Author Topic: Is the NT a traffic nightmare?  (Read 4761 times)

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Offline John Nelson

Is the NT a traffic nightmare?
« on: December 26, 2011, 12:03:21 am »
I did the TransAm in 2010, and am planning to do the Northern Tier in 2012. I've been reading the segment descriptions of the NT in the Cyclosource catalog. The descriptions sound like a traffic nightmare, with cautions on every segment. Consider these quotes:
  • The 4-lane highway that heads east to the mainland is very busy.
  • SR 200 east of Sandpoint carries both recreational and commercial traffic so ride it cautiously.
  • expect to encounter logging trucks.
  • U.S. 93, which the route uses from Eureka to Whitefish, can have moderate to heavy traffic since it's a main thoroughfare into Canada.
  • Glacier Park traffic is heavy during the summer.
  • During the summer it gets heavy use from recreational vehicles.
  • There is heavy truck traffic on the portions of U.S. 2 used by the route.
  • there are a few stretches that demand caution. Traffic increases wherever the route crosses the river.
  • Traffic can be heavy on U.S. 61
  • Traffic increases around Muscatine
  • Traffic does increase during harvest
  • Areas in Indiana get busier when the weather gets warmer, especially on weekends.
    you will experience urban riding conditions so ride defensivly.
  • in places you ride U.S. 1 which carries very heavy recreational traffic. Mount Desert Island roads also have a high amount of tourist traffic
Contrast this to the segment descriptions of the TransAm, which hardly mention traffic at all. Was the person who wrote up the NT just more pessimistic, or is the NT traffic really worse than the TA traffic?

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Is the NT a traffic nightmare?
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2011, 12:17:31 am »

I have done both routes.  However, both were in the 80s so take that into consideration.  At that time, both routes had similar amounts of traffic, hazards, etc.

I really do not remember any major area of concern compared to the TA other than Glacier NP had some heavy traffic but it was quite doable as the traffic speed was fairly low.  I also dipped directly through Minneapolis/St. Paul so that obviously was busier but I planned it accordingly, i.e. rode into town in early afternoon and out of town on a Sunday.  The traffic for a 20 mile radius around Cleveland (at that time it went thru Cleveland) was heavier also.

ACA does a pretty good job of staying off overly busy roads.  Sometimes there are just no alternatives.  Also, it may be partially due to today's litigious society we live in.

All in all, I would say if you handled the TransAm without difficultly, you should most likely be able to handle the NT.  After all, you have crossed the country before so give yourself some credit :).


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Re: Is the NT a traffic nightmare?
« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2011, 09:41:42 am »
Did the entire NT in '99 and the portion to Glacier in '00.

You are going to have traffic in Glacier. But it's not a nightmare. Totally worth the trip.

In general, I think the cautions are simply that:  cautions about what you might encounter in certain places. For example, I did the section between Whitefish and Eureka mentioned above two years ago. Leaving Whitefish on U.S. 93 in the morning there was some traffic. Other than that, we didn't see very many cars on the portion of that stretch that uses U.S. 93.

That stretch of U.S. 93 had far less traffic than the section of U.S. 93 leaving Missoula on the TransAm.  The shoulderless East Side Highway to Hamilton on the TransAm was almost non-stop traffic. I just rode both of these stretches this summer.  The TransAm roads in Yellowstone were not exactly traffic free when I rode them in '00.  Neither was the road connecting Yellowstone with Teeton Park.  (I distinctly remember the map warning people to ride early in the morning to avoid heavy traffic periods in Yellowstone.) In contrast, the North Cascades Highway was nearly empty both times I rode it.  Same with the other passes in WA.

You also have to consider what "increase" means. A road going from empty to moderately busy is an "increase."

Yeah. U.S. 1 was not the quiet country road, but I never felt threatened. iI you are there after school starts traffic will be lighter.

Yes.  U.S. 61 in MN was busy in places, but I never felt threatened.

Yeah.  There was traffic in Cleveland, but that's to be expected.

Ask yourself this:  Do you think they would maintain a route that is an overall traffic nightmare?  You list 13 bullet points.  The route is what, about 4,400 miles?  Doesn't sound too bad to me. I am milling to be there are 13 areas of the TransAm that could be described in similar ways.  Indeed, I listed two above in a stretch of about 50 miles.

Offline jamawani

Re: Is the NT a traffic nightmare?
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2011, 10:23:39 am »
Although I have ridden cross-country more than a half dozen times, I have never done a complete ACA route.  I don't mind doing parts of them - but I feel no obligation to stick to any predesignated route.  I've done parts of the TA and did the much of the western section of the NT in 2006.

