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TALES: The Interstate Designed Like a Bikeway
In bicycling around the US, I have seen many bikeways which served no purpose at all and which weren't being used by cyclists as a result and many other bikeways with conspicuous safety errors. What if interstate highways were designed like that?

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The Interstate Designed Like a Bikeway

The governor had just finished making a lofty speech about the state's newest interstate, I-2002, and the reporters got up to ask him some hard questions. The governor told them, "I don't know much about these engineering matters, so I'll just let you ask your questions to the chief traffic engineer for the state DOT." The interview proceeded as follows:

Reporter A: A group of us went out to visit this new interstate before it was open, and it doesn't seem to make any sense. First of all, why does this new road not connect to any other interstates or to any cities?

Chief Engineer: We recognized when we were designing I-2002 that if it joined to any other interstates or connected any cities together that it would soon fill up with traffic which would make driving very unpleasant and unenjoyable. We wanted this interstate to be a step above the average, so we deliberately designed it where it wouldn't connect to any other routes.

Reporter B: But, why is it located so far out in the country, away from any possible users?

Chief Engineer: We wanted to site the road in a pleasant location, with lots of nice scenery, and to do that, we had to get away from the urban areas and the problems they present.

Reporter C: I have traveled the new interstate in my car, and I can report that rather being in a scenic area with tree-covered hills, it is located in a flat plain with no trees and nothing to see.

Chief Engineer: We recognized that people are very environmentally conscious nowadays and would not like a highway cut through the wilderness, so we build it through old stripmined areas, thus reclaiming them to useful purposes and saving the taxpayer much expense.

Reporter C: On my trip on the interstate, it did not take me anywhere but just made a great circle. What was the purpose of that?

Chief Engineer: As you should know by now, most of the newer interstates are beltways, designed to carry traffic around cities without ever entering them. This beltway is even better, because it never gets near a city at all.

Reporter D: I have two questions: First, my understanding is that the interstate highways built in this state have a much greater fatality rate than the four-lane highways. How can you continue to build roads that are less safe than those already in existance? And second, I also traveled on the new interstate, and I was shocked to find that it wasn't paved at all, but had a surface of loose gravel and sand.

Chief Engineer: Yes, it is true that our interstates have a much higher fatality rate than the regular highways. However, we continue to build them because they are very popular. The public wants more interstates, whether they are safe or not.

As for the road surface, it has been determined that gravel and sand roads are cheaper to build than concrete or asphalt roads and will last for years with little upkeep. Since these are desirable features, we decided to incorporate them into this road.

Reporter D: But won't these loose road surfaces result in a greater number of injuries and fatalities?

Chief Engineer: No, I think most motorists will quickly recognize that they are on a rough and treacherous surface, and so they will drive more slowly as a result. This may even be the solution to the fatality problem.

Reporter E: I discovered that in many places the lanes were too close together for automobiles to pass each other safely. Often the line-of-sight distance was too short as well.

Chief Engineer: We purchased only a narrow right-of-way, and so it was necessary to reduce the lanes to less than six feet wide in places. I think motorists will quickly recognize that the new interstate has these characteristics and will use the necessary caution whenever line-of-sight visibility is restricted.

Reporter D: I discovered that in one place the turn was so tight that I had to stop the car and drive it backwards and forwards a few times to get it around the corner.

Chief Engineer: Yes, we would have liked a nicer curve in that spot, but our budget was limited, and purchasing the adjoining property would have been out of the question. Still, you did get around the corner, didn't you? That's all that is really necessary.

Reporter A: What I really didn't like was the intersections with the country roads. They were at grade level, there were no warning signs that such a crossing was ahead, and the country road always had the right-of-way.

Chief Engineer: As I have said, our funds were limited, and we could not have afforded to build bridges with what was available. We considered it safer to have those traveling on the interstate to come to a stop, as farmers frequently have slow, heavy farm equipment that they can not stop readily. Another possibility is that they could be using the road to drive their animals from field to field. It's just not reasonable to expect animals to know to stop for a stop sign.

Reporter B: One problem that I noticed was that there were no gas stations, quick stops, restaurants, or motels anywhere near the interstate.

Chief Engineer: Those businesses, if located anywhere near an interstate, just create traffic problems, injury, and fatalities, due to people slowing down for the exits.

Reporter B: Is that why the road was designed without any regular entrances or exits?

Chief Engineer: Yes. I think you're beginning to catch on to the spirit with which this road was built!

Reporter C: I happened to notice a number of children driving their go-karts on the road, and they told me that they will be using the road regularly.

Chief Engineer: Yes. We have been getting a lot of complaints from drivers of four-wheelers, go-kart enthusiasts, and snowmobilers that they just didn't have any place to ride, so we decided to make this road multi-purpose. According to our studies, the lack of pavement, tight curves, and narrow sections will slow the vehicles down enough that the differences in speeds won't matter.

Reporter B: Putting all these characteristics together, I very much doubt that it's going to hurt to let those other users on the interstate, as no one will be using it for transportation anyway.

Chief Engineer: I really have to admire how quickly you have grasped our reasoning.

Reporter A: But what was the purpose of building an interstate that goes nowhere and that no one will ever use? Won't the taxpayers be upset?

Chief Engineer: No, they won't. We were given a lump sum of money by the Federal Government to build an interstate, and we built it without using one cent of state money. Building the new interstate has created jobs without our region without creating any problems. The taxpayers won't be upset at all; the taxpayers will be delighted.


Dedicated Bikeways  A serious look at what is right and wrong about current bikeway design.

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