Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cycling The Las Vegas Strip

In mid-April, I was invited to stay with some friends on the Las Vegas strip. The hotel was pretty much free as part of a timeshare sales program so I figured why not see what it is like for a cyclist in Las Vegas. While my hosts sat through a sales presentation for a condo, I took off on my bike down the Las Vegas strip.


Flying with Bicycle
Of course, before I could do that I had to get myself and my bike to Vegas. I could rent a bike like I did in Australia but finding a place to rent a really nice road bike is even more difficult than finding a place that rents a really nice car. Also, my height makes it even more difficult to find something my size.

Given that, I'm starting to regularly bring my bike with me on planes. Southwest Airlines is the most reasonable at $50 each way. For some, this is outrageous. For me, my bike fits like a great pair of shoes and it is totally worth it. If you factor in the money you save on a rental car, it works out.

No Bike Lanes, Not Even a Shoulder
One of the first things I saw on the strip was this type of thing: a classic American roadway completely dominated by cars. No bike lanes or sharrows here. There's not even a shoulder for cars. That must create all kinds of fun when a car breaks down.

Lots of Cops on Bikes
The second thing I saw were bicycle police. Seeing them made me feel better about the total lack of any other protection for bikes. With the cops on bikes, the drivers on the strip will be thinking twice before antagonizing a cyclist. Even better, I just happened to be wearing a yellow jacket like the cops were.

I asked one policeman how he liked using a bike on his beat. He said, "Don't tell anyone but I'd do this for free". I can see it. It is loads of fun whizzing down one of the most colorful streets on the planet.

Refreshingly Flat
With that, I took off from the very north end of the strip (the Sahara).  I was pleasantly surprised by the flatness. The Hayward and San Andreas faults back home ensure you are never really off of an incline. There's always a subtle, or not so subtle, grade you are pedaling against. Here, there was no resistance. Woohoo!

With that I was easily able to sustain 25 MPH and could even sustain 28 MPH for a couple of blocks. This turned out to be plenty of speed to keep up with traffic. Because of the incessant stop lights, even the lead foots couldn't get going too much faster than I did. I even passed cars in some of the congested parts. This calmed my nerves. I figured no car could be too upset with a cyclist that was meeting or exceeding the flow of traffic. Now I could enjoy the scenery.

Since I was enjoying the speeds I could reach, I decided to cruise all the way to the south end of the strip (beyond MGM) and then work my way back more slowly: focusing on some of the new architecture and sidewalk infrastructure that are unique to Vegas and hint at what could be possible for bikes there and elsewhere.

The New City Center: Disco Berlin
One of the amazing new sites in Vegas is the new City Center. This should not be missed because it is unlike anything else in town. First of all, it is absolutely massive compared to anywhere else on the strip. It takes up many city blocks and the base goes up 5 stories before the tall buildings even start.

The style is also uniquely understated for Vegas. It looks like someone from Vegas decided the strip could use a hint of Berlin or Geneva along with all the other cities represented. Of course, the new buildings still have a Vegas flair: some of them are leaning (by design) at a dramatic angle. Regardless, the development is something to see both from an aesthetic point of you and from a transport design point of view (perhaps poor design but fascinating, nonetheless).

Yet Another Monorail
Included in this new development, is a new monorail. It turns out, Las Vegas has two monorail systems. Why they need two disconnected systems and why neither goes to the airport, is a mystery. One has been around for a while and it spans the whole strip. It is quite effective in quickly and safely getting pedestrians or cyclists to key parts of the strip. The new City Center monorail looks really cool and gets you around the City Center but that's about it.

The line of cabs waiting at the new City Center nicely illustrates what it still takes to get around Vegas. Obviously, these monorails are not a complete transport alternative. Nevertheless, this is still a better alternative transport infrastructure than you find in a lot of other American cities.

What the strip lacks in real bike and train solutions it makes up for with the pedestrian solutions. The Vegas strip pedestrian infrastructure is awesome in its scale, enginuity, and even its beauty at times.

Vegas has always had wide sidewalks along the strip which are always a welcome site for pedestrians. Those are still in full effect with some rather nice landscaping to obscure the whoosh of cabs that are inches away. These can obviously be found in lots of cities as well.

Pedestrian Intersection Bridges for Days
What most other cities don't have is a comprehensive set of pedestrian bridges over all the road intersections. Nor, do you frequently see such pedestrian bridges with escalators.  With this infrastructure in place, it is possible for a sucker (I mean guest) to stroll the entire strip without encountering cars. That alone is a fabulous achievement and more than you see in anywhere cities in the U.S. Granted, it stops at the strip but I'm betting the pedestrian fatality and injury statistics are excellent compared to other downtown areas of large cities.

When similar infrastructure is proposed for cyclists, cost and space constraints are always cited. Las Vegas is proof that these can be overcome.


Blocks of Elevated Sidewalks
The new City Center construction takes this pedestrian infrastructure to a new level in engineering and aesthetics. One gets the impression that Las Vegas will eventually have two strips: one for cars at ground level and one for pedestrians two stories above that. The bits of that vision that are appearing now make that look like a nice idea. If they could incorporate bikes and trains more deeply into this trend, downtown Las Vegas could be on to something.

In the meantime, dangerous though it may be, I still dig racing the cabs.