To answer your questions in the order listed:
1. The Hwy 20 causeway is busy but there is a separated bike lane on the bridge and a wide shoulder elsewhere.  Remember, there is a great bike trail that goes across the bay from Anacortes.  Also, you should really consider heading out to one of the San Juan islands as a delicious extra - I'm guessing the start of your trip.
2. Hwy 200 near Sandpoint is busy with very little shoulder.  I rode it on my frist cross-country trip in 1987 and the difference is night and day.  Still, Sandpoint has turned into a recreation-based community and most drivers are used to cyclists.  Perhaps avoid the busiest commute times.
3. Logging trucks - not that frequent - don't listen to music while riding - you can hear them coming a mile away.  But do given them plenty of room - they do move quickly .
4. US 93 north of Whitefish sucks - narrow, no shoulders, busy.  There is a paved alterate - Fisher Creek & Wolf Prairie Roads - that have very low traffic and bypass Eureka thru the tiny community of Trego, but they still put you out on US 93.  Or you can take Fisher Creek Rd down to US 2 - but US 2 has some of the same traffic and shoulderless issues that US 93 does.  There is a fairly directly line unpaved road over the divide from Fisher Creek to Star Meadow Road via Twin Bridges Rd to Spencer Lake - - but still you have a short, bad stretch of US 93.  I am amazed that US 93 has no shoulder right up to the edge of Whitefish - considering that Whitefish is such a recreation-based community - but Montana is the poorest state in the West.  Also - in addition to a lack of shoulder, US 93's pavement is broken at the edge forcing you further into traffic.  I have ridden 100,000+ miles and this is one of the worst mapped stretches - but as you can see, there are no alternates.
5&6. Going to the Sun Road is not to be missed.  It is one of the finest rides in North America.  Headin west to east the park has limitations on cyclists.  The stretch from Apgar to Lake MacDonald Lodge is closed from 11a to 4p as is the uphill stretch from the bottom to Logan Pass.  Leave early and enjoy the view with light traffic.  I prefer camping at Avalanche rather than Sprague Creek - the former is quiet and gives you a head-start on the climb.  The latter has close access to facilities at the lodge, but is right next to the road and has road sounds all night.  One option you can consider - if you are not morally opposed - is to take all your gear up to the top on the free bus and put it in the lockers there - then ride up with a nearly bare bike.  If you give yourself 3 hours for the climb you will have plenty of time.  Then you should plan on spending a few hours up top hiking - if the weather is good.  And it is unforgettable - the Highline Trail has eye-popping views and sheer walls.
7. US 2 does have heavier than ideal traffic - it has been widened in most of eastern Montana - but there are a few stretches where there is no shoulder and fairly heavy traffic - like east of Havre. I suggest taking US 89 southeast from Glacier to Great Falls - then US 87 and Hwys 80 & 81 to Hwy 200 across eastern Montana - mostly the L&C routing - but staying on Hwy 200 the entire way and NOT heading into Williston, ND.
7A. I would ABSOLUTELY avoid Williston.  There is a huge oil and gas development going on there with industrial traffic and rowdy, impatient, possibly drunk, over-paid young guys in profusion.  Cheesy motel rooms go for $200 a night if you can find one.  I would stay on Hwy 200 to Washburn which has great Lewis and Clark and Mandan historic sites.  There will be places on Hwy 200 in western ND that have moderate and moderate-plus traffic - but it is generally better than US 2.  Hwy 1804 was named for the year Lewis & Clark went up river as a scenic road and was never designed for industrial traffic.  I would avoid it.

If you are willing to make small alterations to the route - and ACA is working on publishing a North Dakota alternate right now - then you will have no problem.


Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Is the NT a traffic nightmare?
« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2011, 09:21:13 pm »
I did the section from Apgar (Glacier NP) west to Anacortes in 2011.  I'd say the simple answer to the question, "Is NT a traffic nightmare?" at least over that section, is: No.

I'd taken the gravel road to get into Apgar a couple days earlier, and stayed on U.S. 2 into Columbia Falls Saturday morning.  I'd take again.   We left Whitefish early Sunday, and I still wonder why we got off U.S. 93 -- I'd stay on the main road, were I to do it again.  Got into Sandpoint about 9:00 and left after a second breakfast, and I don't remember any significant traffic, but the bike path going west was better suited to pack mules than touring bikes.

The heaviest traffic I remember was coming down from Diablo Dam overlook into Newhalem, but that wasn't really a problem.  It was much nicer than climbing up to West Thumb or down into West Yellowstone on the TransAm.

Offline JHamelman

Re: Is the NT a traffic nightmare?
« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2011, 07:56:11 am »

If you are willing to make small alterations to the route - and ACA is working on publishing a North Dakota alternate right now - then you will have no problem.


Actually, NT #3 & 4 are not currently available because we are doing a complete reroute across North Dakota and into Montana due to the situation in Williston. The new sections should be available in April.


Jennifer Hamelman

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