Scenic Ride to the Grand Canyon

An amazing transformation has been underway on US Highway 180 from Flagstaff northwest toward the Grand Canyon.  Arizona Department of Transportation is working each night repaving the surface from Flagstaff toward Baderville and the redesign embraces bicycle users.  Each day as I ride from my home in Flagstaff to the base of Snowbowl Road on Hwy 180 there is new pavement to ride on.  It is like a dream while I sleep fresh pavement falls down from the starry heavens on my favorite cycling route.  After ten years of riding an inconsistent and extremely degraded surface with huge jolting gaps and the infamous dangerous corner just past the city limits at the bend in the road where the llamas are now grazing underneath the stupendous backdrop of the San Francisco Peaks finally the road surface is being healed and living up to the natural splendor this scenic route travels through while better accommodating the pedestrians and bicyclists who add to the great scenery by regularly using it.

In the May-June 2014 issue of American Bicyclist Steve Clark wrote that “a bike lane should be at least half the width of the widest travel lane” (p 13).  Past the city limits 180’s shoulder appears equal to the travel lane.  I am overjoyed to ride there.  The surface is beautiful dark black asphalt and completely smooth.  I feel like a rich man!  Inside the city limits the shoulder width varies from four feet to less in some places.  If we can keep the right edge of the roadway clean and free of debris while encouraging traffic to travel at reduced speeds, driving with caution and sensitivity, this important arterial and quick route out of town and gateway to the Grand Canyon and more high country grandeur is beyond doubt one of the best rides around in Northern Arizona and the entire American Southwest.

The next advocacy steps include creating a driving culture on 180 through town that is synchronized to the human rhythms on the street.  This includes driving slowly around people who are bicycling and being respectful of the neighborhood life adjacent to the street and the schools and the children and the parents riding with their happy children and all the other people spending time with the great attractions such as the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Coconino Center for the Arts, the historic black locomotive engine, the scenic aspens and rock outcroppings along the Rio de Flag and charismatic pinetop shapes along the lofty mesas and the occasional herd of elk that graze in the grassy meadows next to the road.  This is a stunning scenic corridor with a high quality of life and the traffic patterns should fit into this greater life.  There is much to see and do and connect to along this corridor.

The Grand Canyon is only 74 miles away from Flagstaff via Highway 180 so we can up the ante on advocating for a resurfacing of the road past the current project boundary that carries the generous shoulder all the way out to the Grand Canyon rather than doing a quick fix chip seal or an otherwise marginal job accommodating multi modal traffic.  “Ride your bike to the Grand Canyon”!  This could be a calling card for tourism in Flagstaff.  It is worth the investment in the road and would restore local pride for this beautiful roadway following the slumbering western shoulder of the iconic mountain and would boost the economy, especially the health based tourism that has a low impact on the natural quiet and dark skies and keeps the ecological integrity intact and brings lots of energized people into the coffee shops happy to spend money on a hearty meal in local restaurants and tell people they meet from across the globe how high a quality of life we keep in Flagstaff.  What a unique treasure they found in this place.  We can build resources and support to work with Arizona Snowbowl to steward the condition of the road leading up the mountain to the resort.   The heavy construction traffic and digging for the pipeline that carries reclaimed water for snowmaking to the resort was tough on the old road surface and right now the gaps in the surface are huge.  It is overdue for a repaving.  This is such an asset for local cycling and sight seeing and hiking and high mountain recreation that it would be hard to imagine we could not unite to bring a successful outcome for this very scenic route that peaks out with views into the Grand Canyon from the top at the Agassiz and Hart Prairie Lodges.

Let’s celebrate the current progress by enjoying the smoother and improved riding out 180 from now until the Aspen leaves begin turning and the first snowfalls ring the upper Peaks.  No better way to celebrate and to say thank you than with a nice ride!  I recently met with the Flagstaff Biking Organization and they have been a huge point of continual advocacy for lifting the engineering standards for multimodal planning and we owe them a huge thanks and our support to continue their powerful efforts.  Thanks to the engineers and planners who have demonstrated dedicated professional development by encompassing a fuller spectrum of users in the road design and implementations.  And to the hard core work the construction folks do getting the pavement down on the ground, bravo!  Many individuals including Justin P. and Joe S. have been strong and passionate and smart advocate voices that have made huge differences motivating their neighbors to be inspired to think how much there is to gain if we adapt our travel budgets to account for more than driving cars.  We have so many people to thank and the best way to show it is to come together inspired and united in our efforts going forward as we share the common ground of helping Flagstaff be as good as it can be with so many splendid natural and human resources in a place almost too good to be true.


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