Posts tagged ‘routes’

April 11, 2012

30 Days of Biking: Hills and Miles and Darkness, Oh My!

Today’s easy-squeezy 8.4 miles, broken up into nice manageable chunks of 10 minutes or less, nonetheless provided plenty of reminders of yesterday’s butt-burner: over 27 miles total, with a huge chunk of that spent slogging slowly up a hill climb that I thought would never end.

But it was fun, honest!

The set-up: I did my usual quick little ride to work, sprinting because I was going to be late to a meeting and beating my “race time” by at least 30 seconds.

After work I dressed in one of my cute little Nuu-Muus, a pair of actual (gasp!) bike shorts (couldn’t find the adorable lace-trimmed Sheila Moon lingerie knickers, alas, and decided I’d ride with more padding than Pedal Panties provide), and a white Sheila Moon bolero, along with (another gasp, please) bike shoes that let me clip in.

Just the thing for a nice long ride out to Spokane County Raceway Park, where Sweet Hubs and his compatriots were pitted against each other in the first of the season’s Twilight Series Road Race put on by his club, Baddlands.

Google Maps results list for routes from Riverpoint Campus to Spokane County Raceway ParkRoute selection required some comparisons of Google Maps choices. They offered three, with the kind suggestion, “Or take Public Transit” linked below, in case the idea of a ride of 9-10 miles with hill climbs (no matter what) didn’t appeal.

Their first proposed bike route, West Trails road accessed through the West Central neighborhood and Riverside State Park, involved dropping clear down to the Spokane River Gorge and climbing back up out of it. Beautiful, sure, but can’t we stay on top of the grade?

Route 1: West Trails via West Central neighborhood and a lot of extra climbing.

Route 2, while a mile shorter, carries with it a more hostile traffic setting, taking Sunset Boulevard (not bad) to US-2 (not good, although I’ve ridden it before—the highway is the main route to a correctional facility, a casino, and Fairchild Air Force Base, making it busy and full of people who may or may not want to be making that particular trip). The one thing this route does get almost right is the section from downtown west to the decision point where you have to head toward West Trails or stay on Sunset Boulevard.

Route 3, Government Way and West Trails, again has part of it right. But someone needs to ask Google Maps programmers, “Pretty please could you take terrain into account, by which we mean grade?” This route, too, drops you down into the river gorge, this time via Peaceful Valley, then brings you back up out.

Getting closer, but still some unnecessary concessions to gravity.

The key to my route selection, since I’m not training for the Tour de France, sounds a lot like advice in drawing up battle lines: Hold the high ground for as long as possible.

As soon as you start enjoying one of those exhilarating “Wheeee!” moments down a long hill the back of your brain should remind you that riding a bike is like riding a roller coaster: A down is generally followed by an up that will be a lot slower and not nearly as fun.

So the route I chose is the Barb route, based on feeling comfortable enough to skip the Centennial Trail and stick to streets that are straighter, knowing neighborhoods to cut through to skip some of the streets with more traffic, and eliminating as much climbing as possible for as long as possible.

  • Spokane Falls Boulevard around to where it connects to the short stretch of bike lane on Riverside Avenue, then into Browne’s Addition onto Pacific.
  • Through the roundabout at Cannon by The Elk (a bike-friendly restaurant!) and down to Sunset Boulevard.
  • To Government Way and out past the turn to Spokane Falls Community College. Not long after that stoplight, Government Way becomes West Trails and you start to cliiiiiiiiiiimb.
  • West Trails becomes Hayford Road, you take a quick right on Sprague, and you’re practically there. Or if you’re me, you go past “there” and end up visiting the vicinity of the correctional facility before backtracking and wending in through the construction to the raceway exactly an hour after I set off.

Where—ta-da!—I arrived in time to give Sweet Hubs a good-luck kiss before sending him off with the rest of the B-pack for their criterium (several fast laps around a relatively short, flat track). He won with a nice sprint at the end, which is a great payoff for all those winter nights he spent on the trainer in front of a movie.

We then rode home together through the gathering darkness, shivering a bit (wish I’d had those knickers to cover my knees!) until the ride warmed us.

