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CycloTouring in California
For promoting cycling touring, information on closed sections of interstate and state highways needs to be easily accessible on the Internet. Adventure Cycling maps do provide routes through the state and are useful, if you are going in the direction set out and if you have the time and energy for the defined routes.
CycloTouring in California, at this time, tends to be more for long distance cyclists who are either confident in cycling in fast moving traffic, are competent cyclists, or lean towards risk-taking. Cycling of families with children, as is frequently seen in Europe, would, most likely, be more restricted to some regions in the state that have good cycling infrastructure and multi-kilometres of bike trails. CycloTouring as a combined mobility trip with the Californian and Amtrak train systems is simple and provides opportunities for regional touring. Just take a train to a designation and start the trip from there and then take the train back. Train one way and return by cycling provides another opportunity to extend the trip in different parts of the state. With the trains providing bike space without the need for boxing bikes expands the opportunities for cyclotouring. The only exception is Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight train, which still requires boxing of bicycles. Hope this changes in the near future. How Amtrak’s bus system fits into this type of touring is uncertain to me as I have received different information when the question was asked. Also, it seems uncertain if a bike would be taken when you show up for a bus. Would suggest that bike racks on front and on the back of these buses, i.e. the Swiss method, would increase cyclotourists using these buses. (Combined mobility cyclotouring trips will be the subject of a future blog article)
Realistically, the only provincial / state entity in North America that has comparable European style cyclotouring capacity, which appeals to families and children is the Province of Quebec with its famous La Route Verté network and the province’s capacity for combined mobility with the intercity transportation providers (trains, buses).
California is a frustrating state to cycle in. Actually, there was enough frustration during the trip where I did not want to cycle to another city and just wanted to get out of the state. Discouraging was the number of occurrences where interstate and other highways were closed to cyclists along my desired route path. This did not happen in other western states.
Yes, one could go way out of the desired direction to find highways to cycle on. Many times these highway routings were not direct to the desired target city for that night. It would have taken much longer to reach my final destination this way.
Trip planning for the next day, setting up the day course on my Garmin BaseCamp computer mapping software, and then downloading the information onto the Garmin 800 GPS took much longer than it did in other states. Sometimes it took an extra hour.
The lack of readily availability of information on which section of interstate and state highways were closed to cyclists caused trip planning to be time consuming.
On one day, an unexpected cycling prohibited sign on a state highway forced rerouting and change of destination for the night half way through that day’s trip when uncancellable motel reservations were already made in another city 30 kilometres farther away. This happened on a Saturday of a busy weekend, which drew many tourists to this area. Hotels and motels were filled up. Finally, an accommodation was found late in the day at the edge of that city. As it turned out, it was the last room available in the motel. A bit of luck, at least.
There was no advance warning signs that this would occur. There were no cycling bypass route or signs. The only alternative was to cycle 20 kilometres north and then another 20 kilometres west to meet up with a highway that would take me to my intended destination. Now, the question became “Is the highway to the motel open for cycling?” Not wanting to take that risk, the decision was to stay in the city with the prohibition sign and do a major reroute of the trip bypassing some places that I really wanted to cycle through.
A few days later I was cycling on a state highway when that highway split into two highways. There was one of those cycling prohibited signs for the highway that I wanted to take. Joyfully, I noticed a bike route sign leading to the other highway. So I took it expecting that at some point I wild be directed back to the highway that I wanted to take. After an hour of cycling I realized that would not happen. Fortunately, a person at a service station could direct me back to the highway that I wanted to be on by using some local roads. Confidence was now lost that I could depend on highways to be open for cycling along my intended route.
So, this is cycling in California!
Trip Planning, Finding Information on Highway Cycling
The Internet was a frustrating place to find the needed information. Maps to identify open roads for cycling did not seem to exist. There was conflicting and sometimes incorrect information on blogs.
There was an exception and that was District 2 of the Californian Department of Transportation, a northern district.
This district had produced a very effective and informative document for cycling there (http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist2/pdf/bikeguide.pdf). Open and closed highways to cyclists were identified on maps. For closed sections, alternate routings were mapped out. Other useful information was provided. Internet search did not reveal the existence of such a document for the other districts in California. It certainly is needed.
Bike Routes Parallel to Highways.
Sometimes by chance, parallel bike trails were come upon through Internet searches, by chance, or avoiding restricted sections of highways. Some of these trails were well marked with direction and destination signs. Others were not. Sometimes these routes used local and rural roads. Some sections would have bike lanes and paved cycleable shoulders. Some of the roads were shared roads, usually with a low amount of motorized traffic. For the most part, bike lanes or cycleable paved shoulders were available on these roads.
Bike paths next to a highway were frequently encountered as an entry to cities, while some started before city limits, up to 20 and 30 kilometres. Some examples included Monterey with a path starting 30 kilometres before the city limit and Santa Cruz with a bike path starting at city limit.
Cycling Facilities in Urban and Rural Environment
As mentioned in a previous blog, the positive effects can be continuously seen while cycling in California of federal road programs which requires cycling facilities as part of the funding for new and rebuilt roads. One continuously comes on these facilities in municipalities from the smallest to larger cities as well as on rural roads from county roads to state highways. It is rare to cycle in any municipality that is without any bike lanes or trails.
Cities with a Network of Cycling Facilities
When discussion turns to cycling cities in the US, normally Portland, as a US large cycling city leader, Seattle (3.5%), and San Francisco (3.5%) as an upcoming cycling city, are mentioned. Sometimes the City of Davis is mentioned with its 22% cycling mode share. There the discussion tends to end.
On this trip there were other medium size cities that should be recognized for their work towards building of a cycling network and for developing a sizeable cycling mode share. Municipalities passed through that have made an effort towards providing cycling facilities include Fairfield (0.2%), Vallejo (0.2%), Monterey, Avila Beach, and Santa Maria (0.5%).
Special mention goes to the efforts put out by the following cities: Santa Cruz (cycling mode share 9%, many innovative cycling features), San Luis Obispo (7%), and Santa Barbara (6.4%).
Source of cycling mode share to work: League of American Cyclists, 2010 data on bicycle commute mode share (based on the US Census American Community Survey with data on 375 cities over 60,000 population).