Tag Archives: New York

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.