The downhill “Wheee!” was incredibly fast considering how long it took me to climb going the other way. I couldn’t believe it when we’d already reached the traffic light by SFCC and I knew we had just a few more miles and a bit more climbing, thankfully separated by some straight stretches and downhill rests, and we’d be home.

We heard frogs singing their hearts out, felt the difference in temperature as we entered the urban core and felt the day’s warmth radiating out, and made it home safe and sound with 27-1/2 miles on my cyclometer and 1,392 calories burned according to my heart monitor dealio.

And today, I felt every single mile in my legs when I climbed, whether it was climbing a hill on my bike or a set of stairs at work to help rack up the mileage on my pedometer. It will be a couple of days before I try anything like that long a ride again, but it felt great to be able to do it.

I want to build back up to the mileage I used to accumulate that made it easy to plan a 30-40-mile ride with Sweet Hubs and I have to start somewhere.

Just, maybe . . . somewhere flatter?

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Climbed any really long hills/mountains? (Lately or ever?)
  • What’s the hardest part of it for you and how do you deal with that?
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September 13, 2011

Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist

Years ago a friend of mine taught me about wormholes: those semi-secret byways that locals know that cut miles out of a route or let you skip traffic lights or pesky left turns on busy streets.

Seems to me a wormhole for cyclists does all those things, keeps you out of the heaviest traffic (I’m experienced at riding in traffic but you never get to relax and we all know some streets are more hostile than others), and also does what it can to make climbs easier, which is no small feat in a city with Spokane’s topography.

A while back I needed to climb from downtown to a location around 9th and Cedar, then head east across the hill from there. This route serves as a good example of different ways of thinking about how to get from Point A to Point B to expand on the thoughts in There and Back Again Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2, and More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3.

I used to live on Cedar, so I know that coming from downtown if you can take that steep climb up old brick pavers on Jefferson from a dead stop at 4th Ave. under the freeway, turn right/west and climb another block, then turn left at Adams and climb a bit more, you’re on the shallowest hill climb on that end of the South Hill and it gets easier. (The bike lane up Maple to Cedar would be okay if I were coming from the west, although it’s not in great shape, the overall climb is steeper, and the traffic is a lot heavier.)

On Adams you’re still climbing, mind you, but you don’t have to look at a vertical hill right in front of your face the way you would on Lincoln, say, or Bernard if you were farther east—those streets that make a heart monitor shoot off the charts (or a cyclist get off the bike and walk up the sidewalk, pushing the bike. No false pride for me!).

Choosing your hill—that’s cycling in Spokane.

Going east from 9th and Cedar the first time, though, I rode like a driver. I went uphill to 14th, which is a minor arterial and thus carries the through traffic for which side streets have to stop, and headed east. After hitting the light at Lincoln, I got to do another one of those steep climbs from a dead stop to continue east on 14th to Grand, where I turned south up the hill by Manito Park.

Thinking like a driver: Use major or minor arterials for fastest movement, don't worry about having to stop because you don't have to do the work yourself to get started again, and don't think for a second about the steepness of the climbs.

I climbed some more up Grand to 18th, then cut east. This put me cheek by jowl with a pretty steady flow of traffic (some of it speeding) on Grand. It wasn’t particularly pleasant and those steep climbs meant hard work. If you look at the map, though, you see a nice set of straight lines–very driver-like in that it ignores topography and traffic.

The second time, I rode like a cyclist. I remembered that Adams is—wait for it—the shallowest hill climb on that end of the South Hill. So I used that knowledge.

I rode up Adams to 18th, then headed east. While it climbed pretty steadily the whole way, it was gentle and the streets were quiet. You have to make a jig-jog at Lincoln south half a block to continue east around the edge of Cannon Hill Park. Then you can cut through Manito Park and admire the duck pond and the brilliance of the Olmsted Brothers, who designed Spokane’s park system and the boulevards around them.

If I were in a car, I couldn’t use 18th all the way—I’d have to turn left at the park to 17th and then double back—but on a bike I had the advantage and the prettier route. I’m aware that uncontrolled intersections add a variable I wouldn’t have on those main through streets with the stop signs and I stayed alert but it was still a lot more enjoyable. Incidentally, something pretty close to this is the route Google Maps shows if you choose the Bicycling option. (Strangely, though, they send pedestrians over to Monroe and route them along the busiest streets.)

