A coalition of active cyclists hopes an upcoming meeting with Yuma County officials will lead to improvements to roads in unincorporated areas which now have few if any dedicated bike lanes.
Jeff Brand, a board member of the Yuma Region Bicycle Coalition, said there is one Yuma County road which bucks the trend of being inhospitable to cyclists, and it's the otherwise big rig-oriented State Route 195, running between State Route 95 and 32nd Street in the southern part of the county and built to federal standards.
"It has six to eight feet of hard, broad shoulder, on each side," he said. "I can go for miles, all the way to the prison, and turn around and come back. It's a good place to hold the kind of bicycle events we'd like to have. It's perfectly clear, no big bumps. It's a wonderful place to bike."
Many of the county's other major roads have no shoulder at all, or some that are in the process of crumbling away, a situation the coalition's chairman, Gene Dalbey, said can be dangerous for motorists as well. "Drivers don't have any room to pull off the road, and when they do, that's when they start to roll over."
Cycling interests are beginning to organize under the coalition, formed as a nonprofit three months ago. Dalbey and Brand were among about 50 ardent bike riders who showed up at the March 16 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Several of the attendees, wearing bike shorts and jerseys, spoke about the importance of cycling as an alternative mode of transportation, exercise and an economic driver.
Brand, who is also vice president of the Foothills Bicycle Club which Dalbey leads, said at the meeting baby boomers hitting retirement age are more apt to pick up cycling than shuffleboard, and are beginning to choose places like Tucson, which has a network of bike lanes and paths, over Yuma.
"Yuma County needs to protect its winter visitor share. And that alone should have the Board of Supervisors asking, 'What about bicycles?'" he said.
The city of Yuma is better equipped for cycling, though there is room for improvement, with some dedicated bike lanes serving the area around Western Arizona College and paths through its network of parks. Many Foothills cyclists prefer to ride there, but there's no bike-friendly way to get there from the east, Dalbey and Brand say.
But when they do get to the city, the cyclists are grabbing lunch and supplies at stores over there, not in the county.
The coalition is developing suggestions to take to the meeting with county officials, but don't want to release them to the media before presenting them to the county. But Brand and Dalbey said a similar meeting with Somerton officials is already producing results, in the form of flattened rumble strips along that city's portion of Highway 95.
"Bottom line is, Somerton gets it," Brand said. Further south, San Luis, Ariz. is incorporating bicycles into its Main Street plan to accommodate the numerous border-crossers who use them.
County Administrator Robert Pickels said he hopes to set the meeting between cycling leaders and himself, along with several other county officials, for early April.
He admits that under county standards, "we don't really make a distinction between cars and bicycles when we plan a road, we just plan a road." This made the process more efficient and less costly, since land wasn't needed for bike lanes or other accommodations for cyclists.
As a result, he said it'll be much easier to build future roads to different standards than convert existing ones to meet them. "It's frustrating to talk about sometimes, because of our resource limitations. We wish we could pay some attention to the needs of bicyclists," he said.
District 2 County Supervisor Russ Clark, whose area includes the Foothills, said he's taken a couple of 25-mile rides with the Foothills Bicycle Club at their invitation, which have hammered home the point the cyclists were trying to make.
"It's impossible to lay out a course of any length that doesn't include roadways that are not conducive to cycling," he said.