Categories
Brampton Ontario Transit Travels

Stranded at Bramalea GO: Metrolinx’s missed connections

Temporary bus terminal, Bramalea GO Station
The inhospitable temporary bus terminal at Bramalea GO Station

On Tuesday, August 25, I paid a visit to Kitchener.

Greyhound suspended all operations in Eastern Canada on May 13, 2020 due to low ridership during the COIVD-19 pandemic. Meanwhile VIA Rail reduced its operations, including Train 85, which departed Union Station at 10:55 AM for Guelph, Kitchener, Stratford, and London. Therefore, GO Transit became the only way to get between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo for a day trip without a car.

From boarding the 11:53 Kitchener Line train from Union Station, it should have taken just under two hours to get to Downtown Kitchener. Instead, because of a minor train delay, and a failure of the connecting bus to hold for transferring passengers, it took me three and a half hours.

If we value transit users, passengers must not be left behind when making these transfers, especially when connecting between posted connections.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Travels

A driver’s case for banning right turns on red lights

Entering Montreal on Autoroute 20, with a sign reminding motorists of the blanket ban on right turns on red on Montreal Island

During the August long weekend, my spouse and I rented a car and drove to Montreal. Normally, I take the train, as it’s a long and boring drive on Highway 401, while VIA Rail offers a quiet, relaxing, and more interesting ride. But with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, driving seemed like a good idea. (In doing so, I finally drove the entire length of Highway 401 — I had not yet done the section between Cornwall and the Quebec border).

Despite Montreal’s infamous potholes, never-ending construction, and stereotypically aggressive motorists, I found driving around the city less stressful than in my own home city of Toronto. It may sound counter-intuitive, but a big reason for this was the city’s blanket ban on right turns on red.

Outside of North America, turning movements on red lights are generally prohibited. They were only widely introduced to the United States as part of an energy-saving measure in the 1970s, as a response to the first oil shock; a regulation was written into a 1975 federal bill that provided federal aid to states provided that they permit right turns on red lights (along with carpool programs and energy, thermal, and lighting efficiency measures), though many western US states had such laws on their books much earlier.

U.S. Energy Policy and Conservation Act, 1975, Section 362(c)

Each proposed State energy conservation plan to be eligible for
Federal assistance under this part shall include —
 (1) mandatory lighting efficiency standards for public buildings
 (except public buildings owned or leased by the United States);
 (2) programs to promote the availability and use of carpools,
 vanpools, and public transportation (except that no Federal funds
 provided under this part shall be used for subsidizing fares for
 public transportation);
 (3) mandatory standards and policies relating to energy efficiency
 to govern the procurement practices of such State and its political
 subdivisions;
 (4) mandatory thermal efficiency standards and insulation
 requirements for new and renovated buildings (except buildings owned
 or leased by the United States); and
 (5) a traffic law or regulation which, to the maximum extent
 practicable consistent with safety, permits the operator of a motor
 vehicle to turn such vehicle right at a red stop light after
 stopping.

The Province of Quebec was the last subnational holdout in North America, permitting the practice in 2003. However, the City of Montreal continued to outlaw turns on red, following New York City’s continued prohibition, while Mexico City introduced a new prohibition in 2018.

North Americans may have given up the small cars that they began driving in the 1970s in favour of SUVs and aggressively styled pickup trucks (whose proportions and poor sightlines increase the danger to pedestrians), but we continue to cling to the right turn on red as a matter of convenience.

In my experience, though, I found driving less stressful when I knewI could not turn on red. I did not have to worry about a driver behind me inching forward, pressuring me to move past the stop line and into the intersection so they could turn. If I was waiting to turn right, I knew I could relax and wait for the green signal before I had to try to make the maneuver. The leading pedestrian interval common in central Montreal (which also allows through traffic — including cyclists — to go first) made pedestrians easier to see and predict as I was making my turn.

Montreal’s leading pedestrian interval signal

I might have saved a minute or two on each car trip had I been able to turn on a red light. But it did not feel like much of a difference. The reduced stress was worth it.

As a pedestrian and as a cyclist, I appreciated turn-on-red prohibitions whenever I was in a city where they are in place, as I did not have to worry about right-turning motorists not seeing me as I crossed at a street corner, or those motorists who rush red lights or refuse to stop before turning. As a driver, I appreciated it too.

