How I Got There When The “Only” Way Was By Interstate

Most of my trips occur within a six-mile radius of home, and it’s usually easiest to go by bike. Years ago another St. Louisan promoted bicycling by saying: “Less than five, why drive?” This is true for six-mile trips, too 🙂

Last month, though, I had to conduct business that was not only outside of my radius but accessible “only” via an interstate.

Ugh.

Figuring out how to get there by any means other than my car was so complicated that I almost threw in the towel during the route planning process.

River des Peres Greenway in St. Louis

But Monday morning dawned beautiful and beckoning. With school out for the summer, I had time and was up for the challenge. I settled on a route that took me through a cemetery and relied on either A) a gate between the cemetery and my destination being unlocked; or B) me locking up my bike on the cemetery side and scaling a fence to the medical center on the other side that was my destination.

My adventure included using a greenway paralleling a busy St. Louis arterial road. This road has four lanes with a speed limit of 40 MPH. This means that many if not most are driving 45 MPH, and some upwards of that. A number of small streets intersect the stretch of greenway I used.

Road users on the small intersecting streets have stop signs, as do greenway users…

. . . but motorists on the arterial road do not.

As a savvy cyclist I know that greenway stop signs are NOT to be ignored. For my safety I scanned ahead, behind, and to my right before proceeding into the intersection. Given the speed of other traffic and sight lines, I felt like I could never look enough to be completely satisfied.

I might as well have been a Bobblehead! By the time I confirmed that there were no oncoming motorists who might suddenly decide to turn left, I had to look behind me again to assure there were no overtaking motorists who might suddenly decide to turn right, and vice versa. Traffic was fairly light. The workload of doing this with rush hour traffic would be much greater! The greenway between intersections was perfectly pleasant, but the work required at intersections was exhausting.

I had to reroute my trip due to a section of road being underwater.  Thank goodness for smart phones!

Road Closed

After consulting my phone and getting my bearings, the rest of the trip was straightforward.  I arrived at the cemetery and made my way slowly and respectfully to the gate for the moment of truth:

Hallelujah! The gate was open. No need to scale fences!  It was nice to have my bike with me, as the building I was headed to was on the opposite side of a very large medical compound.

It occurred to me that riding my bike through the gate was a bit of a gamble. What if I returned to a locked gate? I’d be SOL, or at least stuck planning a long and complicated reroute.

Mission complete, I retraced my route through the large medical campus. Fortunately, the gate was still open, making a smooth start for my return voyage. If I were to make the trip by bicycle regularly, I would ask about the gate — i.e., are there set times when it’s open? If not, could there be?

My trip home was uneventful. After my discomfort on the outgoing leg of the trip, I chose to forego the greenway on my return. Being part of traffic and following the rules of movement is just so easy and straightforward! The trickiest bit was after the four-lane road became only two lanes. I was on the two-lane section for just under a mile.

I prefer not to have motorists stacked up behind me, so I pulled onto the shoulder twice and stopped to let groups of overtaking vehicles (AKA platoons) pass. It only took a few seconds, and then I had this road–with its 40 MPH posted speed limit–all to myself between platoons.

I arrived home tired but happy to have made the 20-mile trip by bicycle, rather than resorting to the car.

It took me a bit over an hour each way.  Realistically, that is time that I can’t afford every day, though recent timely discussions on e-bikes make me wonder how having a little boost would change the equation.

9 replies
  1. Lee Sisselsky
    Lee Sisselsky says:

    Melissa – I enjoyed reading your article. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to think of a single destination in any of the many areas I’m familiar with that is accessible by Interstate highway only (besides perhaps food courts and gas stations at Interstate rest areas). Please post the address of the destination in your article so I can see for myself.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Lee

    Reply
    • Melissa Brown
      Melissa Brown says:

      Hi Lee, there are, technically, non-interstate roads I could have used to access my destination, but from the direction I was coming, it would have made for a MUCH longer trip. This was a very clear instance of the thinking, “Of course everyone accessing this will be using an automobile!” When looking at the map, it appears there are some smaller back roads that connect, but they simply do not (unless one gets lucky with the fence).

