November 20, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.