Thinking like a bicyclist: Avoid streets where really heavy traffic makes it unpleasant, take a route through a park, find a way that means you won't have to stop at the bottom of a steep climb and lose all your momentum, and choose the shallowest climbs possible.

Another great thing about Spokane’s topography awaited me at the corner of 18th and Upper Terrace. From there to get to my destination I had two choices: left and downhill to Rockwood, and then a climb back up, or right and downhill to Rockwood and downhill to my destination. (These are choices I’m intimately familiar with, as Rockwood Bakery is on 18th just east of Grand and I take these routes regularly….) How cool is it that I had two very different options for the same destination with two different levels of effort so I could choose based on my energy level?

Think like a cyclist when you ride your bike, not like a driver, and you’ll find that choosing good routes becomes second nature.

Got any wormholes to share?

——————-

Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • Do you think like a driver when you ride a bike, or do you find you think differently about route selection?
  • How about your behavior toward others on the road–has bike commuting changed that?
September 12, 2011

More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3

Choosing your preferred bike route involves thinking about what streets can get you there and back again, doing some exploring, and avoiding climbing as much as possible (assuming you want to avoid sweating since you’re on your way to work). Some more tips for route selection:

Avoiding

When you’re new to riding I recommend you avoid “weird” intersections: ones with unusual configurations of streets, yield signs, stop signs, and turns that create uncertainty for everyone.

You’re going to feel a bit unsure anyway and if you’re trying to rush through a spot that requires some acceleration to beat drivers coming around a blind corner, for example, you’re stressing yourself out unnecessarily.

Some intersections work if you’re going one way but don’t work if you’re going the other way. You don’t have to take the same route coming and going! In fact, in some cases you can’t.

Google map showing the route south on Stevens, east on 9th, in Spokane, WA.

Trust me: You really don't want to take this route.

A good (bad) example of this on Spokane’s South Hill is the bit on the south side of Sacred Heart Medical Center where Grand, 9th as the “dismount” from Stevens uphill, and Rockwood Boulevard all moosh together with that funky island/stop sign in the middle where you have to wait and hope that drivers northbound on Grand coming around the corner can see you through the street trees if you’re heading eastbound toward Rockwood Boulevard. (Plus if you’re going that way you probably just climbed Stevens or Grand, and why would you do that if you didn’t absolutely have to?)

I come through that intersection pretty often because it’s on an otherwise great route to downtown (love shooting down Washington; the lights are just right so if the drivers don’t get in my way I can make it all the way to the river without stopping).

Same intersection but westbound is a regular part of my route to downtown. I do have to look carefully up the hill to see cars coming down Grand; young street trees block the line of sight but I expect them to outgrow that problem. Then I have two lanes so I'm not crowded by drivers, a traffic signal to protect my left turn onto 8th, and the most glorious swoop down the hill on Washington.

But I’m coming through in the less complicated direction–westbound, where I have a simple righthand turn after a stop. (Street trees still create a line of sight issue, though, for drivers and cyclists alike.)

You may also want to avoid tangling with traffic at intersections that–let’s face it–scare you. There is no shame in walking your bike.

At any corner that concerns you–let’s say you need to turn left and the oncoming traffic looks really heavy–just plan ahead, stay in the right lane, get off at the corner, and use the crosswalk as a pedestrian (which is what a driver is expecting so you’re safer than if you come zipping through the crosswalk on your bike).

Once you’re across the street, check for traffic and get back into the lane. Note that at this point you are essentially a parked vehicle re-entering traffic, so signal, check your blind spot, and enter traffic when it’s safe, just as you would if you had pulled over to the side of the street in your car.