      1 Jefferson Barracks Drive, Saint Louis, MO 63125

      Reply
      • Karen Karabell
        Karen Karabell says:

        As a fellow St. Louisan, I can confirm that the VA Center at Jefferson Barracks (where I think Melissa went) appears to have been built during the height of the 20th Century’s auto-centricity. It’s a shame, because that part of St. Louis overlooks the Mississippi River and is gorgeous.

        Hopefully someday soon the area will be easily accessible to those who want to enjoy by bike or on foot 🙂

        Reply
  2. PatrickGSR94
    PatrickGSR94 says:

    I highly suggest an e-bike for longer trips! My commute is 30 miles round trip, which I still do at least once a week with my regular road bike (70-80 minutes each way), but then also do it once or twice a week on my e-bike which cuts the time down to just 50-55 minutes each way, and once only took me 48 minutes when I had a big tail wind and averaged 19+ MPH! On a 60 pound bicycle!

    Reply
  3. Melissa Brown
    Melissa Brown says:

    A local CyclingSavvy grad pointed out that I forgot to mention the local knowledge and route input I received from fellow St. Louis cyclists via the local Facebook group “Bikelife STL.” Mea culpa and thank you! Relying on Google maps alone would have been very misleading in this case.

    Reply
  4. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Yeah, I hate the River Des Peres Greenway. I personally would just take the road, at least it isn’t 50 or 55 MPH unlike most roads that I cycle on in Jefferson County.

    Reply
    • Patrick Smith
      Patrick Smith says:

      Really? I’ve been watching BikeBlogger’s recent commuting videos along the Greenway and it doesn’t look too bad.

      Reply
  5. Marc caruso
    Marc caruso says:

    i hate routing through cemeteries. Perhaps I find it rude using a cemetery as cut through. I have cut through small developments and gated communities that use crossing arms that I have gone around. but there is something inherently wrong with disrespecting the dead and cutting through a cemetery. And Karma reinforced this feeling for me one day when I wanted to travel to Bala Cynwyd. Google maps had me going through one or two cemeteries from Belmont Ave to Righters ferry rd taking me off a busy road. The problem is if you look at these two cemeteries and zoom in you will see they are like mazes. https://www.google.com/maps/dir/40.0274094,-75.2281683/150+Monument+Rd+%23100,+Bala+Cynwyd,+PA+19004/@40.0139473,-75.2218815,16.75z/data=!4m14!4m13!1m5!3m4!1m2!1d-75.2309353!2d40.0206468!3s0x89c6b8bb8506baf5:0xafff28fd14012be!1m5!1m1!1s0x89c6b89c09ba816b:0x8067a1c218fd7695!2m2!1d-75.2177695!2d40.0113918!3e1 Google Maps has apparently improved since then and no longer seems to route you through the two cemeteries. It might be due to the fact that recently a bridge was built connecting Manayunk to Bala Cynwyd.

    It was scary being lost in the cemetery I had considered just giving up ever getting out and just lying down and waiting to be found. if I had not noticed a building with a single car parked next to it. I probably would have just taken a nap and waited to be found. Luckily one of the care takers was kind enough to lead me out..

    Reply
    • John S. Allen
      John S. Allen says:

      Marc — It Depends. It dependson how you feel, but mostly on the attitude of whoever manages the cemetery. Mt. Feake Cemetery, owned by the City of Waltham, Massachusetts, along the Charles River, is on the most pleasant and shortest route between the Brandeis University campus and downtown. Cycling is permitted, the scenery is beautiful and nobody has ever questioned or complained about my riding through the cemetery, least of all the people who have taken up permanent residence. From time to time I get to view bald eagles or harvest oyster mushrooms growing on trees.

      Reply

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