The Commute: My Vacation In Canada And Upstate New York – Part 2 Of 2

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WeGo Bus in Niagara Falls. All photos courtesy of Allan Rosen

WeGo Bus in Niagara Falls. All photos courtesy of Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: Continuing from last week, the fare in Toronto was $3 a ride with transfers. Seniors pay $2. There are discounts when purchasing multiple tokens and tickets as well as weekly and monthly plans. We chose the $11 daily pass, which, by the way, is transferable after the first person is no longer using it. The pass can be shared by more than one person on weekends. We used four trains and at least six different streets cars so we got our money’s worth.

On our last day, we opted to drive downtown because two daily passes and $7 for parking at the park and ride lot would have cost $29 whereas all day parking downtown, where we left our car for most of the day, cost $2 an hour or a maximum of $12 for most of the day. It was a private parking lot and was competitively priced. The municipal lots downtown actually cost more at $4 an hour. The website locating municipal lots and showing numbers of spaces available was very user friendly.

We used the municipal lot to park at the beach and I was pleasantly surprised. The meter rounds up your time to the nearest half hour so that it always expires on the half hour or hour, making it easy to remember when to get back to your car. None of this ‘5:18’ business to remember. We paid $1.50 for an hour at 4:40 p.m. and the expiration was 6:00 p.m. It was just a nice friendly touch, and you don’t get the feeling that you are being ripped off.

As far as the on-street parking signs, they were just as confusing as in New York. One parking sign only stated “No Parking 7 to 9:30 AM” from that point to the corner, making it appear that it was OK to park for free on the remainder of the block. Not wanting to take any chances, I inquired with a local who informed us that some cars were being ticketed for parking there because the meters were never replaced after construction was concluded. We decided to not park there.

Niagara Falls, Canada

What is noteworthy about Niagara Falls, Canada, is that in addition to numbered local bus routes for residents operated by Niagara Falls Transit, there is a separate system called WeGo just for tourists. There are four distinct color-coded bus routes specifically for tourists, since tourists — one can only surmise — are too dumb to understand numbers. The lines are the Red, Blue, Purple and Green. The fare is $7 a day, which I didn’t know until now, since a two-day pass is included in what they call the Adventure Pass, which costs $50 and allows you to see four separate attractions.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the MTA offered some package deals for tourists using the subway, which included a MetroCard? They offer railroad packages, so why not subway packages? We don’t even have a one-day pass anymore.

Back to Niagara Falls. Not only are the WeGo buses painted with their own color scheme, except for the Green Line, which offers a display in white lights, the other three colored lines used color-coded digital displays to match the line, as pictured. Also, check out the extra large bus shelter at Table Rock. We could use those in places like Orchard Beach.

In New York, the first IRT subway cars with digital displays on the ends of the cars were ordered all in red, instead of using red digital signs for the Seventh Avenue 1, 2 and 3 lines and green digital signs for the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 lines to match the station signs and maps. The MTA claimed ordering different colors would have cost more. Why? It was merely a question of not caring to make it easier for tourists or residents to find the correct train with consistent signage.

Unlike other cities that try to maximize ridership, the MTA philosophy is that everyone is a captive rider and will use the system regardless, which of course is untrue. Nevertheless, for a tourist it is confusing when the green Lexington Avenue line approaches with a big red 4, when it easily could have been a big green 4.

The only transportation problem we had in Niagara Falls was on July 1, Canada Day, their Independence Day, after the fireworks, when all traffic near the Niagara River ground to a halt. There were hundreds of people waiting for the buses at Table Rock to get back to their hotels. We decided to take the bus in the opposite direction. That turned out to be the correct choice, because the bus operator decided not to finish the route and instead turned around in the right direction. Still, the short trip took us 50 minutes (probably twice what it would have taken to walk) because of the unusually heavy traffic, but we were just too tired.

Niagara Falls, USA

We also spent a day on the US side of Niagara Falls by walking over the bridge back to the US. It was the first pedestrian toll I ever encountered, 50 cents in Canadian money. There were US dollar bill changers, but we had nothing smaller than tens and twenties and not enough Canadian change. Luckily, some nice foreigners gave us the dollar we needed to cross. Niagara Falls Park had a $2 a day tourist “trolley” bus that took you around the park for those too lazy to walk, like us.

Confusing Signage In Albany

When I drive, I am always bothered by confusing signage in New York State and throughout the entire East Coast, especially Virginia and points north. I have never had a problem out west where I have always found road signage especially clear. One problem that continually bothers me is the lack of distinction as to whether a destination sign is just telling you where the road terminates, or is actually the entrance to a highway, bridge or tunnel. When you see a sign saying, for example, “Verrazano Bridge,” if you are a tourist, you may not know if it is 10 miles away or if you are about to get on the bridge. The only clue is the “Pay Toll” sign for toll crossings.

I remember once finding myself in a left turn lane in Washington DC because of no prior warning that it would become a left turn lane. Too late to get off because of the heavy traffic, that left turn took me out of Washington DC into Arlington, Virginia, miles away from where I wanted to be.

Something similar just happened in Albany near the State Capitol. I needed State Street, which I knew was one or several blocks away. I had my choice of the upper road on the right, which passed over several streets or a lower roadway that appeared to be going into the next street as shown by the Google picture below.

Albany. Click to enlarge

Albany. Click to enlarge

Not wanting to pass over State Street, I chose the road on the left, because there is now an oversized “Thru Traffic Sign” on the upper road. However, when reaching the next block on the lower roadway, my only choices were to turn left (away from the direction I wanted to go) or right, where the red car is about to turn, in the picture below.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Little did I realize that turning right puts you on an expressway entrance leading out of Albany, over a bridge, and into the neighboring city, Rensselaer. About three-miles later I was on my way back to Albany. Checking the map upon returning, I learned that the road I did not choose led directly to State Street. So what is the point of a misleading oversized “Thru Traffic” sign that should have just been a small sign reading “To State Street?”