Evaluating

Other things I look at in my routes to and from various destinations:

  • Street surface quality. When you are your own shock absorber this matters. Hence my fondness for Pedal Panties.
  • Lane width and number of lanes. While wide lanes encourage drivers to speed up, they also provide more room for you to use a piece of the lane with space for the driver to pass you comfortably. A street with multiple lanes in your direction offers a similar ability for drivers to move around you without crowding you. This is why arterials actually can make a lot of sense as a route, once you’re comfortable with the traffic.
  • Traffic volume. This is the counterweight to the extra lanes and lane width. But volume varies a great deal by time of day. If you can adjust your schedule to avoid the peaks around 8 a.m. and around 5 p.m., you can ride without feeling crowded on many of Spokane’s arterials, including major ones like 2nd Avenue.
  • Visual clutter. The more that’s going on in the driver’s field of vision, the more you compete for his/her attention. Signs, overgrown shrubbery, walls built right up to a corner so you can’t see around it without getting clear into the intersection: all of these mean you need to pay extra attention. I don’t care how deceptively quiet a side street is–if it has too many blind corners I will choose a four-lane arterial every time. I’m more visible and thus I am safer.
  • Bike lanes. You probably expected this to be #1. A bike lane got me started commuting (a story for another post) so I do believe they matter, and I will choose a bike lane route over a non-lane route. But people on bikes are like people driving cars: We tend to choose an efficient route that serves our needs. You need to know how to do this with or without bike lanes, since so many more of the streets around here fall into the “without” category.
  • Aesthetics. I would rather bike on a pretty street than an ugly one. Wouldn’t you? I’m right down in the middle of whatever the street has to offer. I know that on the west side of the I-90 overpass on Sherman the sweetest honeysuckle in Spokane blooms every spring. I see interesting architecture and stores I’d never noticed before because I’m going slowly enough to really see my city. I love it.
  • Personal safety. This isn’t about drivers–it’s about the same kinds of issues I would consider as a woman walking alone after dark. On my bike I’m much more mobile but I’m not stupid.

See how easy it is?

“She’s crazy,” you’re thinking right about now.

I’ll just reiterate what I said in yesterday’s post on this topic: Route selection was the #1 response to  a question I asked on the Bike Style Facebook page: “What did you used to think was really hard about bike commuting and now don’t have to think about at all? (or not very much)”.

This really does become second nature. You’ll find it starts to affect your driving, too, in a good way. I’ll explain later.

———————-

Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • Experienced commuters, what makes your preferred route work for you?
  • How many did you try out before settling on this one?
  • Do you plan to vote for the next street bond to fix more surfaces? ㋡
September 11, 2011

Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2

Things I do in picking a bike route: Explore. Climb (as little as possible). Avoid. Evaluate. Today I’m covering exploration and (not) climbing. Tomorrow we’ll avoid and evaluate.

The route you take as a driver may be just right for you on your bike, or it could really, really suck.

If you’re getting on the freeway and getting off two exits later you know you’ll have to find a different route.

It may not seem quite as obvious if you’re using all city streets but you may want to use another way if those streets feel too fast or hostile. On streets with lower speeds the differential between your pedaling and someone else’s foot on the accelerator won’t be as great.

In There and Back Again I suggested some tools for taking a first cut at route selection.

But don’t let Google Maps (or that voice on your phone’s navigation system) override two key assets you bring to the hunt: common sense and a willingness to experiment a bit.

Exploring

One of the magical things that won’t be as apparent until you actually ride your bike: You’ll have more flexibility in route selection than drivers. This stems from the same skills that make humans smarter than Google Maps for at least a little while longer.

You can always switch to pedestrian and walk your bike on a sidewalk, for example, which in Spokane can cut off anywhere from three to six or eight blocks that you might have to drive because of one-way streets.

You may be able to cut (carefully!) through a parking lot or alley, ride through a park, or use a trail.

Spokane has a few pedestrian overpasses that can let you get up and over I-90 at points between off-ramps—something not available to drivers.

I found that I’m also more willing to experiment on my bike. OK, raise your hand: How many of you engage autopilot when you get behind the wheel and drive to work the exact same way every single day? Yep, that’s what I thought.

On my bike not only do I see more of the city because I’m closer to it, which leads to serendipitous discoveries–I’m much quicker to turn onto a side street a block sooner or later than my usual route just to check it out.

Climbing (as little as possible)

One of the other things that will become more apparent on your bike: where the slight inclines are that you don’t notice in your car because it’s doing all the work. If you’re trying not to sweat, you’re trying not to climb any harder than you have to.

Your most direct route may also be the steepest route, so look for ways that you can knock off a bit of the climb by tacking back and forth, or perhaps by riding a few blocks out of your way to get to a street that isn’t as steep.

