By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
GALENA, Kan. —
The Kansas Department of Transportation is beginning work on a Kansas Scenic Byways Bicycle-Pedestrian Plan, and the state’s portion of historic Route 66 will be studied for possible inclusion.
After cycling the 13-mile stretch between Galena and Baxter Springs on Friday, officials with two Kansas-based cycling advocacy organizations said they are hopeful the road is not only included in the plan, but also designated as part of a Route 66 corridor on the U.S. Bicycle Route System.
“Route 66 Historic Byway is already completely bikeable,” said Kansas Cyclist webmaster Randy Rasa, who rode with KanBikeWalk president Dale Crawford, took photographs of positives and negatives, and began blogging immediately after the ride.
“There are lots of things to see and do along the route, with shops and places to eat in all three communities, many with themes related to the Route 66 history and nostalgia,” Rasa said.
Numbered routes that are part of the U.S. Bicycle Route System are the bicycle equivalent of the system of U.S. numbered highways. Established in 1978, the system was composed of two routes: the east-west U.S. Bicycle Route 76, which originally followed the Adventure Cycling Association’s TransAmerica Trail through Virginia, Kentucky and Illinois; and the north-south U.S. Bicycle Route 1, which originally followed the association’s Atlantic Coast Route through North Carolina and Virginia.
In May 2011, six new routes were approved in Maine, New Hampshire, Michigan and Alaska, and in May 2012, two new routes in Michigan and Minnesota were added.
More than 40 states are working on getting designations for the routes, with some efforts led by state transportation departments and others by cycling advocates and grass-roots organizations. The Adventure Cycling Association announced in late 2010 that it would research the best bicycle path on or near Route 66. In November 2012, it announced that maps of the Route 66 bicycle route would be available by late 2014.
Cycling advocates in Oklahoma hope their state is next, and they are using the state’s claim of having the most miles on the historic route — 460 — as leverage. Bonnie Winslow, assistant chairwoman of the Oklahoma Bicycling Coalition Route 66 Corridor Committee, said the group has teamed up with the Adventure Cycling Association to plan the route.
In December, they presented the Oklahoma Department of Transportation with 29 support letters from municipalities, biking clubs and visitor bureaus in support of a route designation, including one from the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners.
In Ottawa County, Route 66 runs from the Kansas border past Commerce and through Miami, then to Afton and Vinita.
Winslow said that because designated routes are published on a nationally distributed map, making the stretch an official part of the U.S. Bicycle Route System could translate into tourism dollars.
“Bicycle tourism is really climbing,” she said. “More and more people are doing it, people of all ages and from all over the world.
“Cities who are already geared up for Route 66 travelers think this is great, because it’s just another way to get people into these communities. The advantage of a bicycle traveler is they’re spending more time in your town. They’re spending the night in your town after having ridden 60 miles per day, as opposed to going through 60 miles per hour. They’ll be spending seven or eight days in your state, and eating a lot of food, stopping at a more relaxed pace to see museums and so on.”
Cycling advocates in Kansas are hopeful.
“I’m looking forward to an official designation of this byway as U.S. Bicycle Route 66,” said Rasa, with Kansas Cyclist. “I would love to see Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs embrace the cyclo-tourists, with bike racks within the towns and at the shops and attractions along the route.”
For their analysis of the route, cyclists Crawford and Rasa parked at Riverton High School.
“We rode the bikes west and south to Baxter Springs and the Oklahoma state line, and then north and east to Galena and the Missouri state line,” Rasa said.
They noted the positives: The road is two-lane, with very little traffic, and at Riverton heading east and continuing toward Galena, there is a wide shoulder.
They also noted the negatives: At Baxter Springs, the shoulders narrow. In Galena and Riverton, the shoulder disappears, and “a major safety concern is the lack of a shoulder eastbound over the Spring River,” Rasa said. He said it could be improved by changing the speed limit to 45 mph over the bridge and adding signs.
They observed icons and attractions on the route, including the restored train depot, now a museum, in Galena, the Marsh Arch Bridge over Brush Creek and the Field of Dreams baseball stadium near Baxter Springs.
City officials along the stretch are hopeful, too. They said they see the designation as an additional draw to the area, one that could add to the economic impact.
“It would have a very positive impact,” said Galena Mayor Dale Oglesby, who said he is “excited by the prospect.”
“Everything we do now, we want to look at Galena and the area as a destination,” he said.
Although such efforts come at a time when the bike business has been booming in the U.S. — bike use is up 11 percent from 2007, and the Adventure Cycling Association has seen a 27 percent growth in membership and a 42 percent growth in sales of bicycle touring maps — Winslow cautioned that it takes time and grass-roots advocacy.
State departments of transportation apply for U.S. Bicycle Route designation, and they work in coordination with local agencies and organizations in planning and choosing routes. Getting on the official map is a three-phase effort, according to the association: planning, designation and promotion.
Routes that are chosen must meet criteria such as scenery, cultural and historical points of interest, spurs from the main route into cities for services or amenities, services no more than 40 miles apart, and roadways with adequate shoulders.
Oglesby said that should such a designation become reality, the City Council likely would consider making Galena attractive to cyclists with amenities such as places to take a break, bike racks in front of businesses downtown and signs.
“We might want to modify our downtown planning so we could better accommodate cycling,” he said. “We’d definitely want to accommodate them.”
Rebecca Pepper, KDOT’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said historic Route 66 holds “potential in the future” to be included on the national bike route.
“It’s in the preliminary phases,” she said of the department’s planning.
BIKE ACROSS KANSAS will end in Galena on June 15, when 800 cyclists are expected to roll into town after crossing the state from the western border.