.

We exited I-79 at I-376 and proceeded east to Pittsburgh. For the benefit of the uninformed, in this part of the world, the next exit is for Car-NEGGY, not CAR-nuh-gee.

Approaching the Mount Lebanon exit and heading into Pittsburgh.

Here, we enter the Fort Pitt Tunnel that goes through Mount Washington. I used to think that going underneath the Welland Canal was a big deal.

Oddly enough, on the other side of the Fort Pitt Tunnel is the Fort Pitt Bridge that crosses the Monongahela River. We took one of the downtown exits and found a place to park before getting out for a bit of exploration.

Naturally, this caught my attention. There are many such homages to Snoopy in downtown Saint Paul, MN, and they’re in much better shape than this one. Still, it’s better than nothing.

Welcome to da ‘Burgh.

Oy! Brahns paraphernalia in downtown Pittsburgh?!?

The entrance to Point State Park at the confluence of the Allegheny and aforementioned Monongahela and Ahia Rivers.

Cafe at the Point. Note how the chairs and tables are tied down. No doubt they would have a habit of walking away on their own without the restraints.

Looking back at the Wyndham Grand Hotel.

The Fort Pitt Museum, where only museum patrons can use their washrooms. The common folk instead have to use the public washrooms near the fountain.

The Fort Pitt Bridge.

Segway tours are offered. We would also spot hybrid boats from Just Ducky Tours rolling through downtown that give one-hour land and water tours of the area.

Along the shoreline.

Here, a flag from the Thirteen Colonies era flies proudly.

Mount Warshington, as they would say in Pittsburghese. Rather than go over it, we went through it.

The fountain.

Heinz Field, home of dem Stillers. Hir we go, Stillers, hir we go!

Fort Duquesne Bridge.

Leaving the park, we made a brief tour of downtown. This is Gateway Station, a terminal in the city’s light rail network that goes underneath both the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers. Within the downtown area anna Norside (North Side in English), it is a free fare zone.

This sign for a “chipped chopped” ham sandwich, another bit of unique Pittsburgh vernacular, just jumped out at me as I recalled how my long-lost former colleague mentioned that his then-father-in-law had once said, “Eyes had a chipped chopped sammitch and eyes full.”

Far too soon, it was time to leave and we took I-279 north across the Fort Duquesne Bridge and back to I-79.

Following a short break at a rest area near Grove City, I spotted this cross near the road. Given the state of political correctness these days, I’m surprised any reference to a Christian religion near a public highway is permitted. No doubt, some perpetually offended SJW is just waiting to raise hell with PennDOT after getting “triggered.”

We stopped again in Erie before continuing east on I-90 toward Buffalo.

This sign, with the “UPMC Hamot” and “University” lines having been put in by simply placing a metal plate over the old wording, caught my attention. When wording needs to be changed, it is a refreshing, common sense approach to do it that way rather than replace the entire sign as they do in the SPRM. But I’m not bitter.

Passing through North East, travelers get a nice view of the lake. Anyone looking for information on Niagara Falls can also reportedly get it here, though why one would even look for information on the Falls in North East Township is beyond me.

Leaving the Commonwealth and crossing into the great state of New York. The difference in the quality of pavement was palpable.

Here, we pass through the Ripley toll barrier, where the attendant was passing out tickets to motorists the way a business owner would hand out flyers on a busy street corner.

Maybe this only interests me, but the sign for Exit 59 uses the wrong shield for the intersecting NY 60. This is sadly commonplace in the great state of New York, particularly so on US 62.

Here, we re-enter the Seneca “Nation.” On the sign, they claim the state owes them over $675 million for a toll they unilaterally claim for every motorist who passes through their “sovereign lands since time immemorial.” Um, yeah, whatever. Perhaps the state should make a similar claim for members of this “nation” when they leave their “sovereign lands.” In the meantime, fix the damn road.

Apparently the Lackawanna toll booths are more special than the other toll booths along the Thruway.

Preparing to pay the $3.15, I noticed these signs for Canada on every toll booth. Canada-bound traffic is evidently quite commonplace in this part of the world.

With the setting sun, we made it back across the border and home without incident to put an end to what was a long, but very enjoyable day, one that I’ll continue enjoying in retrospect for quite some time.

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.

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.”