10 comments:

  1. The Las Vegas police officers on bikes actually are known to run down (and pull over) cars when needed. As you noted, most of The Strip is pretty stop and go from noon to midnight.

    In lieu of a train, we have The Ace express bus (that almost looks like a train) running from downtown Las Vegas all the way down The Strip. Minor note: The Strip is not downtown. Downtown Las Vegas is about three miles north of The Sahara and is the hub of local mass transit.

    Long term talk to run a monorail all the way down the west side of The Strip is on hold, because the existing monorail is poorly used and in bankruptcy. It does not go to the airport because the taxi and limo companies here are very powerful. If you want to buck them, ride the monorail or use The Duece (double decker bus that runs the length of The Strip and on to downtown).

    Enjoyed reading the post!

    Ted Newkirk
    Managing Editor
    http://www.las-vegas-news-reviews.com

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  2. wow! you're amazing Brooks! Happy July 4th weekend! =D

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  3. I agree a lot of the facilities are marvelous, but I'm not sure I'd call the sidewalks alongside the Strip and adjacent streets exactly "pedestrian friendly." Vegas falls about a third of the way down in a list of pedestrian fatality rates, with about 2 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population. When traffic clears up a little at night, the speeds get pretty crazy.

    I'm surprised you didn't see the Latinos on their bikes riding in the gutter -- they're by far the most numerous cyclists in Vegas. They're the guys who distribute the countless massage service advertisements that litter the streets.

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  4. I saw the leaflet distributors but many were not keen to be photographed and I only saw a handful.

    As for pedestrian friendliness, intersections tend to be the deadliest parts of city streets. My point was simply that the escalators/bridges over every intersection is pretty extraordinary. If the stats show high fatality rates, I doubt they are happening on these skywalks.

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  5. I completely disagree with your assessment of the pedestrian situation. It's 100% garbage. Try crossing the street in vegas. The bridges are .5 miles apart. Thats quite a detour if you simply want to get across the road. And to make things worse, if you look at the road, you cans ee the faint outline of crosswalks of the past that have been removed,

    And the biggest problem with the bridges is the lack of space. Unlike what you said, the sidewalks are extremely narrow for the volume of people. So the bridge escalators are located off to the side. Citycenter is the worse offender. Just to keep walking down the sidewalk, you need to turn INTO their property to get to the escalators to get to the bridge to get back to the sidewalk. Adds at least 5 minutes to the simple act of walking 100 feet. All so 6 lanes of traffic can speed into the 6,000 car garage.
    Look at how the bridge is all the way into the property:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=las+vegas&aq=&sll=36.114646,-115.172816&sspn=0.361108,0.727158&g=las+vegas&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Las+Vegas,+Clark,+Nevada&ll=36.106604,-115.173532&spn=0.001411,0.00284&t=k&z=19

    Now scroll around for awhile to find how to get across the street (its quite the scroll). If you go north, you have to cross the street THREE times just to get across!

    Oh, and the citycenter monorail tram? Try finding the station. It seems like it was designed to be as inconvenient as possible. It's almost insulting in its design.

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  6. James,

    Believe the Vegas sidewalks are "100% Garbage" if you want.

    Crude statements like that and some of your others are a give away you are an Internet Troll looking for verbal fight and not much else. Look elsewhere.

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  7. I agree with jamesinclair in that Aria ruined the west side of the strip. I wish it had never been constructed. Yes, the old Holiday Inn and Boardwalk was run down, but they replaced it with an ugly monolith. That side is very hard to walk down because they eliminated two city blocks worth of sidewalk. It was such fun walking up one side and walking back the other. But I just won't walk on the west side of the strip between the NYNY and Bellagio any more. Then the tram between Aria and Cesar's Palace is also ridiculous. Because of the trouble involved in reaching either side's station, I suggest you stick to the LV Monorail to get around. Then the tram between Excalibur and Monte Carlo is also ridiculous. You don't gain that much by using it. They also shut down access and operating stops to send you where they want you to go. So at times it will not stop at Luxor because they want to funnel traffic between Monte Carlo and Excalibur. It is a two-track system with the express operating only between MC and Ex. But sometimes they shut it down and operate just the one side with limited operating stops.

    I first went to Vegas in 1999 and to me, that was the best time. Nice evening strolls up and down the strip with friends. The newness of arriving to NYNY and checking into our room and seeing a lady sunbathing at the MGM terrace suite. Then the long walks up and down with a few illegals and rags. Now they literally mug you. SO I've cut back my travels out there to 1 trip for NAB.

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  8. Many thanks for this blog post, I am planning to take advantage of it end of the month. Also hoping you are going to cycle Fort Lauderdale before June :-)

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  9. It is highly advised not to ride your bike on the proper Las Vegas [uptown] Strip.
    Downtown is a different story and very bike friendly (E. Charleston - Fremont area). Cruise through the new Symphony Park- http://www.symphonypark.com/.
    If you are going to ride on the strip may I suggest riding parallel on Industrial Rd. You can still see all the great hotels, just skip out on the mess of obstacles ;)

    -Bike rider who lives ON the strip.

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  10. I was there for work and being WAY to hot to mountain bike, so I took my beach cruiser. Had a great time riding up and down the strip at night. Stopping along the way to see the outdoor shows, I had no issues with cars. BTW what's with all the negativity people? Just RIDE!

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