For example, on the west end of the South Hill, Adams offers the shallowest vertical climb—wish I’d known that when I started my bike commuting years ago during a July with temperatures over 100 degrees and a route that included climbing Maple.

If you use MapMyRide.com as I suggested in my post on route selection, remember to take a look at the topographic profile. Downtown Spokane sits in a bowl so you can’t completely avoid climbs if you need to go north or south, but you can trick yourself into not noticing the climb quite as much if you don’t stare it straight in the vertical. And you can genuinely skip some climbs by going around certain spots.

Breathe. Have fun.

—————-

Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • Is this what you need to know to help with route selection? What am I missing? (If it’s “dealing with those scary cars” that’s coming. Remember, it’s not the cars–it’s the drivers. And they’re human beings. Just like you.)
September 10, 2011

There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route

Google Map

Map 1: Google's suggestion for a route using SE Boulevard to get to the Riverpoint Campus, with bike directions requested. They would put you on Division from 4th Ave. all the way to campus, and currently Riverside Avenue (the future Martin Luther King, Jr. Way), which they tell you to use, is under construction. This route puts a rider into heavy traffic unnecessarily soon and isn't possible right now as mapped. I wouldn't send a beginning commuter through the intersection of 3rd and Division with its ugly merge involving vehicles exiting the freeway, although I can ride through this quite confidently.

One of the most common questions from potential bike commuters reflects nervousness over picking a safe route: How do I figure out where to ride?

Take some reassurance from the results of a question I asked on the Bike Style Facebook page: “What did you used to think was really hard about bike commuting and now don’t have to think about at all? (or not very much)”.

The #1 response: Route selection.

This post provides a few suggestions and tools for you to go with the rest of the starter info in our 30 Days to Bike Commuting series. I have even more questions you can ask yourself about a potential route–watch for those in an upcoming post.

IRL vs. Technology: I have good reason for starting this list with steps that involve trying things in real life and talking to real people–these just work better.

Google Maps can’t show you that a particular route is full of drivers who routinely speed and roll their right turns on a red light. Nor can it give you specific landmarks and instructions that take into account the idiosyncrasies of a particular intersection or a workaround to deal with street construction issues. MapMyRide routes come from real people and can be great, but they may not yet have the route you need. So here’s what you do:

Google map

Map 2: The route I developed as my first alternative to Google's idea of a good bike route. Sprague Ave. has two lanes each direction so I generally have a lane all to myself. The road surface on Sprague leaves something to be desired, and the construction at the corner of Sprague and Division creates a messy right turn where I feel a tad pinched, so I'm not crazy about this one.

Scout the route. Consider a practice ride on the weekend so you can work out the kinks or alter your route if need be. This will also help you determine how much time you need for the ride.

Scout on your bike, not in your car—perceptions are very different! Recognize that side streets are quieter but those uncontrolled intersections present their own issues. However, if you usually drive on major arterials that feel too busy on your bike, try shifting just a block or two.

Scout alternatives: Try using one route to the destination and a different route coming home. With Spokane’s hills that will often be the preferred route anyway: Take advantage of the steep drop on the way down (wheeee!) but avoid it on the way back up if you can. And if you face any one-way streets you’ll definitely be working out two routes.

Alternatives will vary in attractiveness by time of day, among other factors. A street that’s just fine mid-afternoon may feel too busy at 5 p.m. You can vary the route or vary the time you ride through.

Ask an expert. Get in touch with Eileen Hyatt, SpokaneBikeBuddy@aol.com. She provides personalized suggestions for the best route based on years of experience riding Spokane’s streets. She’ll even
meet up with you to check out possible alternatives and make sure you know the rules of the road.

Google map.

Map 3: I've been experimenting with using quieter side streets to reach Division south of the railroad underpass and its intersection with Sprague, which gives me a straight shot through past the construction zone. These streets are nice and quiet but several have blind corners due to the terrain or walls around properties and there's a moving company in the mix to add to the interest.

Ask people you work with. If you work for an organization that participates in Commute Trip Reduction then you have an Employee Trip Coordinator who can help you find bike commuters among your colleagues. If you don’t have an ETC you can ask around.

In reality, you already know who the bike commuter is: It’s that person who shows up with the annoyingly chipper attitude and rosy cheeks every day.