Categories
Ontario Toronto Travels

Signs of the times in Northwestern Toronto

Un-plated rental cars stored in the Woodbine Centre parking lot

In a distant corner of Woodbine Centre’s parking lot, dozens of late model cars and trucks sit with their licence plates removed. These are all rental cars, left idle due to the collapse of demand during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Friday, Hertz — the United States’ second-largest car rental company — filed for bankruptcy. Hertz’s brands include Dollar and Thrifty.

Woodbine Centre, a once-vibrant mall in northwest Toronto is a short drive from Toronto-Pearson International Airport, making it an ideal place to store the suddenly surplus fleets. Though in the 1980s and 1990s, Woodbine boasted cinemas, two-full line department stores, Zellers, and dozens of national chain stores, it has lost most of its cachet, with both Sears and Zellers gone, and Hudson’s Bay barely hanging on. Its parking lot was typically half-empty in recent years.

Though the demand for rental cars, especially at the airport, have dried up, many neighbourhood car rental branches remain open, offering attractive rates for daily and weekly rentals. I have taken advantage of the low prices right now (often as cheap as $25 a day on a multi-day rental) to run errands, go for short drives, conduct some field research for future articles and projects, and visit nearby provincial parks and regional forests for physically-distant nature hikes. I am also able to help family members by delivering groceries and medications. With the surplus of available cars, upgrades from the intermediate or standard car booking can be expected. (I was given a Mercedes-Benz E-class a few weeks ago, though I had booked a standard sedan.)

Though we live downtown, my partner and I prefer to shop at a Chinese grocery store in Scarborough, which is calmer, better organized, and better stocked than our local stores (flour, rice, and meat are plentiful). Having a car makes it easy to carry a large load, reducing the number of grocery trips required.

Across the street from Woodbine Centre, in another parking lot, there is another sign of the times: an overflow lot for Humber College has been transformed into a drive-through COVID-19 assessment centre. At 12:30 on Monday, May 25, the centre, which is normally open daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, was already full, and not accepting any more patients who were looking to be tested.

While Premier Doug Ford urged anyone worried about having COVID-19 or being in contact with anyone with it last Sunday, it’s not surprising to see the huge demand. While the change in eligibility is good news, it is troubling that actually getting tested may take so long.

Full COVID-19 assessment centre in North Etobicoke

Categories
Transit Travels Urban Planning

Goin’ to Kansas City

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Bus and streetcar, Downtown Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri made news this month when its City Council voted unanimously to include a plan for free fixed-route public transit in the next city budget. Though that budget would still have to be passed in the New Year, the mayor’s support for the measure is a promising sign. Though it will cost $8 million, local politicians support the idea as it will benefit low income riders.

It is worth noting that Kansas City Area Transit Authority’s 2016 annual ridership was just over 14 million a year, while the cost recovery rate was just 12 percent. It would be much harder to offer free transit in Toronto. The TTC’s cost recovery rate is 68%, with transit fares bringing in over $1.2 billion a year. Though a two-hour transfer and free children’s fares were recently introduced, there’s little chance that the City of Toronto would agree to funding fare-free transit. In any case, Kansas City’s experiment will be interesting to watch.

Kansas City was a more interesting city than I expected; I am glad I made the impromptu trip. There are a few Toronto connections, including a streetcar that traveled the continent, a restored Union Station, and a 1920s shopping plaza whose concept was imitated 80 years later in Don Mills.

I enjoyed an evening at a jazz club at the 18th and Vine Historic District and local barbecue. Besides transit, I also got around on an electric pedal assist bike that’s part of the local bike share. It’s friendly, urban city, definitely worth a visit.

Categories
History Ontario Travels

The long way to Pembroke

IMG_4409-001Layover at Barry’s Bay

A few weeks ago, I went for another long-distance bus trip. I started my journey in Downtown Toronto, and continued on to Peterborough and Pembroke, before arriving in Ottawa late in the evening.  Apart from the Toronto-Peterborough leg aboard a packed, delayed bus, this was the most pleasant of all my long-distance bus trips.

Greyhound’s Peterborough-Pembroke route only operates a few days a week, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It is one of the last rural bus routes operated by Greyhound Canada as most remaining routes operate on highways between large urban centres. The bus follows Highways 28, 62, and 60, stopping at small towns such as Bancroft, Maynooth and Barry’s Bay. North of Lakefield, the route passes through the Canadian Shield, with its lakes, rocks, and trees.

