Documenting the Mountain Avenue bikeway

This morning I decided I’d take a long my Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot camera and document the bike riding conditions along the Mountain Avenue bikeway starting at the Rillito River Park and ending near the University of Arizona. The route is about three and a half miles (thanks to I started at about 8:30 and got to campus at around 8:50 for an average speed of 10.5 miles per hour. I would usually go much faster than this, but was going slow to take the pictures.

mountain avenue map

Map and elevation profile from

So the route isn’t much to look at. It’s straight south on Mountain Avenue. The elevation profile shows a continuous uphill climb, but if you look closely it’s only 200 feet over a distance of 3.5 miles. So that’s like a zero percent grade. Okay, it’s more than that, but it’s relatively flat and even the most novice cyclist should have no problems riding this route. I started documenting when I got to this little park within a park on the Rillito River Park multi-use path. There’s a couple tables to sit at and enjoy a snack or picnic plus a garbage can to throw your trash in. So don’t be a litterbug.

picnic area at river path and mountain crossing

Picnic area where the Mountain connection meets the River Park multi-use path.

Immediately adjacent to the picnic tables is a bridge that connects the linear park to Mountain Avenue. Both sides have a nice arch that proclaims it to be the River Park Gateway bridge. It is a very nice bridge and I’m glad I live in a community that thinks it’s important to build infrastructure for biking and pedestrian use. I have no idea what it cost to build this bridge, but thankfully the City of Tucson was wise enough to do so. I always see people using the bridge whether on bike, pushing a stroller, and even on horseback. And this wise investment was built with tax dollars.

river park gateway bridge

Crossing the River Park Gateway Bridge.

After crossing the bridge there is a sharp 90-degree turn that you need to negotiate which is followed within a few dozen feet by this T-intersection. The 90-degree turn will soon be another T-intersection as the south side path is completed. Make sure to be especially careful in this area as there are short sightlines and high volumes of traffic moving at different speeds. I was thinking that to myself this morning as I was taking this picture and making my left hand turn onto the connector between the river path and Mountain Avenue.

northside of path open

On the north side of the connector bridge, the path heading west is now open.

Then I saw this pedestrian enjoying the cool morning Tucson air with his dog followed by a cute couple with a stroller. As I said, this section of the path always seems to be busy. I’d suggest slowing down to a walking pace if you’re on your bike. It may take you a few minutes longer, but the added safety is worth it. Can you imagine what would have happened if that couple with the stroller had been just a little earlier and I had taken that blind corner at a little higher speed? Not good.

connector from rillito river park to mountain ave

A short connector from the Rillito River Park to Mountain Avenue.

The connecting path comes out at the intersection of Prospect Lane and Mountain Avenue. This is sort of a weird intersection. I wish I would have got a picture of it, but there was a lot of traffic due to the start of the school day at the nearby Rio Vista Elementary School. In fact, just as I was passing I could hear the morning announcements being read through the loud speaker. Ah, I remember those days. Announcements being read to grade school kids as if they cared.

south on mountain just off path

Heading south on Mountain just off the connecting path to the Rillito River Park.

Once on Mountain, there is a dedicated bike lane all the way to campus. Here we see a speed bump to slow automobile traffic but it doesn’t extend into the bike lane. It’s a nice touch although I don’t think that metal pole is necessary. Also, the low branches on the trees restrict the bike lane to about the left half. So even though the bike lane is striped to be 5 feet wide (estimated), only about 2 feet of it are actually useable at this point.

approaching first intersection

Approaching the first intersection heading south on Mountain.

The first traffic control device you encounter on Mountain is at the intersection with Limberlost. Here we see a stop ahead sign with lots of cars backed up waiting to get through the intersection. There usually isn’t that this much traffic, and I’m attributing it to the time of day. The bike lane at this point is nice and wide with no obstructions, but you can see up ahead that there are trees overhanging the road. This will get interesting.

mountain and limberlost no stop sign

Almost to the intersection of Limberlost and Mountain, but no stop sign is visible from the bike lane.

