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Some more comments from a recently completed 72 day, 4,100 kilometres cycling touring trip through the States of Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California with the southern terminus being Santa Barbara.
Cycling on Interstate Highways
Questions frequently asked: “You cycle on interstate highways? Why would you want to cycle on interstate highways? Why would you not use frontage roads beside interstate highways instead?”
Well, I do and enjoy the opportunity to do so in the mid-western states where there are very few access limitations to cyclists.
There are many reasons for this. One does have to accept the noise of trucks, cars, and motorcycles passing continuously by.
One has to put up with unmaintained highway shoulders littered with junks of rethreaded tires cast dangerously out on road shoulders by fast speeding trucks. One has to put up with risks of tire flats from the steel sticking out from these junks of rethread tires or broken off steel pieces deposited on highway shoulders. Flats can happen at the most undesirable time late in the day, during rain downpours, on steep hills, when time is getting late to reach the night’s destination, when energy has been burned up, and so on. On has to be continuously aware of other garbage thrown out of cars and trucks that could cause problems for cyclists. Ah, nothing like cycling on the shoulders of interstate highways after a cleaning.
Interstate shoulders provide a cyclist with the comfort of exclusively cycling on a surface with a width of a traffic lane while separated from motorized traffic usually by rumble strips. There is the glory of cycling on such a wide shoulder where passing traffic does not require attention. The noise is the nuisance not the behaviours of motorists. Wind effects of passing trucks and buses are usually nullified, except for very strong crosswinds.
When time is a consideration, interstate highways provide a cycling surface with the least amount of grades in the most direct way to that day’s destination. Frontage roads tend to have steeper grades and more wind, and seem to attract drivers’ speed and drift through curbs using the full road width.
One is never certain how long there will be a frontage road and how to continue the trip without doubling back to the last intersection or lifting a bicycle and its panniers over a fence onto an interstate highway.
Oh yes, one might actually come upon a convenience stop once a day on interstate highways.
When sections of highways restricted for cyclists use are reached, some states provide signed alternate routes until they are allowed back onto the interstate again (I-90 Bike Trail, for example).
So, when there are no alternative roads readily available, interstate and other restricted-access highways provide more direct routes for cyclists. When the scenery is the same for all parallel roads, then interstate highways provide less demanding hills for cyclists.
Interstate highways with wide, paved shoulders, with wide shoulders or bike paths on bridges, with rumble strips providing separation between motor vehicles and cyclists, with maintenance programs calling for frequent removal of debris from highway shoulders, with convenience stops comfortably spaced apart for senior-aged cyclists, with signed, alternate cycling routes for section of highways restricted to cycling, with underpasses at high-traffic intersections, then these highways provide a pleasant alternative for cyclists who can handle the noise. Government banning of rethreaded tires would also take away the concern of flats on trips, especially for those cyclists that are not adept at changing flat tires or would not make a trip by bicycle because of fear of flats.