As I traveled on last Friday in September, the fall colours were almost at their peak in the Haliburton Highlands, making this an especially scenic ride. There was an informal fifteen-minute stop in Barry’s Bay, enough time to get a decent coffee and a snack.

IMG_4404-001The view from Highway 28 near Bancroft, September 27

At Bancroft, we passed by the old Central Ontario Railway Station. Passenger service ended in the 1950s, while the tracks were torn up in the 1980s. The station was preserved and is now a local museum. In front, a dozen citizens took part in a local climate strike that took place across Canada, part of the Global Week for Future. It was nice to see residents take part, even in small town Ontario.

IMG_4406-001.JPGClimate strikers in Bancroft. The former railway station stands behind

At Pembroke, I had several hours before the Ontario Northland bus departed for Ottawa. While Pembroke’s downtown core could use some TLC, it has great bones and a great collection of heritage buildings, including a late Victorian post office, its late Art Moderne replacement, the historic Renfrew County courthouse, solid commercial blocks, and a fascinating library.

IMG_4455-001Downtown Pembroke

IMG_4478-001.JPGIMG_4420-002.JPGPembroke’s post offices. The 1888 building, designed by Thomas Fuller, is now City Hall. The 1950s replacement, on the left, still houses Canada Post. 

Pembroke’s public library is especially unique, as it looks like it could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Built in 1914, it was designed by Francis Conroy Sullivan, a Canadian-born architect who studied under Wright in Chicago before establishing his firm in Ottawa. Expansions and renovations have remained faithful to the Prairie Style architecture.

IMG_4475-001Entrance to the Pembroke Public Library

IMG_4472-001.JPGLibrary interior

Though Pembroke was served by three different railways — the Canadian Pacific transcontinental mainline, a branch of the Canada Atlantic that operated between Montreal and Parry Sound, and the Canadian Northern — all tracks were removed by 2013, when Canadian National ripped up the Beachburg Subdivision. None of the station buildings survive, but the abandoned rights-of-way are still intact. At the west end of town, a long trestle now carries a snowmobile trail where the CN mainline once crossed the Indian River.

IMG_4437-002Former CN trestle, Pembroke

The removal of the CN and CP routes through the Ottawa Valley were especially unfortunate, as all through freight and passenger traffic across Canada must now pass through Greater Toronto. This was the result of cost-cutting and the loss of local rail customers, such as lumber and pulp industries. The Commonwealth Plywood plant in Pembroke still stands as a reminder of the industrial past of the Upper Ottawa Valley.

IMG_4432-002
Abandoned Commonwealth Plywood plant

The last passenger train, VIA’s Canadian, called at Pembroke in 1990. But there are two daily bus trips in each direction between Ottawa and North Bay/Sudbury, one operated by Greyhound, the other by Ontario Northland. From Pembroke, I was able to take a Northland bus that left at 9:00 PM, arriving in Ottawa by 11:00 PM. This gave me plenty of time for dinner after a long walk around town.

My trip to Pembroke made for a pleasant detour, giving me a chance to see another part of Ontario.

Categories
Infrastructure Ontario Transit Travels

O-Train impressions: this is what LRT looks like

IMG_4614-001Confederation Line train approaching Tremblay Station

Last weekend, I visited Ottawa to check out the new Confederation Line LRT. Canada’s newest rapid transit line, delayed by two years, finally opened on Saturday, September 14. It is the second LRT to open in Ontario this year; Waterloo Region’s ION service opened in June.

The new 13-station Confederation Line includes a 2.5-kilometre tunnel under Downtown Ottawa, with three stations deep underground. Phase 2 will add 15 more stations to the Confederation Line. I was impressed with the speed, accessibility, and capacity of the new LRT, though I noticed a few flaws, some of which hopefully will be corrected.

The Confederation Line is not the Ottawa Region’s first rapid transit project, however. The Transitway first opened in 1983, one of the world’s first true bus rapid transit systems. Rapibus, a BRT corridor in Gatineau similar to the Transitway, opened in 2013. In 2001, the Trillium Line, a diesel light rail service, opened. It operates on a disused Canadian Pacific Railway corridor through Carleton University. Collectively, the Confederation Line (Line 1) and the Trillium Line (Line 2) are marked at the O-Train.

