Bicycle Route 66 Concerns

November 20, 2014

Photo by Tammy Shurr

From the moment in November 2012 when we first announced the timeline for our next big route, Bicycle Route 66, we have been working to create a world-class bicycle route following the legendary Route 66 travel corridor.

As expected, pieces of the original Route 66 road have been consumed by the newer interstate highway system and others are now maintained by state and county jurisdictions. What we didn't realize is that in remote stretches, the road has been left to fend for itself. No longer the main connector between destinations, maintenance of Route 66 has fallen behind. In some cases, conditions for cycling are less than optimum, leaving us to judge some sections as unsafe and seek alternate routes.

Photo by Walt Farmer

In most of the unsafe instances, we've been able to route cyclists onto other local roads while maintaining the flavor of the route. Occasionally this includes the aforementioned interstate system because it is the only option. Honestly, interstates are not our favorite routing. However, many interstate highways — especially in the west — are well suited to bicycle travel. They usually have very wide shoulders and appropriately applied rumble strips, making them relatively safe for cycling.

Photo by Melissa Thompson

Researcher Tammy Schurr examining the conditions of the National Trails Highway.

Over the course of doing route research for Bicycle Route 66, a trouble spot was uncovered: a stretch from Ludlow to Barstow in California where we had hoped to use the National Trails Highway (NTH). In 1926 the NTH became Route 66, hence our interest in using it over the parallel Interstate 40 (I-40). Once Route 66 was decommissioned, the road name reverted back to National Trails Highway and maintenance responsibility shifted to the county.

Photo by Walt Farmer

The arrow on the left points to a closeup of where the cell phone on the right
is hiding in a deep gash on the NTH.

Sadly, the NTH has seen better days and in its current state, many sections of it are not safe for bicycle travel. Erosion from water runoff has taken a toll, leaving long, deep cracks that can easily suck up a bicycle tire. 

To complicate matters further, in September 2014, severe thunderstorms raced across the San Bernardino County leading to flash floods. The floods caused extensive damage to multiple roads and highways washing out pavement, enlarging potholes and deteriorating bridge footings. There were many closures due to the damage, including NTH. This event served to highlight another reason to allow access to I-40 for cyclists: closure of NTH due to destruction from weather-related instances. Repairs to NTH — but no improvements — have begun and the road is scheduled to be passable to motor vehicle traffic again by the end of January 2015.

We found multiple blog entries citing difficult and dangerous riding conditions:

“The pavement suddenly looked [like] it went through a war, with many huge cracks in the direction of travel that could swallow up my buddy John’s 38mm wide tires! This section was the worst of the trip.” —from bikingbrian.com

“Route 66 quickly became the devil's highway, el camino del diablo, Route 666! We hit the worst pavement of my life, about thirty or forty miles of it. Rutted, split, cracked, bulging, blasted, blighted, crumbled, crusty, corroded black top led off into the distance--forever.” - from Mojave Trike Tour

“National Trails [Highway] is a good road all the way to Newberry Springs with a few gentle hills. … East of Newberry Springs, … the pavement of Hwy 66 gradually progresses from rough, to bad, to very bad, to "are you kidding me?!". There are occasional smooth stretches but for the most part the smoothest path is along the dirt shoulder if it's been recently graded. The hills are gentle, and the views are amazing....but I spent most of my attention dodging potholes, rocks and generally deteriorated roadway. Quite honestly San Bernardino County should be embarrassed by how poorly they've maintained a historic route. …” - from A Few Days Across the Mojave

In addition, the NTH runs through a Marine Corps Logistics Base just outside of Barstow. This section is not always open to the public and a simple route around it is via I-40.

Initially, we were not overly concerned about these situations. We have routed cyclists onto parallel interstate highways without a problem on other California routes under similar circumstances. So we looked into making I-40 the main route and the NTH an alternate route (at least in part) for the truly hardy bicycle traveler.

To our dismay, we discovered I-40 is posted with signs stating that cyclists are prohibited. We believed it would be straightforward to get this changed. The process began by making phone calls and inquiries by letter to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to see what could be arranged. The phone calls led to an official petition to Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty in May 2014 to allow bicycling on this short section of I-40.

The petition was forwarded to Caltrans' District 8 office. Though they acknowledged that NTH “requires some road work,” their response was to deny our request to remove the prohibition of cyclists on I-40, forcing us to use the NTH as our route. To get around the Marine Base, they suggested we instead route cyclists to I-15 (a section of interstate where cyclists are allowed to ride). This suggested routing is not only significantly longer than using I-40 to get around the base, but it uses just as much interstate as our preferred I-40 routing. I-40 is closer, simpler and offers less exposure across this desert stretch of San Bernardino County which has few services and often extreme weather conditions.

Caltrans' preferred I-15 routing around the Marine Base outside of Barstow.

Adventure Cycling's preferred I-40 routing around the Marine Base.

We responded to District 8 in August restating our case and requesting interim access for cyclists on I-40 until conditions and safety for cyclists on the NTH can be improved. District 8 then referred us to the county since the maintenance of the NTH is their responsibility. The county currently does not have funding to implement improvements to this roadway.