As we approach the intersection, we can see where the cars have stopped, but there is no visible stop sign. In fact, due to the overhanging tree branches, the stop sign is invisible to the point of uselessness for cyclists in the bike lane. If you forget that it’s there, you will run this stop sign. I’ve done that once and almost twice. The second time I barely avoided a crash with a car turning left from Limberlost north onto Mountain. This is a dangerous intersection because of the obstruction to viewing the stop sign. I would highly encourage whoever is responsible, be it the City of Tucson or Pima County, to trim the branches on these trees so that the stop sign is visible from the bike lane.

this car made sure to hold up traffic so I could get through

Looking east on Limberlost.

Here’s a picture looking east as I’m traveling through the intersection. I wasn’t going to snap anything here, but the woman in the SUV clearly didn’t know how to behave with a cyclist at a 4-way stop. She arrived at the intersection before me at about the same time as another vehicle from the opposite direction. The other vehicle, which can be seen in the photo above, correctly assumed the right of way and drove through the intersection. The woman in the SUV did nothing beside wave me through. The car next to me didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I and the car next to me went through. Everyone was delayed and put at increased risk, and all because this woman didn’t know the rules of the road.

south of limberlost wide path

The bike lane south of Limberlost gets a little wider.

As we finally get through the intersection, the bike lane gets wider. Well, it sort of does. I think the official bike lane is still just the portion of pavement to the right of the right-most solid white line. But the car lane is offset by another solid white line with a buffer of about two feet. While this provides no extra safety for a cyclist if a driver sways into the bike lane, it does provide a safety margin that makes it feel safer. That may be enough to get more riders on this segmet of road. As you can see, the road at this point is not well-kept. It has lots of cracks and weeks growing through the curbs. Thankfully, there is hardly any traffic on this segment either.

mountain and roger

The intersection of Mountain and Roger.

The intersection of Mountain and Roger is pretty mundane. At this point, Roger is a two-lane road. In all my time going through this intersection, I can’t remember it ever being as busy as it was today… and you can see that in the picture above. There was an SUV travelling eastbound and a car travelling westbound with a string of cars heading south. The lane markings are a little weird. There is a marked bike lane seen by the solid white line on the right and then a dashed white line as well marking the right turn lane. This lane is not wide enough for a car, so when they turn right they either do so from the through lane or use the bike lane. I’ve seen both, but I’m assuming they want the cars to use the bike lane.

south of roger brick dividers

Just south of Roger, the bike lane picks of a row of brick dividers.

The intersection with Roger marks a turning point for the Mountain bike lane. From here to the university it gets more use and the condition of the surface is much better. We can see here that there is a row of red-colored bricks that now seperate the bike lane from the car lane. This is a nice touch. It looks pretty and provides extra room for cyclists to manuvour in the bike lane; whether they need to avoid debris or pass a slower cyclist, they now can do so hopefully without conflict with faster moving vehicles in the car lane.

median with trees

The brick dividers are gone, but there's now a median with trees.

At Knox Drive, we see the start of this median. I’ve noticed that the cars travel much slower when they are on this segment of road than on other parts. I don’t know if that’s because of the median or not, but in any case, I like it both for it’s aestetic and practical qualities. I like it much more than the bricks that we saw earlier, and will see again later. Medians like this act as great traffic calming devices by restricting the field of view of the drivers which naturally causes them to slow down. As the trees grow, this effect should get larger.

approaching prince

Approaching the first stop light at Prince.

The intersection at Prince Road marks another major milestone as the first stop light. From the Rillito River Park to campus there are only four stop lights, but all of them are at major intersections. One of these can be easily avoided as we’ll see later. Approaching the intersection, we notice a line of cars about 5 deep and a cyclist in the bike lane. I saw a lot of this cyclist this morning as we were going about the same speed so I didn’t want to pass him and then have him pass me while I slowed for a photo and then me pass him and then… you get the picture.

prince and mountain

Stopped at the intersection of Prince and Mountain.

For some reason, I always seem to have to wait at this intersection. Fort Lowell and Grant I hit green a fair amount of the time, but I can’t recall the last time I did so at Prince. I have the sneaking suspicion that the red light is longer at Prince due to the higher volume of traffic compared to the other two intersections. I don’t know how long the cyclist ahead of me was waiting, but he looked like he was there so long he was actually getting comfortable. I like the one huge pannier on the left side of his rear tire; I wonder if that makes it harder to steer.

looking west on prince

Prince is a wide road. Looking west from the intersection with Mountain.