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Trillium Line DMU train approaching Carleton University

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O-Train and bus rapid transit map from the OC Transpo website. The Confederation Line is marked on maps and signs as Line 1; the diesel Trillium Line as Line 2.

The first phase of Line 1 replaces the busiest section of the Transitway, including the congested on-street downtown section on Albert and Slater Streets. Though most sections of the Transitway are grade-separated — following the Queensway (Highway 417) on the east end and an abandoned railway corridor on the west end — the downtown section was the weak link. As OC Transpo, Ottawa’s transit agency operated dozens of suburban express routes into the Transitway during weekday peak periods, lines of buses would often stretch for blocks, an especially inefficient transit operation.

6205682867_7d38a920b6_o.jpgBus congestion on the Mackenzie King Bridge in Downtown Ottawa in 2011

With most buses gone from the downtown core, the LRT allows for much more efficient operations, even if many commuters no longer enjoy a one-seat ride to work.

At several stations, including the Transitway connections at Blair, Tunney’s Pasture and Hurdman, fare-paid areas allow passengers to move between bus and train without having to tap at faregates or show fare payment to the bus operator, like many TTC subway stations. This helps to ensure the LRT is a backbone to a strong feeder bus network, rather than a stand-alone operation.

Most stations are equipped with escalators as well as multiple stairways. There were two side-by-side elevators at most points, providing the necessary redundancy to ensure full barrier-free accessibility. Access is controlled with fare gates like those in Toronto, where Presto cards, paper tickets, and transfers provide access to platform level. All O-Train stations are identified by a simple red circle at each entrance that looks similar to a Lifesaver candy.

IMG_4483-002.JPGDowntown entrance to Lyon Station, with the O-Train “Lifesaver” totem

Unfortunately, some of those rail-bus connections require a long walk outside, such as at Hurdman Station. This was probably the greatest flaw I experienced during my visit last week. Though it was tolerable on a sunny September afternoon, it would be extremely unpleasant in winter or during a rainstorm. It’s unfortunate that the bus terminal was not better thought out to minimize distances between buses and train platforms.

Ottawa - Hurdman Station
Bus bay E at Hurdman Station. The bus in the distance is in front of the entrance to the train platforms

A long-term challenge for the Confederation Line is the ability to direct transit-oriented development around many of the new stations. Though Hurdman Station is major transfer point with the Southeast Transitway, it is located in a floodplain next to the Rideau River. Iris and Blair Stations are located within highway interchanges. There is more potential around Pimisi Station (in the Lebreton Flats, which are already seeing new urban development), St-Laurent (where a second-tier mall could be urbanized), and possibly Cyrville. But all east-end stations are limited by the Queensway.

These bus transfer and land use concerns were also raised by Alex Bozikovic at the Globe and Mail.


Vicinity of Hurdman Station
To the west, however, there is lots of potential for the government office complex at Tunney’s Pasture, which is surrounded by thousands of surface parking lots, as well as eastern Phase 2 stations, which will follow former railway and streetcar corridors, allowing for infill development and urbanization.

IMG_4502-001Train arriving at the Tunney’s Pasture terminal

Light rail transit is misunderstood in Toronto, where it is often equated with streetcars, rather than a flexible rapid transit solution. Indeed, light rail covers a wide spectrum, from traditional streetcars, like the TTC’s legacy street railway, to fully grade-separated high-speed LRTs, like Ottawa’s new line. (The Waterloo ION LRT, with a mix of reserved lanes, median operation, and off-road segments, fits somewhere in between.)

The Confederation Line’s average speed is 31 km/h, with a top speed of 80 km/h. In comparison, TTC Line 1 has a weekday average speed of 28 km/h, and the 501 Queen Streetcar has an average speed of just 9.9 km/h during the morning rush hour. The Waterloo ION LRT currently has an average speed of 21 km/h.

It is worth noting that the Scarborough RT replacement, once fully funded and ready to start construction six years ago, would have been just as fast and smooth as the Confederation Line. Instead, our local and provincial politicians continue to spin their wheels on planning a subway extension that’s going nowhere. Meanwhile, Ottawa has already started work on Phase 2 of its light rail network.