The positive news is that the county is assisting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with their corridor management plan for Route 66. This project will assess the condition of historic Route 66 roadways in California in order to plan for the long-term management of them and the adjacent lands. It will take into consideration tourism, protection and preservation as well. While this plan may set forth some priorities for future action, there is no funding attached to it. Any measurable outcome of the plan is likely years away and we anticipate cyclists from around the world will be riding this route in a matter of months.

Last week (November 17) we filed a third request with Caltrans District 8 for access to I-40 for cyclists citing California law, Streets and Highways Code section 888:

The department shall not construct a state highway as a freeway that will result in the severance or destruction of an existing major route for non-motorized transportation traffic and light motorcycles, unless it provides a reasonable, safe, and convenient alternate route or such a route exists.

While we would prefer to be routing cyclists onto the NTH, in its current state it is not a reasonable and safe alternative to I-40 for bicycle travel. Further, the alternative routing provided by Caltrans is not reasonable or convenient for cyclists, as it requires travel across a greater distance with few services.

We will keep you posted on our progress with this situation. At this time it looks like we may be forced to use the NTH for the official Bicycle Route 66 routing with the 13-mile detour around the Marine Base. Hopefully we will come to a better understanding with Caltrans before the maps head to the printer late this winter so we can offer the best route for cycling possible.

Photo 1 by Tammy Schurr | Photos 2 and 4 by Walt Farmer | Photo 3 by Melissa Thompson

GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer 'Jenn' Milyko, Routes & Mapping Assistant Director, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.

Comments

William Noah

Good luck with your proposal. We have a roadway here in Louisiana that is a similar situation. If we could get the politicians off their seats and on a saddle things would get done.

All the best,

Robert Noah

November 20, 2014, 2:24 PM
Reply
xtian

Have you tried getting with the commander at Barstow to see if the Marines might let you ride through the base??? I think it would be worth a try - Marines do like physical fitness! :)

November 20, 2014, 2:54 PM
Reply
Jennifer Milyko

xtian,

Yes, we've actually made a few attempts to secure permission from the Marine base. So far, we've gotten no response.

November 20, 2014, 3:06 PM
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Lois DuBois

There is a precedent and maybe the Barstow base should be made aware of it --- Camp Pendleton, a US Marine base between Oceanside and San Clemente, CA, allows cyclists through the base. All that's required is a valid driver's license.

November 21, 2014, 8:55 AM
Reply
Jennifer Milyko

Lois,

Indeed, Camp Pendleton is a great example of how this could work. When access to that base is restricted, cyclists are allowed to use I-5 during daylight hours.

November 24, 2014, 6:39 AM
Reply
Tracy Draper

Our cross country team rode on this treacherous stretch of Route 66 and it was so dangerous and unkept that we opted to cross over a downed bit of barbed-wire fence and take our chances on I-40. It was so memorable (for the wrong reasons!) that the experience made it in my book that will be out in April.

Hopefully this problem can be resolved because it was a neat place to experience riding: across the Mojave Desert.

November 20, 2014, 4:51 PM
Reply
BikingBrian

When I rode this westbound back in the spring of 2010, there was no sign prohibiting cyclists from entering I-40 at the ramp before the Marine Base, and there was a sign directing bicyclists to exit at the first ramp after passing the base. Thus thus the Adventure Cycling proposed route around the Marine Base was legal. Has that changed?

November 21, 2014, 6:44 AM
Reply
Jennifer H. Milyko

Something must have changed. We are going by what the District 8 office told us directly.

November 21, 2014, 8:52 AM
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Scott

I'm the author of Mojave Trike Tour cited above. On a subsequent tour, I simply ignored the "no bicyclists" signs and hit the highway, which had really nice, wide, smooth shoulders. The traffic on I 40 actually tends to be rather light, especially compared to I 15, which is the main run to Vegas and has the worst traffic of any road in the American deserts. Why Caltrans would refuse bike access to I 40 is beyond stupid. It's fine for cycling.

November 21, 2014, 7:06 AM
Reply
Jim Baross, CABO President

I have brought the issue to the Caltrans Bicycle Advisory Committee for their Dec 4th meeting. Calls, letters and other communication to Caltrans and/or responsible elected officials by concerned/supportive individuals and groups are encouraged.

November 21, 2014, 8:56 AM
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Jennifer Milyko

Thanks for your support on the issue, Jim!

November 24, 2014, 6:30 AM
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Scott Weber

Some of the stretches of Old Rte 66 in Illinois will shake the teeth out of your head. Luckily there are alternative country roads connecting the Old Rte 66 towns.

November 22, 2014, 11:58 PM
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John Weyhrich

You're probably on top of this (Jenn), but a number of years ago I did an actual road race on an old section of Route 66 just south/west of Flagstaff, and I can comment on the unfortunate deterioration of the road (many sections were down to the dirt roadbase) in this part of the country.