Traveling at 10 miles per hour, it took a little while to get through the extra large intersection at Prince. So long that I decided to whip out the camera and snap a quick picture. I didn’t have time to actually try to compose this shot, but I think it turned out well. Price at this point is 5 lanes wide; two in each direction with a suicide lane. I’m sure they’re officially called something less drastic, but that’s what my mother called them the first time she saw them and the name stuck for me.

brick dividers come again

South of Prince, the brick dividers are back again.

The nice median is gone and is replaced with the bricks again. There’s not a whole lot to see at this point in the ride; it all starts to look the same. Two lane road for cars with a wide bike lane with brick dividers. There was still just the one cyclist and me using the bike lane.

I like the brick crosswalks

Some of the crosswalks were marked with the brick too.

I don’t recall which side road this was taken at, but some of the crosswalks were paved in brick as well. I thought that was a nice astetic touch as well as clearly marking where drivers should stop. Also notice the great photography with the shadow of my head getting in the image.

approaching fort lowell

Approaching the second stop light at Fort Lowell.

Off in the distance is the second of four stop lights. Medians again with no bricks. Also, no more cyclists.

car on the sidewalk

A car blocking the sidewalk.

As we get closer to Fort Lowell, there’s this car parked on the sidewalk. This is the first time I’ve seen that on this road. I’ve seen plenty of cars parking in the bike lane, cars using the bike lane as a turn lane, and all other sorts of shinanegans. This one was odd though. The licence plate is visible if anyone from the city wants to have a chat with the owner. I’m sure any pedestrians who were trying to use the sidewalk this morning would appreciate it.

mountain and fort lowell

The intersection of Mountain and Fort Lowell is busy at this time of day.

The busy intersection of Fort Lowell and Mountain. We can see a car legally using the bike lane to make a right turn. While it may be legal, it is still dangerous for cyclists. The rider ahead was coasting so he wouldn’t get right hooked by the car making a right from the through lane. I had to slow up due to the confusion and barely made it through the light. Today that wouldn’t have been a problem, but I usually don’t like stopping at stop lights if I don’t have to do so.

ghost bike mountain and fort lowell

I pass by this ghost bike every day on the way to work.

Ghost bike. Not much to say. A rider died trying to make it through this intersection. I pass by every day making sure I’m extra careful.

south of fort lowell

South of the Fort Lowell intersection to bike lane gets even wider to accommodate more bikes.

Here the bike lane gets even wider. However, it’s at this point that the surface condition starts to get worse. I noticed a lot of spiderwebing and cracks due to neglect. Routine maintanance would have prevented some of the problems on this stretch of road, but funding seems to be extra short these days. Remember that great bridge that was built with tax dollars just a few pictures ago? Wouldn’t it be nice to continue that great infrastructure all the say to campus? Yeah, it takes money.

even the pavement markings have helmets

Even the pavement markings have helmets!

I love the pavement markings on this road. The cyclists all have helmets! I wish I could say the same for all the cyclists I see riding on the Mountain bikeway. Helmets may be a pain, they may not prevent all head injuries, but they do prevent some. They are cheap and if you’re in an accident, they could save your life. Please wear a helmet.

approaching gless and mountain

Approaching the last of the stop signs at Glenn and Mountain.

Glenn and Mountain marks the last stop sign. At this point we also pick up another commuter on her way to campus. I’m assuming she was going to campus, that’s where most of the riders on this road are going. We also see a lot more cars. For some reason that I can’t figure out, they also seem to be going faster in this segment as well. I don’t know if that was psycological because there were more or if they actually were going faster. I do have a hypothesis though: if they were going faster, it’s probably because they were university students trying to make it to class without being late. I’d suggest riding a bike instead!

first major debris in the bike path

South of Glenn, I encounter the first major debris in the bike lane.