IMG_4493-001The end of the beginning: the old Transitway is visible west of Tunney’s Pasture, where Phase 2 of the Confederation Line will continue towards Baseline and Moodie Stations

The Eglinton-Crosstown LRT will have a long underground segment, with two-car LRT trains similar to those used in Ottawa. When that opens — planned for late 2021 — Torontonians will finally get a taste of high-order light rail transit.

Categories
Intercity Rail Ontario Travels

Trekking across Northern Ontario

IMG_2761-001.JPGVIA RDC train about to depart Sudbury for White River

Last month, I embarked on a journey from Toronto to Thunder Bay, a distance of over 1,300 kilometres. My journey took me nearly three days as I opted to travel by bus and rail, rather than by car or by air. Though I had to take three separate trips to accomplish it (an Ontario Northland bus, a VIA Rail RDC train, and a Kasper Transportation mini-bus), it was a very interesting trip.

IMG_2768.JPGUnloading a canoe from the RDC on the Spanish River, northwest of Sudbury

Once I arrived in Thunder Bay, I rented a car. Though I know Northeastern Ontario quite well, I had yet to visit Northwestern Ontario (a brief stop in Sioux Lookout on VIA’s Canadian notwithstanding). There are several beautiful provincial parks within a short drive of Thunder Bay, and the city itself has a few interesting sights. Highway 17 along the Lake Superior shoreline is probably Ontario’s most scenic drive.

Travelling without a car has its challenges, especially as the traveler is at the mercy of sudden schedule changes, traffic delays, and other hiccups, but it is still possible to get across Northern Ontario even after Greyhound’s withdrawal from Western Canada and Northern Ontario last year.

I wrote about my experience for TVO.

KasperBusWhiteRiver.JPGKasper Transporation bus at White River – filling the gap left by Greyhound

Categories
Canada Intercity Rail Ontario Travels

Passenger trains of Northern Ontario

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Southbound Northlander train arriving at Gravenhurst, March 2012

In a few weeks, I will travel from Toronto to Thunder Bay by bus and by train, stopping at cities and towns like Sudbury, Chapleau, White River, Marathon, and Schreiber. I expect to write about the experience and the challenges of getting around Northern Ontario without a car. At one time, it was possible to take just one bus or train from Toronto or Ottawa to Thunder Bay. Now, the same trip can only be done in three separate segments.

Greyhound Canada, which once ran four daily bus trips between Toronto and Winnipeg, reduced service to just two daily trips in 2009, and then to just one trip in 2015. Greyhound pulled out completely from Western and Northern Canada in October 2018, cutting all its bus routes between Whitehorse, Vancouver, and Sudbury.

According to the joint Canadian National/Canadian Pacific railway schedule of 1976, there were daily passenger trains connecting Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto with North Bay, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Timmins, and Kapuskasing. There was also a daily train between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, and there were trains to Fort Frances, and several trains a week through the wilderness in Algoma District.

Most of those trains are now gone. The CP Sudbury-Sault Ste. Marie train lasted just one more year, before being eliminated in 1977. The 1990 cuts to VIA Rail resulted in the loss of the daily Canadian through Thunder Bay, Sudbury, and North Bay, and the end of direct rail service to Timmins and Kapuskasing. The Canadian, now operating on the less scenic and less-populated CN mainline, ran just three times a week, with only a shuttle service on the most remote section of the CP route between Sudbury and White River.

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VIA Rail RDC stopped at Cartier, Ontario on its way to White River

In 2012, the Liberal provincial government announced the elimination of the Northlander, a daily train operated by Ontario Northland between Toronto, North Bay, and Cochrane. This decision was made with the intention of “modernizing” Ontario Northland, the provincial Crown corporation that operates freight and passenger rail and coach buses in northeastern Ontario. In 2014, the federal Conservative government cancelled the subsidy to run thrice-weekly Algoma Central Railway’s passenger train between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst. (A popular excursion train still operates to Agawa Canyon.)

Though I was too young to travel on my own when the devastating 1990 VIA Rail cuts were made, I was able ride the Northlander and the Algoma Central Railway passenger trains while they were still operating.

With a friend from Calgary, I rode the Northlander from to Toronto to Cochrane and back, in May 2012. We continued to Moosonee near the shores of James Bay coast on the Polar Bear Express, which continues to operate. I made a second trip on the Northlander from Cochrane to Toronto in September 2012.

