Toronto traffic scares me.
June 24, 2006 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Driving from Toronto to Rochester and back.

I'm going to be driving from Toronto (eastern North York, near Finch and the 404) to Rochester and back pretty soon. I have a few questions about this:
  • I have never done any driving outside the state of Florida. The 401 kind of scares me. Is there any reasonable way to avoid it, or should I just grin and bear it? Also, is there anything peculiar I should know about driving in southern Ontario or upstate New York?
  • I'm borrowing someone's car (not a rental car) and meeting them in Rochester; they're leaving before me. Should I be worried about being suspected of having stolen the car, and if so, what can I do to prove that I have permission to drive it?
  • How much does the Thruway cost between Rochester and Niagara Falls?
  • Other than Niagara Falls, are there any things that I shouldn't miss on the way down?
posted by oaf to Travel & Transportation around Turtle Lake, WI (24 answers total)
 
The 401 kind of scares me. Is there any reasonable way to avoid it, or should I just grin and bear it?

If you really want to, google says you can take 407 to the QEW hitting at/near lovely, exciting Hamilton.

Or you can just stay on 404, which turns into the Don Valley Parkway, which hits Gardiner, which turns into the QEW.

Or you could take the ferry to Rochester, assuming it hasn't gone bankrupt yet.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:55 PM on June 24, 2006


The ferry has gone bankrupt already, or at least, it's not running.
posted by tiamat at 1:02 PM on June 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


One thing you have to know about this: your chance of getting a speeding ticket in NY is significant, if you drive QEW speeds. Don't go more than 10 mph over (75 in a 65 zone) and you should be fine.

My observation is that you can do 125 kmh in a 100 kmh on the QEW without raising an eyebrow but in NY the state troopers will hide in the bushes with radar.

"Other than Niagara Falls, are there any things that I shouldn't miss on the way down?"

Depends on what you're interested in, of course. Can you be more specific?

Tolls (in US$): border $2.50 Grand Island Bridge $.75 Thruway ... like $2. The border you only pay when you're leaving your country.
posted by sacre_bleu at 1:27 PM on June 24, 2006


I third watching your speed in NY. Go on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls (you can park for free in the casino lot, take the free shuttle in, get a casino card, then just walk out the door).

I would worry about driving someone else's car. Friends of mine have been stopped at the Windsor-Detroit crossings for stuff like that. I'm not sure what you need to do, but I'd call US Customs.
posted by QIbHom at 2:13 PM on June 24, 2006


Ahh, Toronto, my very most favoritest city. Funny you should bring it up, I'm actually heading up again next weekend myself!

The QEW really isn't all that scary once you get used to it. As I understand tractor trailers aren't allowed in the far left lane, so stay there as much as possible (but for god's sake, keep your speed up!), and quickly get out of the way of anyone coming up behind you. Aside from the rush hour times, I've never really noticed very heavy traffic. (I'm originally from Philadelphia. THEY have traffic.)

Niagara Falls at this time of year is VERY crowded, it's the height of the tourist season. If you're driving through, but want to spend the day, find a parking spot around Clifton Hill and just bite the bullet and pay the fee. Driving around there is a nightmare and 90% of the "good stuff" is around the Hill. Another really nice area not far from the Falls is Niagara on the Lake. If you want a truely unique dining experience, go to Tetley's located under the Moffat Inn. It'll cost, but it's worth it. I've never had a better steak in my life.

While in Toronto, things to see: Queen's Quay, walk the PATH, Casa Loma. I HIGHLY recommend the Hippo Bus tour. Make reservations before you leave for the TO, though.

The biggest hint I can give you: do NOT attempt to pay for things with American cash. Either use your debit card, or make withdrawals at an ATM for Canadian currency. Reason being, most stores change their registers once a week, or once a month. If you pay with a debit card, or pull from the ATM, you get the most current exchange rate. I always carry a little bit of American, though, in case their rate is better than the norm. :)
posted by Spoonman at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2006


The 401 is pretty much like any other major urban freeway in the developed world. As long as you keep your wits about you, you'll be safe. But, a couple of things that may be 401/Toronto unique:

The 401 has two separate streams: Express and Collector. The express lanes are the inner 6-8 lanes. They're meant for people traveling through the city, or on longer hauls. The Collector lanes are the outer 6-8 lanes, meant for people traveling intra-city, using the 401 as an arterial freeway. There's lots of lane changing and all that fun stuff in the Collectors, because people are hopping on and off. You want the Express. You'll generally enter onto the Collectors, and work your way left into the express. Please keep your speed up when you do this.