One major problem on Mountain is the amount of debris in the bike lane starting at Glenn and continuing all the way to campus. Here is the first bit of loose gravel that I encountered just south of Glenn. This seems to be the most problematic the days following a large rain event. And last night we got rain, and the last few days have been extremely wet. As the number of cyclists ride over the gravel, it gets kicked to the side of the road and the path eventually becomes clear. Either that or the city finally has a street sweeper go through.

passed by a fixie

Between Glenn and the university there were a lot of cyclists. Here I'm being passed by a guy on a fixie.

South of Glenn I also noticed that there was a very large number of cyclists. I noticed this because I was going so slow and they were all passing me! Here I got passed by a guy riding a fixed gear bike. I’ll take all 20 of my gear combinations, thank you very much. Although he was going faster, so maybe he’s on to something.

grant in the distance

The last stop light at Grant is in the distance.

Way off in the distance you can barely make out the stop lights at Grant. The last major intersection before making it to campus. I didn’t get a good shot of the actual intersection, which is why this lousy one is posted here. You can also see the guy on the fixie avoiding a large gravel deposit in the bike lane.

south of grant quite a few cyclists

Looking south just after crossing Grant on Mountain with quite a few cyclists up the road.

After crossing Grant. The fixie is way off in the distance. The bike lane has switched to concrete and is much nicer to ride on. Sometimes. There are some places where the junction of two of the concrete slabs doesn’t line up just right and if you’re not prepared you’ll get a bone-jarring bump. As I’ve ridden this road so many times, I know where all the bad places are and can generally avoid them without thinking. Also of note in this picture, you’ll see how far I am to the left. I was avoiding a bunch of glass in the bike lane that the guy ahead of me ran right through. I hope he didn’t get a flat. As I was snapping this, I heard “on your left”, which of course made me swerve a little to the left, causing the faster rider to pass on the right. Straight through the broken glass. Sorry guy. Hope you didn’t get a flat either.

plants overgrowing into the bike lane

Going south on Mountain there is not too many obstacles. Here some shrubs are overgrowing into the bike lane. The northbound lane has low overhanging trees that will smack you in the face.

As you’ve seen in most of the photos, there hasn’t been much in the way of obstructions to the bike lane. Here we see some shrubs that have grown a little to big and should probably be trimmed. I don’t think at this point that they are causing a safety hazard, but if they get too much bigger they will cause cyclists to avoid them.

left turn top of the hill

A cyclist attempts to make a left turn as we approach the top of the hill. It's all downhill from here!

The last obstacle southbound on Mountain is this little hill. It’s not that big, you can make it. But I have seen quite a few people on bikes that look like they weren’t going to make it. Just keep pedaling and it’ll be over soon enough. It’s downhill on the other side. The rider on the left is trying to make a left hand turn. He made it without problem, but at the previous intersection I saw a woman on a comfort bike that looked like she was really nervous trying to make the left onto southbound Mountain. I’m not sure how, but it would be nice if there was a safer way for cyclists to turn left onto this nice bikeway.

after the right onto helen

I turn right onto Helen to get to the Olive Underpass.

Off the Mountain bikeway and onto Helen. Up ahead is the Olive Underpass which avoids the stop light at Speedway. After the underpass, you’re on campus!



Filed under cycling, daily report

3 responses to “Documenting the Mountain Avenue bikeway

  1. Collin Forbes

    The ghost bike at Fort Lowell is for Kevin Robinson-Barajas. He was killed by a right-turning school bus on September 12 2008. A memorial of sorts is

  2. zz

    The speed bump posed more of a threat than one might think. That’s why the post and evidence of recent modification is there. Ridiing in the bike lane, the oleander bushes, if left untrimmed, nudged riders toward the edge of the bump, which in this case was highter than a lot of others, to the point of being like a left-side curb. A rider with the left pedal in the down-stroke could have been thrown if they got near enough. In fact, there was evidence that it had happened. The edge of the speed bump has been tapered away to pretty much eliminate that now. This may seem pretty minor, but is an example of why people with bicycle vision should be involved crews that put such road facilities in place. Car-oriented people don’t see this stuff and really aren’t concerned.

  3. noah

    From the one pannier guy – Yes it does make it harder to steer, but you get used to it. The real problem is that when stopped the bike is rather unstable, but you get used to that too. It’s better than hauling around two.

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