Tag Archives: Niagara

31 Jul

A Little Perspective on Transit “Disconnect”

This morning, an interesting blog entry came across my Twitter feed. In it, the author bemoans the disconnect between Hamilton and Niagara from a public transit perspective. I can appreciate his point of view as someone who remembers when Megabus offered a more direct connection. But he lost me when he described the Stoney Creek/Barton connection, one I have used and by and large, find quite acceptable, as one of those options “not worthy of consideration.”

By way of comparison, consider the case of Winnipeg, the city I defected from three years to the day tomorrow.

Decades ago, you used to be able to take the train to Minneapolis. Not anymore.

There was also a train to Winnipeg Beach and Gimli. Stuff of legend in that part of the world. Long since gone by the wayside.

The trains were replaced by buses. A late as a decade ago, there was still regular bus service south of the border. Unfortunately, that too is gone. As is the service to the Interlake. Even the iconic Winnipeg to Selkirk route so capably handled by Beaver Bus Lines for so many years is hanging by a thread.

Things aren’t any better when trying to get to points east and west. Trains only come through the city two or three times a week and cross-Canada bus routes have been decreasing in frequency.

Even if there was some decent inter-city bus service available, simply getting to the bus terminal nowadays has become a Herculean challenge following the puzzling decision to relocate the bus terminal out by the airport. Though the airport is technically served by Winnipeg Transit, service there can be best described as abominable.

As someone who used to live on a flight path close to the airport, I would have had to have taken three buses to get there, two of which were low-frequency routes. The hour-long walk would have been faster, though hardly an option if you’re carrying suitcases. The old bus terminal was Ground Zero for indigents and a place where you had good reason to fear for your safety, but being centrally located in the heart of downtown , it was at least easily accessible from most points within the city.

The city could readily remedy the situation with a high-frequency shuttle service to the airport from nearby Polo Park, a popular transit hub. But they choose not to. Instead, they continue to shovel hundreds of millions of dollars into the so-called Rapid Transit project to shave a few minutes off a ride from downtown to the U of M.

Insert sound of a toilet flushing.

As much as people in this part of the world complain about public transit, consider the alternative.

You could be living in Winnipeg.

30 Mar

Canada Summer Games: A Dissenting Opinion

So Niagara has “won” the right to host the 2021 Canada Summer Games.

Hoo-ray.

Politicians from across the region from St. Catharines to Fort Erie tell me we’re supposed to be excited. And who isn’t? After all, according to the responses they got on a website, where the option to state a differing opinion was conspicuously absent, “we’re all in.” The true definition of a Liberal referendum.

Well, count me as one of those Niagarans who isn’t quite so excited. For some strange reason, seeing so many politicians doing cartwheels over the prospect of spending gobs of my money doesn’t give me the warm and fuzzies. Go figure.

For starters, admit it. You hadn’t even heard of the Canada Summer Games until all the politicos started shouting from the rooftops about how it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Even those of you who might have happened to have heard of them likely had next to no interest in them. If they were to disappear from the face of the Earth, they’re likely something you’d miss about as much as that fly buzzing around your head. Or that cold you had this winter.

So if you hadn’t hitherto heard of or had any interest in them before, you can bet that some sap sitting in his recliner in Four Mile House, Saskatchewan hadn’t either.

Yet those same politicos would like you to believe that people like him all across the country are just rushing to their travel agents right now to book flights and hotel rooms, all so they can watch some rowers or high jumpers in four years time.

And if you really believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

No doubt, Niagara will be besieged by tourists in the summer of 2021, just as we are every summer. But they’ll be here for the many attractions the region has to offer.

Not for those games.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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As it says, the south coast of Canada.

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

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Shots around the park.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

29 Jun

Thoughts on Niagara GO

Yesterday, I was among the handful of non-politicians present as our MPP, Jim Bradley, and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca made the “historic” announcement that GO train service will be coming to Niagara.

That was the good news.

The bad news?

St. Catharines and Niagara Falls won’t be seeing the trains until 2023. That’s seven years from now.

Yawn.

Despite the massive letdown, in an understatement of epic proportions, that leaves plenty of time for our local elected officials to lay out the necessary groundwork to make this new service a win instead of a setback.

First, there must be vastly improved transit service to the St. Catharines train station from both St. Catharines Transit and Niagara Region Transit. As things stand, it would probably take me longer to get to the train station than it does for the GO bus to take me from Fairview Mall to Burlington.

In a recent chat with the Standard, I posed the question to Mayor Sendzik as to when we could expect such plans to be announced if the much-anticipated GO service came. All I got was a politician’s non-answer. This is the time when the planning needs to get done, not two years after the trains start rolling.

Secondly, a full Presto rollout throughout the region’s many transit systems should be considered a must, along with a discounted co-fare for those coming from or transferring to the GO service. This is commonplace throughout the GTHA and it should be no different here.

Finally, lift the restrictions on taking bicycles on the train during peak times. I know this is more of a personal issue, but cycling is a lot more popular in this part of the world than it was in the SPRM. It is not just a much more accepted mode of transportation with the locals, but people come from all over the world to explore the region on two wheels. They can bring their bikes on the bus today and it should be no less permissible when the train comes, regardless of the time of day or day of the week.

You want to play with the big boys? Act like it.

There’s lots of time to get this right.

No excuses.

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.

21 Mar

Top Hat Ceremony

Today, I attended the annual Top Hat Ceremony for the official opening of the Welland Canal at Lock 3 here in St. Catharines.