In fact, that goes for the entire Ontario highway driving experience. Do the speed of traffic. I'll say that again. Do the speed of traffic.

If you're not comfortable on large Toronto highways, pick a nice minivan in one of the middle lanes, doing about 125kph, and just pace him. Make sure your mirrors are set, and relax.

The 407, which is a more Northerly highway that parallels the 401, is extremely fast. If you choose to take the 407, be prepared for even the slow lanes to be doing around 130kph. (It's also a fairly expensive electronic toll road, so watch out for a big bill.)

Put your radio on, watch the road, and you'll be just fine.
posted by generichuman at 3:04 PM on June 24, 2006


ROU_Xenophobe is right. You don't really need to take the 401 at all if you're heading into the Niagara penisula. Either the 407 or DVP routes will work fine for you, depending on the time of day you're travelling. Also, is it a weekday or weekend?
posted by DrJohnEvans at 3:11 PM on June 24, 2006


I don't know whose car you're driving but here's a tip: if you are a Canadian resident, do not drive a car with US plates across the border. If you are a US resident, do not drive a car with Canadian plates across the border. Bad Things Will Happen in either case.
posted by crazycanuck at 5:01 PM on June 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


My bride didn't report any problems crossing the border alone, with her Canadian passport, driving a car with Texas plates registered only in my name. But that was at Port Huron/Sarnia, not one of the Niagara/Buffalo crossings.

Because it made the loan process quicker, is why, and it's a community-property state anyhow.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:37 PM on June 24, 2006


There is nothing to be scared about driving on the 401. Just another interstate. And nothing special about upstate NY. Don't speed and you'll be fine.
posted by madstop1 at 6:09 PM on June 24, 2006


I don't know whose car you're driving but here's a tip: if you are a Canadian resident, do not drive a car with US plates across the border. If you are a US resident, do not drive a car with Canadian plates across the border. Bad Things Will Happen in either case.

This could be an issue—can you explain what sort of Bad Things you mean? I am a U.S. citizen only, but my girlfriend is a dual citizen (Canadian/U.S.), and the car belongs to her parents—she will be coming with me. She does not have a driver's license. I could obtain written permission from them, easily.

The biggest hint I can give you: do NOT attempt to pay for things with American cash. Either use your debit card, or make withdrawals at an ATM for Canadian currency.

I've never tried, but I've heard from other people that American debit cards are far less likely to work with Interac than Interac cards are to work with American debit networks.
posted by oaf at 6:44 PM on June 24, 2006


The issue is export taxes.

I was burned on this once going northbound. I am a Canadian citizen/US resident with a US plated car. I temporarily went out of US resident status for two hours one day due to a visa SNAFU. I was turned back at the Canadian border going northbound while out of status, saying that if I wanted to import the US plated car into Canada, then I had to get some export sticker that was only available Monday-Friday (it was Saturday) and would cost a ridiculous amount of money. I fixed my visa status and all was well, but it was a tense 30 minutes or so.

I don't think it's the same issue going southbound because the vehicle import process to the US is somewhat easier and US border guards tend not to hassle white Americans (you are white right?).

On the debit card issue - if your US debit card has a Visa logo it will work in Canada where credit cards are accepted.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:55 PM on June 24, 2006


Canadian point-of-sale terminals generally use a Canadian-only network called Interac, but you should be able to get cash from most ATMs, most of which are on both the Plus and the Cirrus networks. Credit cards are by far the easiest, Visa and Mastercard, Amex can be tricky outside of hotels and restaurants , while Diner's Club and Discover will only work in touristy areas.
posted by bonehead at 6:56 PM on June 24, 2006


To get the best conversion rate for your money, convert your funds at one of the Niagara Falls casinos.

If you are are scared of Canadian traffic, take the 407 until you get to the QEQ. The traffic on the 407 is extremely light compared to the QEW, and in fact, the 407 will let uyou avoid the most heavily congested parts of the QEW. (Granted, it a toll road, but it's worth it if you ask me.)

On the QEW, just go with the flow and take your time. You want to keep up with the traffic, but just move aside if someone wants to pass you.

If you are travelling at night, be careful on the last stretch of the QEW (Going towards the US, after the St. Catherines bridge). It oddly dark on this final stretch. I really hate that part.

There is a great rest stop in St Catherines that has Mr Sub, Pizza Pizza, Wendy's Tim Hortons AND a New York Fries. I love that place.