Ontario Northland continues to operate a freight railway, scheduled coach buses, and the Polar Bear Express, a mixed train between Cochrane and Moosonee. There are no all-season roads to Moosonee, so the train remains a lifeline for the James Bay community. We also took that train in May 2012.

In February 2014, after learning that Canadian National (owner of Algoma Central) was planning on discontinuing the local ACR passenger service, a friend and I made the trip to Sault Ste. Marie to ride the train all the way to Hearst and back. It was an especially memorable ride because of the deep snow, as well as the opportunity to take photographs from the vestibules between the rail cars. We traveled with a group of snowmobilers from Wisconsin (their Ski-Doos were in a baggage car) as well as local residents heading to their cabins.

Categories
Cycling Travels

Biking off to Buffalo

IMG_6241Tondawanda Rail Trail

Back on Victoria Day weekend, I biked down to Toronto’s Union Station, loaded by wheels onto a GO train, and headed for Niagara. I have biked through Niagara before, and it is a very pleasant place for cycling, with many paved paths, quiet roads, and paved shoulders and bike lanes along many busier roads. Charming towns such as Niagara-on-the-Lake and Port Colborne offer many places for cyclists to eat, drink, and stay. If you haven’t yet done so, GO Transit’s bike train is worth checking out this year.

It is also possible to cross the border by bike as well, where there are many great bike routes and parks worth exploring. On my last trip, this is exactly what I did.

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GO Transit’s bike train at Union Station

Officially, cyclists may cross at three of the four bridges over the Niagara River. To the north, cyclists may cross at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, which connects Ontario Highway 405 with Interstate 190. However, cyclists must cross with traffic (there’s no sidewalk, and pedestrians are prohibited), an unappealing option.

The Rainbow Bridge allows both pedestrians and cyclists, though cyclists can not use the sidewalk (which offers great view of the nearby falls),but must also ride with traffic. But the Rainbow Bridge prohibits trucks; it is easy to access from city streets in both Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.

The Peace Bridge, at the end of the Queen Elizabeth Way in Fort Erie, also permits pedestrians and cyclists, though cyclists must walk their bikes on the sidewalk. A multi-year rehabilitation project closed the sidewalk, but work was recently completed and the sidewalk will open shortly. In the meantime, the Peace Bridge offers a shuttle van (I called on July 1 2019 to confirm its operation, the representative I spoke to advises to call the Peace Bridge office to request a pick up). The Peace Bridge’s website offers detailed instructions on how to access the crossing on both sides.

The Peace Bridge is free to pedestrians and cyclists in both directions, though cyclists on the Rainbow Bridge are charged $1 (US or Canadian) to travel to Canada.

I chose to take the Rainbow Bridge both ways. It being a long weekend, I had to wait in traffic both ways, but at least the views are decent, and it’s a flat bridge deck.

IMG_6166Crossing the Rainbow Bridge by bike means waiting in traffic…

IMG_6169…though at least the view is nice

Once across in Niagara Falls, New York, it is easy to access Niagara Falls State Park, which offers great views of the Falls, and is free to enter (though there are charges for parking and for accessing the viewing tower and lower gorge trails). Cyclists are asked to dismount and walk in sections of the park, though it is a reasonable request due to the crowds.

I then biked along the Niagara Scenic Parkway upriver towards Tondawanda. The parkway was formerly named the Robert Moses State Parkway, but it has since been tamed to improve pedestrian and cycling facilities along the Niagara River, with the road closed completely at the Rainbow Bridge, and narrowed elsewhere. I doubt the Power Broker would have approved.

1-IMG_1624.JPGAbandoned section of the Robert Moses State Parkway under the Rainbow Bridge

South of Tonawanda, I chose to follow a new rail trail that followed an old interurban line that connected Buffalo with Tonawanda and Niagara Falls. The International Railway Company once operated a large network of street railways in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, as well as rural lines leading as far as Hamburg and Lockport. It also once operated a tourist trolley along both sides of the Niagara River tourist trolley along both sides of the Niagara River, making it a truly international operation. Interurban service ended in 1937, while the last streetcars ran in 1950.