Odds are there’s someone at work whose route matches yours (at least for the last few hundred yards and possibly for much farther). You’ll learn where your fellow bike commuters park their bikes, whether there are showers in your building if that’s important for you, and other insider tips.

Ask a friend. Maybe you’re not planning to try riding to work just yet. You’re venturing forth on a Saturday outing to a coffee shop or one of our fantastic Bikespedition shopping destinations.

That’s great! You and your friend(s) can choose a place to meet up and ride together for moral support.

Attend events with people: Any time you have the
chance to attend an event where you can talk with
people who ride bikes
, do it. You’ll find commuters who
will share routes, secret shortcuts, and tips.
We’re a pretty friendly bunch.

Google map.

Map 4: The winner! The brand-new surface on 2nd Ave. (thank you, Spokane voters, for passing that street bond) is like riding on glass. For a major arterial it's practically empty of traffic when I come through and I generally have a lane to myself. The lanes are very wide (Dear Traffic Engineer: Plenty of room for a bike lane). The benefit of a one-way is that I have fewer vehicle interactions--no oncoming traffic turning left. I turn right onto Division and get set up nicely for the run through the construction zone. To top it off, I generally get to have the traffic lights with me all the way. Note that since 2nd Ave. is a one-way this is a route to work--not a route from work.

Try these techno-tools for bike route selection.

Just ask GoogleGoogle Maps

  • Type in an address.
  • Zoom in on the maps and select the “More” tab.
  • Check the Bicycling box to see the safest bike routes marked in green on the map. These appear to be bike lanes or signed shared lanes as I look at what pops up for Spokane.
  • Try “Streets View” to see actual conditions.
  • Click “Directions” and add your destination. (You’ll need to choose Bicycling again—default is set to By Car. How odd.).

Google Maps isn’t a perfect tool by any means. The first map in the series here shows you what it suggested, which includes routing me through an intersection I wouldn’t recommend to a beginner; I don’t even like coming through it as a driver. That’s why you still need to scout on the ground.

Warning: Google Maps also may not tell you a street is one-way. Always, always ride your bike with the flow of vehicular traffic, NOT counter-flow the way a pedestrian walks. If you get off and walk the bike then you’re a pedestrian and you should walk counter-flow.

More maps: Spokane’s master bike plan shows current and future designated routes. The Bike/Pedestrian Resources page on the Spokane Regional Transportation Council site links to various area maps.

Map 5: A creative alternative with a scenic twist--longer but quieter and prettier. Use Sprague west to Bernard, which is very lightly traveled. Head north to the Convention Center complex and cut through the breezeway to get to the Centennial Trail, then backtrack along the river. A gorgeous ride, far less traffic, and the only encounter with Division is coming through it westbound on Sprague with the traffic light.

Localized info from real people I: John Speare, a former member of the Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board, collected real bike commuter routes via GPS by riding with people who volunteered and mapped them. This shows you routes already in use by area bike commuters who have had more time to figure things out. Zoom in all the way and you will see street-level detail.

Localized info from real people II: MapMyRide.com lets you create a user profile and map routes. Once you’re a member (quick creation of a log-in) you can search for routes in Spokane.

These often include notes about the route that can be very useful (traffic volume, what the street or road is like, resources along the way, landmarks/cues for turns) and tags indicating type of road and surface.

You’ll also get a topographical profile so you can see what kind of hill climb lies ahead. If you have any reason to climb the west end of the South Hill you need to know that Adams provides the shallowest climb. (These are the types of insider tips you get by talking with people.)

Some are recreational rides or race routes, others are commuter routes. Some even have video. (Helmet cam, anyone?)

(Security note: You may not want to label a route with “home” in the name—you’re telling people where you live and marking it on a map. Start from a nearby intersection.)

This post addresses only the first cut at identifying routes. Upcoming posts will talk about the characteristics of different streets and some other elements of route selection.

P.S. Yes, that’s a J.R.R. Tolkien salute in the title.

——————–

Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • Have you assessed the conditions along a potential route for your ride if you’re new to this? Can we help with some sticky spots by suggesting alternatives?
  • If you’re an experienced commuter, what do you like best about your route? Which parts do you dislike?
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