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Judging from the packed house 20 minutes before the ceremony began, I didn’t arrive early enough.

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Before heading up to the second floor, I made sure to sign the guestbook and pry a program loose from one of the volunteers engrossed in a conversation with one of his colleagues. Luckily, I was able to get a good seat right up front before the others joined me.

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Master of Ceremonies D’Arcy Wilson kicked off the event while Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin shot me a “What the heck is he up to?” look. It’s a media event, Alan. I wasn’t the only one there with a camera.

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Francois Allard, Director of Marine Services for Windsor Salt and Allister Paterson, President of Canada Steamship Lines.

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Betty Sutton of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and Terence Bowles of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

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After an anthem singing I could have lived without, Bowles spoke first, followed by Sutton. Bowles played a video proudly showing off the new hands free mooring system being used on the canal and throughout the Seaway.

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Our mayor, Walter Sendzik, then took the podium. I have never known a more dynamic public speaker.

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Ted Luciani, Thorold’s mayor and a 25-year Seaway employee.

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Alan Caslin. Now he appears a little more receptive to the spotlight.

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Paterson spoke about the gloomy state of affairs with the market in China bottoming out.

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Allard then spoke about the salt business. There’s something so fitting about having the first ship through the canal being filled with the essence of Ontario.

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Gifts were then presented.

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Kathleen Powell of the St. Catharines Museum then presented the Top Hat to the captain of the Thunder Bay. The Top Hat tradition apparently dates back to the days of the fur trade, as the beaver pelts were used to make hats.

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The captain poses for the cameras.

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Bowles presented a plaque to the captain and chief engineer.

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Chaplain Arthur Taylor then led the group in prayer. No, we weren’t on our knees on a rug praying toward Mecca. Maybe there’s still some hope for us after all.

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Finally, Bowles and Sutton officially declare the shipping season open, bringing the hour-long ceremony to a close.

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As the crowd dispersed and headed downstairs for the free food, the participants posed for a group picture.

For the second straight year, I’m glad I went and again learned more about the Seaway’s importance not only to the region, but the North American economy.

01 Jan

New Year’s Day Levee

Today, for the second consecutive year, I attended the New Year’s Day levee at the Lake Street Armoury featuring St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and other dignitaries.

Arriving early, I was able to take a tour of the facility beforehand.

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A member of the ceremonial guard.

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Views from the mezzanine level.

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Many took advantage of the free food. As they say, if it’s free, it’s for me.

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Two guns on display, enough to scare the bejesus out of any gun-control-loving socialist.

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A plaque honoring those who had fallen in the Boer War.

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The fire escape plan for the “St. Catherines” Armoury. I know the city’s name is often misspelled elsewhere, and I’ve been guilty of that myself before the prospect of moving here came on the radar, but it’s inexcusable for locals to do it.

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Two centuries of service.

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The flags of New Brunswick and the SPRM fittingly side by side.

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The receiving line, led by Mayor Sendzik. As he said in line, it’s not Mr. Mayor, it’s Walter.

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The Lincoln & Welland Regiment band played before the dignitaries spoke.

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The town crier begins the proceedings.

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Standing at attention for the playing of God Save the Queen. I don’t imagine our new MP, who was in attendance, was too amused.

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Mayor Sendzik raises a toast to St. Catharines. It was another one of those memorable “we really did it” moments as I recalled all we went through to leave the SPRM and come here. It remains the best thing I’ve ever done.

Mayor Sendzik, or Walter, then delivered a six-minute speech, and my ears are still throbbing after they fired the cannon three times to wrap up the event.

08 Aug

Ode to the NOTL Peach Festival

Today, I enjoyed a bit of a break
As I took in the Peach Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake

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It was the second visit to the festival for me
Cogeco was even putting it on TV

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Even though the morning crowds were light in the town they used to call Newark
There was not a single place close by for anyone to park

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Peaches were available everywhere, even on a truck
You could buy a quart, a basket or just one for a buck

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Peaches were in every type of food
There’s one to fit just about any mood

Smoothies, tarts, pies and scones were in the group
There was even chilled peach and yogurt soup

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Eating a hot dog with peach relish does not sound like fun
Nor does peach garlic dressing or peach-infused sausage on a bun

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Pets were welcome if restrained by a piece of twine
But around food is the not the place to take a canine

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The two-man band was playing without a frown
While the horses waited to take visitors around town

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The going exchange rate was 20% for those paying with American dollars
This place that was taking U.S. money at par deserved some angry hollers

It was another interesting celebration of the peach
Summed up by these lines of rhyming speech

31 Jul

One Year Later

It’s hard to believe a full year has passed, but tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of the day I left Winnipeg for the last time and came to settle in St. Catharines. In some ways, it feels like it was yesterday and in others, it feels like it happened more than a decade ago.

The hassle involved in the long-distance move certainly took an emotional toll, but it has paid off in spades. My only regret is that I did not come here sooner. I miss my friends, as I expected to, but I long for little else in the SPRM.

I suppose there’s a part of me that will always be linked to Manitoba. As Sylvester Stallone said about Vietnam in one of the Rambo movies, “As long as we’re alive, it’s alive.” Many positive memories from that part of the world do remain with me, and I try to focus on those instead of the many negative ones that helped fuel my desire to leave.

Today, I am better for having made the move, and I look forward to many more years to come in my new home city.

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.