Arizona approved for cross-state bicycle route

Bicyclists ride along the canal in Phoenix. (Photo by Lindsey Nelson/Cronkite News)

Colorado resident Stephanie Heitz and her friends often travel to Arizona to take advantage of the winter weather and do some long-distance bicycling.

“We like to come here because in Colorado in the winter, it’s cold and you can’t ride,” she said. “Yet, here you’re still able to ride and keep your fitness up.”

It’s a special kind of person who considers several days of long-distance bicycling a vacation. So, the Arizona Department of Transportation designated a cross-state bicycle route that would make the vacations for special people, like Heitz and her friends, much more enjoyable.

Michael Sanders, ADOT’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said the route will stretch 573 miles across Arizona from the California border to the New Mexico border. The roads were chosen to highlight Arizona’s natural attractions, but also to provide safe rides.

“We were wanting to provide the long-distance bicyclists with a preferred route across Arizona that would link our metropolitan areas and traverse scenic, cultural, recreational areas of interest,” he said.

The route was approved last week by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, designating it US Bicycle Route 90. Sanders said USBR 90 is a new addition to the nationwide interstate bicycle route systems.

“There’s only a few states that have designations and most of those are East Coast states,” he said. “It’s great to have Arizona now join this national bike route system.”

.By utilizing existing highways, urban streets and paths, USBR 90 won’t require any new infrastructure as it laces through some of Arizona’s most scenic and tourist areas, such as: Tombstone, Bisbee, Saguaro National Park, and the downtown areas of Phoenix and Tucson.

“I think anything that brings awareness to cycling is a good thing,” Heitz said, “and connecting the states together is going to create more tourism for these places, it’s going to bring more people to see the beauty of our country. Even people from other countries will come here to see it. It’s a good thing all around.”

Local and state officials worked with the Adventure Cycling Association and other bike groups to develop the route, Sanders said. Together, the various agencies gave feedback and proposed alternatives for a little over a year before agreeing to this specific route.

“We worked with jurisdictions from the New Mexico border to the California border,” he said, “and they’re all very excited about the designation and the impact that it’s going to have on their individual communities.”

Out-of-state bicyclists riding in Arizona generate an annual revenue of about $88 million for the state’s economy, Sanders said.

Saara Snow, the Adventure Cycling Association’s travel initiative coordinator, also predicts and economic boost.

“It puts Arizona on a national map for officially recognized bicycle routes. Bicycle travel is growing in popularity,” she said. “So, with more recognition of safe and designated places to ride, there will be more opportunities for bicyclists to come through Arizona and spend their money there.”

Snow said an increase in bicyclists on the roads will consequently make the roads safer because people will start to pay more attention to them. She said caution on the roads can also happen by posting signs along the route.

“Designating a US bicycle route means that eventually, the hope is, the routes will be signed. So, they’ll be recognized as US bicycle routes by anybody using those roads, or trails or paths,” she said. “By people seeing that it’s an official bike route, they’ll know to expect bicyclists on the road and to watch for them.”

Sanders said signs will not be required, but there is an approved sign that will most likely be used in urban areas for bicyclists to find their way more easily.

The route will primarily be designated by detailed maps and turn-by-turn directions soon to be provided on the Adventure Cycling Association website and ADOT’s website.