Photo of Niagara Falls by Alec Soth from the NIAGARA project
What do you think of when you think of Niagara? The Falls, of course, but probably not bikes.
Well, the Toronto-Niagara Bike Train initiative is trying to change that. Bike Train is a new service that allows you to take your bike on VIA from Toronto to Niagara and back. It is only in the pilot project stage so service is limited, and tickets are selling fast. Sunday July 15th is the last day to book tickets for the July 21 inaugural weekend trip. Book tickets online here. An overview of the entire pilot project schedule can be seen here. You can also call 1-888-619-5987 for more information. Tickets are $59 including taxes. Bikes should not exceed 32 kg (70 lbs) or measure longer than 180 cm (6 ft).
Tickets for the July 21 weekend are almost gone, as are tickets for the weekend of August 11. The latter is the weekend of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Peach Festival. The main street (Queen) is closed to all traffic creating a peachy pedestrian mall, and Hillebrand winery hosts a blues concert on Saturday night.
Some Bike Train passengers have been choosing the ($35) one-way option — biking to Niagara on Saturday and then returning to Toronto Sunday or Monday by train. Project coordinators will also be watching how things work on Mondays to help plan for future weekday services. If the pilot proves successful (book your tickets now!) the plan is to move Bike Train beyond weekend service and into other cities, starting with Ontario.
Project Lead and Founder, Justin Lafontaine, is currently working with partners on planning Phase 2 of the Bike Train initiative, which will likely see more departures between Toronto and Niagara in 2008, as well as one or two new pilot routes.
Although none of the project partners or organizers could confirm other potential Bike Train destinations, some of the cities that were mentioned over Chardonnay at the Bike Train press event were; Ottawa, Buffalo, Rochester, Montreal and London.
One of the big challenges is the availability of baggage cars to house the bikes, as some routes — such as Niagara and Ottawa — do not have these as part of their existing train service.
As for what to do when you get there, well, there are just too many events to list. The Shaw Festival happens all summer long. The Niagara International Chamber Music Festival happens from July 23 to August 15 and is billed as; “One of the most important and ambitious summer music festivals in one of the prettiest towns…” And, on Sunday August 19 you can join in the Pedal 100 for Heart and Stroke. I find the Niagara-on-the-Lake visitor’s guide is especially useful (and viewing by monthly calendar the easiest way to get a neat overview.)
Each Bike Train passenger will receive Niagara Region Bicycling Maps when they check in at Union Station. Additional copies will be available at the Niagara Falls train station. Bike Train passengers will also receive the “Bike Train: Guide to Exploring Niagara” along with the map. This guide features customized information for Bike Train passengers, as well as an overview of long-distance cycle routes, attractions and more tourism info. One cycle route Bike Train and partners are promoting is the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail.
Photo courtesy of Simon Wilson
The Waterfront Trail begins in Niagara-on-the-Lake at Butlers Park and stretches 650km to the Quebec border, with 900km of signed trail. Along the Niagara section of the trail you will discover two historic military forts, the Shaw Festival, dozens of shops, restaurants, and wineries.
The off-road section of the Waterfront Trail in Niagara meanders through the Common with canopied trees and beautiful green space, while the on-road portion follows Mary Street and Lakeshore Road to St. Catharines. To see more of Lake Ontario and the lovely neighbourhoods in NOTL, start at Nelson Park and follow the residential streets (Ricardo, Queen, and Niagara Boulevard).
For a more challenging ride, complete the 156 km loop of the Greater Niagara Circle Loop, or ride along the Waterfront Trail from Toronto to Niagara (approximately 125 km one way). You may also connect to the Seaway Trail in New York and ride all the way around Lake Ontario.
If you would like to spend more time sight seeing and visit a winery or two, turn right on Concession 1 from Line 8 to ride on the Upper Canada Heritage Trail. This trail is a converted rail line with rough gravel, suitable for a mountain bike or hybrid with wide tires. Peller Estates Winery sits at the end of the road, but there are other wineries that you will pass along the way as you head into the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Although I am loath to say anything negative about such a positive project, I did come away from the press event thinking: the main focus seems to be on Niagara tourism and cycling…but, what promoting cycling and tourism in Toronto?
Sean Wheldrake, the City’s Bicycle Promotions Coordinator in Transportation Planning, reassures me that the City has begun to develop its bike tourism plan, has developed a partnership with Tourism Toronto, and is a lead partner in the Bike Train initiative.
The other exciting initiative that the Bike Train may help push to the fore is the idea of a complete bike service station at Union Station. For now, the City is simply looking at providing secure indoor bicycle parking at Union. (Note — the winning teams of the Nathan Phillips Square design competition plan on including a bike station as part of the redesign, although I believe they call it a kiosk.)
City staff will conduct a Union Station Bike Parking survey over the next two weeks. The survey will be 100 samples, person to person, and focused on bicycle parking. The survey was requested by Councillor Adrian Heaps, Toronto Cycling Committee Chair.
Currently for tourists though, the most dangerous chasm in the existing bike network has got to be the strip along Queen’s Quay where the Martin Goodman Trail ends and the chaos begins.
du Toit Allsopp Hillier (DTAH) associate, Adam Nicklin, told me that this strip of the Martin Goodman Trail will be completed (as we saw in the August 2006 pilot) by summer of next year. Right now the Environmental Assessment work plan is in the beginning stages and should take about 9 months to complete.
More press on the Bike Train initiative is available here.
Lafontaine would also like to give many thanks and credit to the many sponsors below.
• Pedal Magazine
The project is also supported by over 20 tourism bureaus, non-profit organizations, government agencies and businesses.
Councillor Adrian Heaps, Cycling Committee Chair, wears spandex and loads bikes onto VIA Bike Train.
Crossposted to I Bike TO