No Cars, Better Cycling


I thank the stars for COVID-19. With people staying home and with little commuting for work, errands or otherwise, the roadways have been nearly abandoned. Conditions could hardly be better for a confirmed roadie like me.

I am jesting, of course. I recognize the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus, the many thousands of deaths it has caused and the toll it has taken in so many other ways. And while thankfully it appears its spread is being slowly curbed and contained, it has not finished its run and its ultimate cost in lives, health and economic difficulty and ruin is yet to be completely felt and determined.

A cyclist descends Emigration Canyon with no cars around. Photo by Dave Iltis
A cyclist descends Emigration Canyon with no cars around. Photo by Dave Iltis

For myself, I was in the middle of an excellent ski season, spending many days on the slopes with friends and family, and a weekly ski day trying to keep up with my 4 year old granddaughter. Thankfully, we had just finished a ski vacation for which I had gathered my children and grandchildren from several states, when COVID-19 changed all that, causing the sudden closure of all ski resorts.

When the ski season ends, my heart and legs turn to cycling. It was no different this year, except the turning happened around the middle of March rather than the middle of May. But as I ventured out with my bike on the roadways, there was a noticeable difference: No cars. Or at least nearly no cars.

Leaving my home in Emigration Canyon, cars were no longer speeding around me to get somewhere important. On Wasatch Boulevard, I rarely had a vehicle zipping past me. The streets of Salt Lake County had never been so cyclist friendly. It was like riding on a quiet Sunday morning every time I went out to spin the pedals.

I was riding with my brother, Nick, in the middle of a usually busy weekday last week. We had ridden through a quiet University of Utah campus, down a nearly car-less 11th Avenue, around Memory Grove and the State Capital, and then back up 2nd Avenue. While pedaling up 2nd Avenue, Nick, who hadn’t ridden this road much, commented on what a nice street it was to bike on. While agreeing, I reminded him that on a normal day there would be quite a lot of traffic on this road.

I guess one of the silver linings of the pandemic shut-down is that exercise is not only not proscribed, but it is recognized as a good way to maintain our physical well-being as well as our emotional and mental well-being. And cycling is one of the best exercises as cyclists normally group in numbers less than 10, and naturally social distance, or more accurately physical distance, the recommended 6 feet or more. How’s that for doing what is best during this pandemic?

Consistent with the guidelines, I either rode alone or just with Nick. And we kept our distance from others. Of course, at our age, others are usually passing us, with distances between us and them closing and opening quickly, especially when we are headed uphill. Also, I have always been careful to do my nose-blowing and expectorating from the back of the group, but have been extra careful these days. I have not worn a mask while riding, which I have seen a few others do, but then that has never been recommended.

As government began to take steps to shut-down society to fight the virus, I began to worry about the longer term economic impact the shut-down would have. And I never realized the shut-down would go as far as it did. I fear the damage to the economy is going to be extensive and more long-lasting than the virus itself. But I am encouraged at how steps are being taken to re-open the economy and reboot businesses. Already, we are starting to slowly move back to a more normal lifestyle.

And that is good. It is what we hope and pray for. But I will miss the quiet streets and the sparse traffic. I will miss having every ride be like a quiet Sunday morning ride.


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