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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.

Replacing maps with GPS-based cycling computer.
Garmin Edge 800
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

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.

 

The dreaded sign on interstate and state highways. Time to get off. The highway not designed for cycling as a mode of transportation.
Redding CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

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.

CDOT District 2 Cycling Guide providing information on interstate and state highways open and closed to cyclists.
State of California

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.

Pacific Coast Bike Trail between Santa Cruz and Monterey CA. The well signed trail travels along county roads with sections of bike lanes, paved cycleable shoulders, and trails.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Pacific Coast Bike Trail between Santa Cruz and Monterey CA. The well signed trail travels along county roads with sections of bike lanes, paved cycleable shoulders, and trails.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Santa Barbara CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Santa Maria CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Monterey CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Monterey CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable with bike trails branching off state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Leaving Fairfield CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.

Rural California, cycling made more pleasant with bike lanes or cycle able paved shoulders.
Half Moon Bay CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Rural California, cycling made more pleasant with bike lanes or cycle able paved shoulders.
Corning CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cities with a Network of Cycling Facilities

 

Cycling cities. Separated bike lanes in downtown waterfront area supporting retail.
San Francisco CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

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%).

Cycling cities. Separated bike lanes making the commute more pleasant.
Santa Cruz CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Downtown bike parking on streets. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
Santa Cruz CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Mass bicycle parking contributing to attainability of higher education. An indicator of the attraction of cycling for transportation when the environment is supportive.
Santa Barbara CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
San Luis Obispo CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
San Luis Obispo CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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).

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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?”

Cycling on Interstate Highways.
I-90, Ritzville, WA
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Well, I do and enjoy the opportunity to do so in the mid-western states where there are very few access limitations to cyclists.


Cycling on Interstate Highways with trucks, buses, motorcycles, and other vehicles.
I-90. Missoula, MT
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

There are many reasons for this.  One does have to accept the noise of trucks, cars, and motorcycles passing continuously by. 










Rethreaded tire litter on Interstate Highway shoulders.
I-90, Washington State
©Photograph by H-JEH
Becker, 2012

Somes steel removed from the front tire of the touring bicycle. It was difficult to get out. Fortunately, no flat tire.
Interstate Highway I-5, Williams CA
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

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.


Wide shoulders on interstate highways with rumble strip separation of motor traffic and cyclists.
I-90, Missoula, MT
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Noise from passing trucks and wind effect on cyclists.
I-5, Weed, CA
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

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.


Interstate highways tend to have hills with less grade than frontage roads.
I-5 Chehalis, WA
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Frequently there are frontage roads next to interstate highways. How far do these roads go? Are there intersections at the end of these roads to cycle onto the interstate highways?
I-90 Moses Lake, WA
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

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.

Rest stops along interstate highways. At least one for each cycling day.
I-90, Washington State
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Rest stops along interstate highways. At least one for each cycling day.
I-90, Moses Lake, WA
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Rest stops along interstate highways. Windmill powered electricity for the rest stop.
I-90, Washington State
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

















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).


The sign that cyclists hate to see when on a trip.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling on interstate highway is restricted. Alternate cycling route is signed.
I-5, Spokane, WA
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

An alternate cycling routing along a bike trail parallel to an interstate highway.
The Coeur d’Alene Trail parallel to the I-90.
From Mullen to Harrison, ID
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012


An alternate cycling routing along a bike trail parallel to an interstate highway.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

































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.
 

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