I can’t think of any place in New York City where a bad or missing sign would take you that far out of your way.

Above was a sign that I liked, which we saw when stopping to purchase gas between Seneca Falls and Albany.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at]sheepsheadbites [dot]com.

  • fdtutf

    “In New York, the first IRT subway cars with digital displays on the ends of the cars were ordered all in red, instead of using red digital signs for the Seventh Avenue 1, 2 and 3 lines and green digital signs for the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 lines to match the station signs and maps. The MTA claimed ordering different colors would have cost more. Why? It was merely a question of not caring to make it easier for tourists or residents to find the correct train with consistent signage.”

    Wouldn’t that also make it more difficult for NYCT to swap cars between lines?

    Perhaps white lighting would have been a better solution, as it would have avoided the disconcerting experience of seeing “5” in red lights.

    • Allan Rosen

      The Lex and the 7th Avenue cars are assigned separate fleets. There are different strip maps on the interior of each car for each route. Occasionally, cars are temporarily shifted between routes. When that happens, the maps are disabled and a note lights up that the map is not in effect.

      When that happens, if separate red and green had been ordered for the front of the cars, those outside signs would have been incorrect in those instances until the cars were shifted back to their regular assigned routes, perhaps 5 or 10 percent of when the cars are in service.

      By ordering only red, all the Lexington Avenue cars show the incorrect color 100% of the time. I woud rather they be correct 90% of the time than incorrect 100% of the time.

      • sonicboy678

        Yet the cars are swapped often. They’re basically swapped every day, possibly barring night runs. Though this is rarely a problem for sets involving the 4, 6, and now 7, this becomes a major issue for the 2 and 5. These two routes swap cars on a regular basis, especially down at Flatbush Avenue. Also, programming additional colors would legitimately increase costs because of the additional work required to do so; that said, I don’t believe the costs would be as much of a problem as the MTA would claim.

        In regards to the strip maps, the cars themselves are unable to shut them off. The T/O or conductor would have to shut them off. Unfortunately, they may fail to shut them off when the sets are swapped or have them off despite no deviation from the home route (say, a 5 train to Flatbush Avenue from Dyre Avenue via Lexington Avenue).

        • Allan Rosen

          The 2 and 5 may swap often, but it is probably a temporary swap, If swaps were often and permanent, then the older cars would often have incorrect interior maps when they serviced the 2s and 5s. Yet the maps were mostly correct.

          I was only speaking about the color coding the signs on the outside and possibly the inside of the newer cars on the car ends, not on the strip maps. That would be difficult.

          The MTA is more interested in doing what is easier for them than what is easier or better for the passenger. That’s also why the D and N still skip Dekalb at 10 at night when they can stop there. The MTA doesn’t care if passengers have an easy across the platform transfer at DeKalb or an inconvenient one at Atlantic.

          • sonicboy678

            When I say they’re swapped often, I mean around half the time, meaning that the strip maps are near useless often on the 2 and 5. They lead to more confusion than a big red 4.

            At 10 p.m., there’s still quite a bit of Q and R service; there are also a few B trains heading to Brighton Beach alongside one heading into Manhattan. For the sake of simplicity, D and N trains usually stop at DeKalb Avenue after the R becomes the night shuttle. This is especially important on weekends because trying to cram four routes onto two tracks is never practical, even if each runs with 10-minute intervals. This is especially when the bottleneck issue is considered (low speed limits with 3-5 routes coming through at once, with 80-100%, based on the time, taking a crawl across a bridge).

  • Subway Stinker

    Presently, the interchange between the Van Wyck and the GCP is under construction and has awful signage. Heading north on VW, I tried to get over to the eastbound GCP but ended up westbound. A series of on-street U turns finally got me on the correct road and destination. What a mess.

    • Allan Rosen

      The same thing is true on the BQE. I will write more about that in a future article. Just awful construction signage.

    • Speeder

      Confused drivers literally slow to a stop at the interchange area causing massive backup for weeks at rush hours, and even on Saturdays which is normally congestion free.

  • Allan Rosen

    After Part 1 appeared, I received an e-mail from a Toronto native discussing Toronto’s transportation problems. I thought I would share it with you.

    Hey there! As a native of Toronto but a visitor to Sheepshead Bay every summer from 1960-1980 (and then again two years ago!) I want to first tell you that I love the site as it brings back so many memories.
    I just spent the weekend on the subway in Toronto…getting to the Blue Jays game. The subway works. Could it be better? You bet!! The stations need sprucing up and improved access to public restrooms. Only a few stations have restrooms which is very annoying. Since Toronto is hosting the Pan Am games in 2015, major construction is going on above and below ground causing traffic headaches that is trying the patience of almost everyone. The new subway cars are the pride of the fleet and work well and we are thrilled that they are air conditioned! We love our streetcars too! If you had travelled to the ‘end of the line’ (Kipling station) you would have seen a small army of buses.  Almost every weekend some part of the subway is closed for work and the streets?? Major intersections are compromised all this summer due to construction. Toronto residents joke that they have only two seasons; winter and construction.
    There are major funding and planning issues with the TTC  that have become front and centre in the upcoming mayoral race. It is not a perfect system but rather one that served a smaller city well and now is crumbling under economic and growing pains.

    I was keenly interested in your take on it, however. I hope you enjoyed your time in Toronto. And next time you wander by Randazzo’s do me a favour and go in and have a dozen cherrystones for me!
    Thanks for your article!

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