If there is one prevailing gripe I have made in this report, it is that riding a bicycle along America's highways could be a whole lot safer. Inadequate shoulders were my only real lament throughout the entire journey. There would be no cause for conflict between bicyclists and motor vehicles if only we had paved shoulders on all the major highways.
As I have repeatedly stressed, it is my view that all roads with a speed limit of 55 mph or above should have marked, paved and debris-free shoulders of at least 8', and all roads with lower speed limits should have marked, paved and debris free shoulders of at least 4'.
1999 revision: Based on input from dozens of other cyclists and my review of Congressional efforts, I have tempered my demand to 24" marked, paved, smooth and debris-free shoulders on all federally subsidized highways. Bicyclists could live with just 24" shoulders on all roads in the United States and Canada and the sport would thrive.
Bicycle touring, especially by families, would be far more popular if this one simple safety measure were adopted.
In 1998, the Alaska oil fields that are currently filling the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline and producing something like 15% of the US oil supply, will be running dry (as of May 1998, the pipeline is still flowing--so I'll revise my depletion estimate to 1999). Oh sure, there are other Alaska oil fields that may be brought on line over time, but there is no effort under way now to construct the infrastructure to do so and those fields will not be ready when the pipe runs dry. In my opinion, we will see $3 per gallon gasoline by 1999 (based on $4 per gallon prices already prevalent in parts of Europe, I have revised my estimate upward to $4 per gallon by 1999). We need therefore to encourage other ways for Americans to get around and recreate during what is sure to be a major economic crisis resulting from the impending energy crisis.
March 17, 1999 revision: Gosh. I could have sworn that prices would go up by now. They went up about 5 cents per gallon yesterday, but a gallon of unleaded regular is still under $1.00 at most places around here. Adjusting for inflation, that's even cheaper than the 15.9 cent per gallon "gas war" I experienced in Detroit in 1968. The world economy is driven by more than just our demand. With economic recession in many parts of the world, overall world demand for oil is down, so the prices are staying low. Furthermore, when I was in Alaska in 1996, I was also told that it was a certainty that the Alaska oil supply would run dry by now. Morning Edition (PBS radio) reported yesterday that due to technological advances the Alaska oil fields are likely to produce indefinitely into the future. Oil remains a scarce resource that will eventually be depleted, however, so I stand by my belief that some day the bicycle will be a viable alternative to gas guzzling cars, trucks and SUVs.
Bicycling is an inexpensive alternative to burning fossil fuels for vacation transportation purposes. I think I proved that! Where bicycling is perceived to be risk free (such as in Banff and Jasper), it flourishes.
As I rode my bicycle across the continent, every day I purchased breakfast, lunch and dinner, lodging and bought supplies, services and the usual souvenirs. I spent about $10,000 on my 98 days of riding; which worked out to about $100 per day. On the other hand, I produced no pollution, used nothing but food and drink as fuel and did not wear out the roads.
Bicycle touring represents a viable source of tourism revenue. The rural communities I visited on my journey could use the revenue that bicycle touring would bring them if the highways were more bicycle friendly.
We need to start by notifying Congress of our needs. Lets begin by demanding that Congress mandate good 24" (2 foot) shoulders on US-2, the primary northern tier east-west route. Ultimately, Congress needs to require that ALL federally funded highways have paved shoulders that meet these specifications. I am not demanding that all the country's roads be modified right now. Instead, I am asking that all new roads or repaving projects incorporate widening for bicycle-friendly shoulders.
Secondly, I see no reason to prohibit bicycles on rural Interstate highways. Except for a small part of Alberta, it is my understanding that bicycles are permitted on ALL Canadian highways. On the other hand, all but 19 states prohibit bicycles on divided highways. In urban areas, crossing the exit ramps might vitiate toward prohibiting bicycles in the short term, but places like Duluth, Minnesota have designed underpasses/overpasses to accommodate bicycles at the interchanges and in new highway construction, such techniques could be included at minimal cost.
Note: I don't know enough about Canadian government to make specific suggestions for the same sort of shoulder lobbying effort there, but clearly the same needs are apparent. Canadians, please do what you can. I'll be riding in Canada too.
May you always have Tailwinds at your back and thanks for taking the time to travel along with me!
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© Ed Noonan 1996-1999