Friday, January 13, 2006


There’s been some discussion on several e-lists about riding on freeway shoulders. In some areas it’s legal. In others it’s not. And just recently here in Tulsa, Paul Tay was convicted of impeding traffic on a local freeway by riding his bike along it. I won’t go into the minutiae of the discussions, because in my opinion, they’ve devolved into a gnat-swatting contest.

In Oklahoma, the only roads that specifically prohibit bicycle travel are the turnpikes. But despite the legal aspect, is riding along a high-speed limited access roadway a good idea?

Some places in the west, the only road connecting two points may be an interstate highway. That’s one reason that cyclists use such roads. And quite honestly, I’ve ridden sections of limited access roads around the Tulsa area too, though it’s not part of my usual riding.

As a rule, I don’t like traveling alongside high-speed traffic. It’s very noisy and stressful. Some local motorists regard a broad, paved shoulder as merely another passing lane, for one thing. And another annoyance is the extensive collection of debris that accumulates. There’s no need to run a street sweeper along those shoulders because no one is expected to use them. Street sweeper sightings are rare enough around here anyway. So there’s an amazingly varied linear trash heap that requires constant vigilance on my part and a bit of quick maneuvering. And it’s that maneuvering that makes me nervous around overtaking traffic.

On the other hand, riding along a freeway is another form of one-man-Critical-Mass. Motorists slow down to gawk. “Lookit, Marge! A guy ridin’ a bah-sickle on the hah-way!” When one or two motorists slow down, others are forced to slow too. The chain reaction spreads back along the road and can last for quite a while, sometimes long after the cyclist is gone.

Street theater aside, there are a couple of dangerous points about riding along freeways. First, crossing on and off ramps is difficult and dangerous. Motorists are not expecting a cyclist in the lane or crossing the lane. They have little reaction time and that’s made worse when traffic is heavy. Also, many bridges have no shoulder, forcing cyclists to ride in the travel lane. When there’s a minimum speed limit, those cyclists are obviously in violation.

While I believe it’s necessary for cyclists to use the shoulder of limited access roads and the practice should continue to be legal, I don’t recommend riding there. It’s just not much fun, but I recognize that we sometimes have to get from point A to point B and the freeway is the only choice.

But what about a popular trail that runs parallel to a heavily-traveled road? Should cyclists be legally obligated to use the trail? Tulsa’s Riverside Drive is parallel to the hugely popular River Park Trail. Until a few years ago, a mandatory side path law required cyclists to use the trail instead of the road. Arguing against the law and advocating that fast cyclists use the road was not a popular idea, even among area cyclists.

The limitations of the trail become apparent on a nice weekend, when runners, skaters, joggers, pedestrians, cyclists, and dogs share a narrow strip of pavement. For fast road cyclists, Riverside Drive is much more appealing. Even a pudgy guy like me can ride at 20 to 25 mph with a tailwind, and there’s always some wind here. That’s excessive speed when mixed in with pedestrians. If I recall right, the crash rate for riding side paths is about 3 times that of riding on the road.

Still, there are some motorists and even law enforcement officers who are unaware of the change. And realistically, most of them wouldn’t care anyway. They simply want us off ‘their’ roads.

Give this some thought on your next ride. What roads do you like, and why do you like them? And what roads do you avoid?

One of my goals in writing CycleDog has been to attract new people to cycling, particularly cycling for transportation. I know there are people who’d try it, if only….fill in the blank. One big obstacle is the fear of traffic, so I may be writing more about this in the next few days. Or I might be writing comedy. It depends on how much coffee I manage to gulp down!


Blogger Dan Chang said...

If you lose the dogma, you might realize that the point of biking wherever bicycles are allowed is exercising the right of bicycle driving wherever bicycles are allowed. Kinda like doing intense interval training. If you don't exercise your rights or your body, if you don't stretch the limits, you will lose the edge. Former bike racers and former active duty Marine officers understand this concept better than the rest of us couch potatoes.

As for prohibiting bicycles on the turnpikes, that's a whole 'nuther battle that can only be fought in the State Legislature. Some kind State Senator feeling generous after several nights of great sex with several prostitutes could do wonders by slipping a little noticed amendment into a big-ass ODOT appropriation bill. Hmmmm...I shall start a PayPal button to take contributions for the prostitutes.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Fritz said...

Mmm, I need some coffee.

I'm not sure I get Dan Chang's point or the dogma he thinks Ed is promoting.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Dan Chang said...

Yes, Fritz. You need java for the meta-info overload. Why don't you read the post again, then, go out for a long bike ride to get some 'dorphs into yer noggin'. Maybe that might help. That's what I do when I am lost and confused.

12:47 PM  
Blogger mags said...

Riding on a busy interstate is insane. I really don't see any good reasons for doing that. Silly, silly. :)


1:32 PM  
Blogger Dan Chang said...

Well, of course, it's insane. So is interval training until your lungs are just about to puke out of your ears. That's the whole point. If you don't exercise your rights or your body, you will lose them both.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Dan Chang said...

Actually, I find biking on the BA safer than surface streets. First, you have the wide 12' shoulder. There's really not that much debris on it. For noise, I use earplugs, when I don't have a radio. I usually have a radio, because I am promoting various radio stations. 460 KRMG, 460 1033, 460 9494. The music helps me get through the pain of fighting wind hitting the signs. I am listening for radio mentions too. Everytime they mention a bicycle on the BA, I've just ripped off some airtime. But, no one actually notices me, unless I am carrying a sign, displaying a flag, or some other attention-getting device. When I don't want attention biking on the BA, I don't get it. The traffic just goes by like I am not there. And, no one calls the cops.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Dan Chang said...

The more I read this original post, the more inaccuracies I pick up. According to Trotwood v Selz, minimum speed laws do not apply to bicycles. You can't ban bicycles from the controlled-access roadways just because they can't do at least 35 miles. Your post is exposing your inate auto-centric tendencies, and the cycling inferiority complex.

8:33 PM  

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