November 23, 2014, 9:34 PM
Reply
Jennifer Milyko

John, I haven't gotten to look at that specific stretch of the route but will note it. I imagine if our researchers encountered that bad of a section, they found a reroute. Thanks for the heads up.

November 24, 2014, 6:32 AM
Reply
Dave Gingrich

We just finished a self-supported ride on Route 66 from Flagstaff to Santa Monica in October. There are some sections of I-40 which allow bicycle traffic - including Exit 5 to Exit 2 around Barstow - avoiding the Marine base. This section does not have the bicycle prohibition signage. You can use I-40 here. http://www.cabobike.org/touring/freeway.htm

December 3, 2014, 11:32 AM
Reply
Chester Kojro

In Missouri between Ft. Leonard Wood and Rolla, Historic Route 66 (eastbound) along Hwy Z ends after Devils Elbow near I-44 exit 169. Instead of I-44, turn south on Hwy J for 3/4 mile to Hwy P, then 9 miles east to Newburg, then 2 miles north up T to Doolittle (near I-44 exit 179) and continue east on Eisenhower Ave /Old Rt 66, to Rolla and beyond.

December 3, 2014, 4:28 PM
Reply
Léo Woodland

"Camp Pendleton, a US Marine base between Oceanside and San Clemente, CA, allows cyclists through the base. All that's required is a valid driver's license"

...How ironic.

December 3, 2014, 10:33 PM
Reply
Judith Gustafson

... and a helmet.

December 10, 2014, 2:28 PM
Reply
Bill MacKenzie

I'm surprised the condition of Rte 66 is a surprise to you folks. I rode across the U.S. in 2013 , some on 66, and the terrible, unsafe conditions on sections were far too frequent. I remember telling lots of folks since then that I was amazed consideration was being given to a Rte 66 bike route.

December 3, 2014, 10:44 PM
Reply
Glenn Theron

Hi Bill,

I just finished riding rt 66 from Santa Rosa, NM to Flagstaff Az and agree with you. A non-stop stream of semi trucks and rv's.passing at 75 mph does not make for an enjoyable ride. Shoulders were sketchy and gazing at abandoned gas stations...

October 12, 2016, 1:57 PM
Reply
Allan Sindelar

Jennifer,

I toured a short section of route 66 and I-40 between Grants and Albuquerque NM this fall (2014). There's a man I met who'd be a great asset along the route near Mesita NM - possibly even a bike-inn. Contact me privately for more info if you're interested.

Also, NM Route 53, turning south at Gallup and crossing the Divide east of El Malpais and El Morro (free federal campground) is worth the route choice for beauty, good roads and light traffic.

Allan

December 4, 2014, 1:00 AM
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Jennifer H. Milyko

Allan,

I'll be in touch about your Mesita contact person. Also, I think we are routing people just as you suggest on NM 53 south of Gallup. Nice to hear it recommended so heartily!

December 4, 2014, 6:21 AM
Reply
Greg Rubock

Hi Jennifer - when I came through this section I just jumped up onto I40, no big deal, no signs banning cycling. The detour north of Daggert looks ridiculously long and I wouldn't have considered it. Good luck. Greg http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=Sh&page_id=301320&v=45

December 20, 2014, 6:03 PM
Reply
Jennifer Milyko

Greg,

Thanks for chiming in with your experience. We're still working on the situation.

December 22, 2014, 6:47 AM
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Daniel Flanagan

Good Morning,

My last duty station, before retirement, was at Fort Irwin. This is well north of the area, but I did have to travel to Daggett AAF a lot. On your map shown, there is a great northern route that avoids the Interstate all together, as well as closely takes you to the Calico Ghost Town. From the Old Train Depot, take Irwin road north to Fort Irwin road. Turn right, as left will take you to the National Training Center and Fort Irwin, then take the Yermo Cutoff left to Ghost Town road. South of I15 it turns into Daggett-Yermo Road. There are two gas stations and Peggy Sues Diner there. A little further south, you can link up with the National Trails Highway and Route 66 again. Enjoy the Ride. Dan

February 4, 2015, 8:45 AM
Reply
Jennifer H. Milyko

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for writing with your route around the Marine Base near Barstow. It indeed looks interesting and we'll file it for reference. Since this blog entry was posted however, we have discovered that it actually is legal for cyclists to ride on I-40 between Exits 2 and 5 around the Marine Base. So hopefully cyclists won't have to employ it (unless looking to visit a ghost town...)

I appreciate your suggestion.

February 4, 2015, 8:45 AM
Reply
Scott Golas

Most of the comments(ary) is focused on CA portion of the route. Is there a broader effort, site, organization representing the entire stretch?

February 4, 2015, 1:56 PM
Reply
Jennifer H. Milyko

Scott:

The reason for the focus on the California stretch of Bicycle Route 66 is due to the lack of a legal route for cyclists between Needles and Barstow due to road closures. It might be more clear to you by reading this more recent blog post: http://www.adventurecycling.org/resources/blog/update-bicycle-route-66-concerns/

We are working with Caltrans on the issue and hope to have a resolution soon.

February 5, 2015, 7:08 AM
Reply
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