I hate Canadian driving a well. But I married a girl from Toronto, so I have to suck it up :( These are the points I can offer to help you out!
posted by punkrockrat at 8:27 PM on June 24, 2006


To get the best conversion rate for your money, convert your funds at one of the Niagara Falls casinos.

If you are are scared of Canadian traffic, take the 407 until you get to the QEW. The traffic on the 407 is extremely light compared to the QEW, and in fact, the 407 will let you avoid the most heavily congested parts of the QEW. (Granted, it a toll road, but it's worth it if you ask me.)

On the QEW, just go with the flow and take your time. You want to keep up with the traffic, but just move aside if someone wants to pass you. Most of the other drivers on the QEW are batshit crazy. Just worry about driving safe yourself, and you should be a-ok.

If you are travelling at night, be careful on the last stretch of the QEW (Going towards the US, after the St. Catherines bridge). It oddly dark on this final stretch. I really hate that part.

There is a great rest stop in St Catherines that has Mr Sub, Pizza Pizza, Wendy's Tim Hortons AND a New York Fries. I love that place.

I hate Canadian driving a well. But I married a girl from Toronto, so I have to suck it up :( These are the points I can offer to help you out!
posted by punkrockrat at 8:30 PM on June 24, 2006


I've made a similar trip many many times.

The 407 is one way to avoid the 401. It is also faster - but expect to pay a large toll (around $16CAD). Tolls in NY will run you about $0.75 (I-190) plus $3 (I-90).

If you want to see Niagara Falls, go right ahead and use the bridge near the falls. However, if you prefer a faster ride, stay on the QEW until the 405. That will put you at a less crowded border crossing and spit you out on the I-190 - no small streets to get lost in. From there, it's a quick trip via I-290 (watch out, LOTS of speed traps here) to the I-90 (more lenient but don't go above 80mph - find yourself a pace car and stay behind it).
posted by Krrrlson at 11:11 PM on June 24, 2006


I tend not to speed, because for a while a couple years back, I used to have to drive through the speed trap capital(s) of North America, and found it quite easy after a while to pick out out-of-state cars even though most southern states don't have front plates. And I tend to speed only if everyone else is zooming around me like i'm standing still.

And where I'll be coming from is a lot closer to the 401 than the 407, so I may just brave the 401, or take the scenic route down the DVP to the Gardiner.
posted by oaf at 11:25 PM on June 24, 2006


I meant to put this in my last comment, but the out-of-state cars were the ones that didn't slow down immediately when the speed limit dropped from 55 to 45 to 35.
posted by oaf at 11:26 PM on June 24, 2006


I don't know whose car you're driving but here's a tip: if you are a Canadian resident, do not drive a car with US plates across the border. If you are a US resident, do not drive a car with Canadian plates across the border. Bad Things Will Happen in either case.

My other half (Canadian permanent resident, working in NY, NY plates) has driven to Toronto almost every single weekend for the last 9 months and has never had a problem.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:47 AM on June 25, 2006


I don't know whose car you're driving but here's a tip: if you are a Canadian resident, do not drive a car with US plates across the border. If you are a US resident, do not drive a car with Canadian plates across the border. Bad Things Will Happen in either case.

I think this applies only to rental cars, when you have not arranged with the rental company for a car you can take across the border.
posted by winston at 12:04 PM on June 25, 2006


What is it about the 401 that scares you? The many lanes or the potential for congestion?

Once you are in the express lanes on the 401, it's not significantly different from driving on an expressway that has 3-4 lanes in each direction.

Taking the DVP+QEW through downtown is likely to find you the most congested traffic.
posted by winston at 12:08 PM on June 25, 2006


if your US debit card has a Visa logo it will work in Canada where credit cards are accepted.

A Mastercard-based debit card is accepted most places as well. I've never had a problem spending money in the Great White. :)
posted by Spoonman at 6:13 AM on June 26, 2006


Winston, it doesn't only apply to rental cars. People I know who are dating someone from across the border have been turned back for driving their partners' cars. Excise tax is the reason, but the border people have gotten all twitchy over all manner of things since 9-11, and don't let things slide anymore.
posted by QIbHom at 10:53 AM on June 26, 2006


Well, driving down on the QEW took nearly four hours to get from Toronto to Niagara Falls. Driving back up was fine, and the Thruway was pretty speedy. Everyone on the QEW on the way back up (except me) was speeding. I had no problems crossing the border.

The 401 is a lot better at 3 in the morning when there's less traffic.
posted by oaf at 10:20 PM on July 7, 2006


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