All Bike Commutes Are Not Created Equal

20140416-185155.jpgNearly 4 years ago, I started bike commuting to work and loved (nearly) every second of it.  Recently, though, I’ve definitely taken note of how spoiled I have been with the quality of my bike commute route.  As so often comes to mind when I run into situations like this, I channel Joni Mitchell singing Big Yellow Taxi (one of my favorite old songs)…

“Don’t it always seem to go

that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.  

Paved paradise

and put up a parking lot.”

In this case, though, a paved chunk of my paradise is gone.  =(

After years of delays, there’s some major construction going on along my normal bike path.  In some parts, the off road path/sidewalk is being widened to 10 ft, and in others the road is shut down completely while a couple of small bridges are being completely removed and replaced.

Long term, this is pretty great.  The area that is getting new bridges and wider bike paths was the part of my commute that had the smallest shoulders and the roughest “sidewalks/paths”.  This improvement is going to increase the ease with which one can eventually get to even more fun biking routes.  But short term, it has kindof sucked.

With the bridges out, I’ve had to make some pretty big changes to my route, and to be honest, I’m still kindof tinkering a little.  And while all bike routes may be equal in the sense that they get you from point A to point B, some bike routes are more equal than others.  Those routes just aren’t always available.  =/

Here’s what some of the various routes look like between home and work:

  • The Ideal – On the way to work, I take a cut through the gated community behind our neighborhood and exit out onto a back road with little traffic and that has either off road bike paths or wide shoulders for its entire length and offers scenic views at different points of back bays and canals.  When this road ends, I wind through a lovely golf course community, again with low traffic, and end up at work.  The way there is 8.7 miles.  
  • The Almost Ideal – My ideal return trip from work is closer to “almost ideal” than ideal.  It’s slightly longer (9.5 miles) since my morning cut through the gated community is only one way.  Not having that cut through also means on the return trip I ride the sidewalk on a large-ish road for exactly 1 block.  While my brief sojurn on the sidewalk isn’t my favorite part of the trip, the happy hour revelers I ride past are friendly and it’s really not bad.  
  • The Most Direct (by car) – The most direct route by car is 9.0 miles along a main road that has posted speed limits as high as 55mph for much of the route.  In the morning, I can bike on sidewalks that fall along much of this route that follow the direction of traffic, but the sidewalks end about 2.5 miles from work and if I take the rest of this route I’m in a bike lane where cars are traveling at 55mph+.  Traffic isn’t bad in the morning, but this still isn’t my idea of fun.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends* – I can cut into the golf course neighborhood and weave through it a bit to avoid that stretch of 55mph road.  This isn’t too bad, but this path through the golf course neighborhood is along the route of a pack of cyclists that I have to watch out for since their pack behavior isn’t safe around other non-pack cyclists.  It also adds a little bit of distance to the ride, clocking it in at 9.2 miles.  
  • The Previous Route In Reverse – This route is actually really terrible and made worse by the time of day which has the heaviest traffic.  Because there are only sidewalks on one side of the road for parts of this route, if I travel this route, it’s a choice between salmon-ing on the sidewalk with cars constantly trying to pull in and out of commercial plazas or riding in the bike lane with cars going 55mph + at a time of day and having to make at least two left hand turns across this traffic when the aggressive drivers are out in full force.  I’ve never attempted the latter, and the former is truly stress inducing.  When trying to go that way I ended up buying an 850 lumen light that I set on the flasher settings to force more drivers to see me in their peripheral vision when they had partially pulled out into intersections and were blocking them waiting for their own break in traffic.  This does actually help, somewhat.  
  • But I Can Add A Quick Jog – For the worst section of salmon-ing on the sidewalk along the previous route, I can add a bit of a jog to the ride which removes *most* of it from my ride.  This adds a little distance (total now 9.6 miles), and about 6 stop signs, so it’s not always quicker, but it decreases the stress level of vehicle interactions pretty significantly.  
  • Official Car Detour – The last big change I can make to my route is the official car detour to avoid the bridges that are out.  This keeps most of my route the same as before, but has a 1 mile shift from my lovely back road to the main road for a 2 mile section.  The 2 mile section to be on the main road isn’t that bad of a section, but this route does add 2 miles (1 mile each way for the route shift) to my commute, clocking in at 11.5 miles as a return trip.  (It’s 10.7 the way there with my cut through.)  