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Tonawanda Rail Trail guide sign

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the public successor to the IRC, retained ownership of the Tonawanda corridor, planning a spur line of the new Buffalo Metro LRT. But local opposition and a lack of funds derailed those plans; happily, it is now a wonderful trail with safe, signalized crossings at every major cross street.

Once in Buffalo, there are many bike lanes, and lower levels of traffic. Not once was I honked at or felt threatened by motorists. The city is mostly flat, and there are many neighbourhoods and landmarks worth checking out, with great restaurants, bars, and breweries. There are many hotels and bed and breakfasts in Downtown Buffalo and in the Allentown area.

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Bike Lanes on tree-lined Richmond Avenue

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Symphony Circle, one of many traffic circles as part of Fredrick Law Olmsted’s parkway system developed for Buffalo

Visiting Buffalo on a Sunday/Monday of a Canadian long weekend also meant being in town on normal working day on Monday, where commercial and institutional buildings are open to the public. The view from the observation deck at Buffalo City Hall is fantastic, while the Council Chamber is an art deco masterpiece.

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I had lunch in the Ellicott Square Building, which, when completed in 1896, was the largest office building in the world. The building was designed by Charles Atwood of Chicago’s D.H. Burham & Company, and its interior courtyard is spectacular. Several food vendors operate weekdays.

1-IMG_1570-001Courtyard, Ellicott Square Building

Buffalo is an attractive cycling destination because a back-up option exists. The NFTA buses are all equipped with bike racks; the Route 40 bus runs direct from Downtown Buffalo to Downtown Niagara Falls, New York. The Monday was cool, wet, and windy, and I was tired (I later found out I was coming down with a bad cold), so I opted to spend the extra time cycling around downtown and the Erie Canal Harbour area and take advantage of the bus service back.

The GO Niagara bike train operates every weekend until Labour Day, and again during Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend. The Buffalo-Niagara region has a lot to offer cyclists, and it is worth your consideration.

Categories
History Transit Travels

The streetcars of Hiroshima: a symbol of resilience

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (A-Bomb Dome), with modern Hiroshima rising beyond. Despite its fame, there’s so much more to the city than the memorials.

My wife and I recently came back from an 18-day trip to Japan. It was my first time visiting the country. We stayed in three cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, though we made good use of our Japan Rail Passes and made several day trips as well.

Despite hundreds of years of history, Hiroshima is best known as the city upon which the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, in the final weeks of the Second World War. The memorial (originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, but widely known as the A-Bomb Dome) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stands as a reminder of the destructive force and tragedy of modern warfare.

Most tourists to Hiroshima may only visit the Peace Memorial Park and associated memorials, or take a ferry to Miyajima to visit Itsukushima Shrine and its famous floating gate. But what’s remarkable about Hiroshima is the city’s resilience and pride, and there is much more to see, do, and taste. For me, one of those things is the city’s streetcars.

The Hiroshima Electric Railway, known as Hiroden for short, operates Japan’s largest street railway network, as well as many local buses and ferries. While most Japanese cities abandoned their streetcars after the Second World War, Hiroshima made a conscious decision to retain its streetcars; they are a symbol of Hiroshima’s resilience. Though 108 out of Hiroden’s 123 streetcars were damaged or destroyed, seven days after the blast, service resumed on the suburban Miyajima line.

IMG_0264-001Map of the Hiroden streetcar network, with information in Japanese, English, Korean and simplified Chinese

Today, Hiroden operates 271 streetcars, and it has an eclectic fleet. All streetcars are double-ended, and articulated cars operate with both an operator and a conductor. Passengers pay on exit, though customers using a farecard must tap on and off. (The city fare is a flat 180 yen, though an additional fare is charged on the Miyajima Line.)

IMG_0279-001Two newer Hiroden low-floor streetcars pass each other on Aioi-dori. 

Among Hiroden’s assets are two vehicles (#651 and #652) that survived the atomic blast. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hiroshima purchased used streetcars from other cities that were abandoning their systems, including Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, some of which still operate today. New articulated low-floor streetcars augment the streetcar fleet, providing barrier-free transit. A complete description of the Hiroden fleet is available on the local transportation museum’s website.

IMG_0794-001Streetcar #1912 was built in 1957 for Kyoto’s municipal railway. It was acquired by Hiroden when Kyoto abandoned its streetcar system in 1978.