After exploring all these various routes over the past few months, I’ve found myself trying to optimize against minutes of daylight available for my ride (pretty much a non-issue now that daylight saving time is back**), current traffic expectations, and getting to/from work in a timely manner.  Where once my commute was in the 35-40 minute range, I’m now solidly in the 45-55 minute range depending which route and how much the prevailing winds are working against me.  Long story short, managing my bike commute got a bit more difficult.  

Sadly, despite currently having two cars (Mr PoP’s big news ICYMI) at the moment, driving this commute still stinks and combined with me being still unable to run (foot still in recovery  so biking is really the only cardio exercise I’m getting) I want to fit in as much biking as possible.  So I still really want to be out there biking as many days as I can, it’s just a noticeably less pleasant process than it was before the bridges got removed.  =/  

The additional daylight that just arrived is enough that I’ll probably be doing the official car detour most of the time, especially in the evening since it’s the most peaceful route home.  But I’m definitely crossing my fingers that the construction finishes on schedule and keeping in mind that I was very spoiled before by how awesome my bike commute was without our having intentionally planned*** our lives around it.  

* An excellent book!

** This is the first time I have ever been grateful for daylight saving time.  

*** When I started this job, both my office and home were in different locations and bikeability wasn’t a consideration.  If we had to pick a new house or get a new job at this point, bikeability would definitely be at the top of the list of things I would consider!  =)

What are the roads and bike routes like where you are?  Are you lucky, unlucky?  Or did you plan ahead and plan your life around an ability to get around without a car?  

5 comments to All Bike Commutes Are Not Created Equal

  • I’d love to bike to work as it’s only about a 2.5 mile ride each way. Unfortunately we have a major freeway that stands between. One route would have me crossing two sets of on and off ramps, which are not friendly at all to people crossing. The other way would allow me to avoid these, but the overpass I’d have to use instead is very narrow, very steep and very busy. Whenever I see someone else crossing over I’m always very scared for them, so I couldn’t imagine doing it and not being terrified. Having that type of terror twice a day is just not something I’m in for. At some point they may widen the road, and the rebuilt bridge would have a bike lane. Until then, I’m probably going to just keep driving.
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  • I lucked into being able to bike to work when we moved, less than four miles. Then both my wife and I got new jobs. She can walk to work. I usually take the bus, but in the summer, I drive halfway, and bike the remaining five miles on a separated bike path. The separated bike path is a joy in the summer. I can’t go back to roads.
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  • I used to walk to work before I had a kid to take to daycare. I still dream about perhaps biking her there, but the timing in the morning is tight unless I want to wake her up significantly earlier.

    I do try to bike/walk her around town during the summer when our timing is not tight. We love biking or taking the stroller to swim lessons, the library, etc.
    Leah recently posted..A little sparkleMy Profile

  • That sucks about your foot. I sold my car 4 years ago when I left the corporate world. However, I do still like to work part time, but I only take work where I only have to go into the office 2-3 days a week max. I also make sure that if it is not walkable, that it is at least on a bus line, or that I can carpool with my husband or someone else. I despise driving, commuting and the whole car culture. I get so much anxiety and agitation sitting in a car. I don’t understand how the majority of people seem to assimilate to this lifestyle. I’ve moved around a lot and being near buses is a must for me. I will walk up to 10 miles a day easily, but in bad weather, or when I have a schedule to meet, walking doesn’t cut it.
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  • Wherever you’re going, you can’t get there from here: that seems to be an eternal verity. But gosh: 9+ miles is a LONG bike ride to make very day, twice a day. You’re a brave soul.
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