Scoping Out Bike Routes While Driving

Female Cyclist On Urban Road

Driving in and around cities has got to be one of the most stressful and frustrating experiences anyone can have. Drivers can’t let their guard down for even one minute for fear that a wayward car will lull them into an accident. After a while, dealing with this situation becomes tedious and fatigue sets in.

Upon purchasing my first car, I expected a life of leisure. I never thought that driving a car could lead to fatigue. After all, aren’t cars supposed to make our lives easier? Aren’t they supposed to provide convenience and comfort?

At times, cars can make our lives easier. In foul weather, we can travel freely without fighting the elements. When we are late, cars give us a way to dash out the door at the last minute and just make an appointment by the hair of our chin. In other words, even if one has a preference for bicycling or walking, cars aren’t all bad.

I tell myself this every time I am stuck in a traffic jam. Or when I’m growing weary of stop and go traffic. I try to ease the pain.

Recently, I began thinking about the routes I take by car. They are often different from the ones I use while on my bike. Traffic and safety are the primary reasons I use different routes for my bike. But, then I wondered if there were other things I should take into consideration. Could there be advantages to using routes less frequently traveled?

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I could use my driving tedium for something more productive. In fact, by observing everything around me, such as lane width, parking locations, speed of traffic, and working crosswalk lights, I could get a pretty good idea of what it would be like to ride my bike in that location.

In fact, after doing this for a while, I could imagine myself riding my bike through the area where I was sitting, stuck in my car. I could sense every move I would need to make. Where I would swerve; where I would position my bike for safety; how I would avoid dangerous spots on the road. It was as if I was riding my bike in an imaginary way while I was motionless.

After amusing myself with this activity for a while, I realized that I could take this whole thing a step further. In fact, I could actually scope out new bicycling routes by analyzing the roads I was on. Driving roads, that is.

Why, I wondered, after so many years of bicycling advocacy for sharing the roads and for installing bicycle infrastructure was I still avoiding roads I have associated with cars for years? Why couldn’t these roads be bike roads? Why couldn’t they be shared roads?

I, a bicycling blogger, of all people, was avoiding “car roads” when riding my bike because I didn’t think a cyclist belonged there. I had just as much right as any motor vehicle to use these roads. They weren’t major highways. Bicycles weren’t prohibited from a legal standpoint. Yet, bicycles were excluded by circumstances.

How much of a risk was it, I wondered, for a single cyclist to buck the trend and start to use those roads? There was a risk of taking drivers by surprise. With few bicycles on those roads, they would not expect to see me. I could get hit just from a driver’s surprise.

One other thought I had was related to the road surface itself. On roads frequently traveled by cyclists, potholes which are hazardous to cyclists garner complaints to the city or town; this might result in getting them fixed. Such potholes tend to lie on the periphery of the road where cars don’t travel. Therefore, we can’t count on drivers to complain.

This might make it harder for a cyclist to safely navigate the road. Even so, I felt that I wanted to be a pioneer, to break into new territory and make these roads accessible to cyclists. Careful planning might allow me to do that.

Since I first recognized this, I have spent many hours scoping out bike routes while driving. I figure that if I have a strategy and I am prepared, I can conquer anything. Sure, I’m taking a risk. But, aren’t we all?

As a friend of mine is constantly saying, a brick might fall on his head at any moment and snuff him out. This is his excuse for living in the moment. And, it is his way of fearlessly facing the future.

I don’t know why he is so obsessed with this falling brick. Perhaps it’s just imagery, his way of visualizing how fragile life is and how our lives can end when we least expect it.

While I wish he would come up with another analogy, I think his way of looking at things is right. We shouldn’t avoid things out of fear of the unknown. We should face them head on because anything can happen. We might be avoiding a “cars only” road out of fear of being struck by a car, only to have a brick fall on our heads while we’re walking down a seemingly safe sidewalk. In other words, the thing we expected to kill us didn’t while the thing we didn’t to expect to kill us did.

Let’s press on without fear and pave the way for other cyclists to ride safely on any road they choose.

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One Response to Scoping Out Bike Routes While Driving

  1. cliff says:

    For the past 45 years I have considered most roads
    to be bicycle roads. However, about 30 years ago I
    met a driver who didn’t agree with me. He was surprised
    when the cops told him that since my bike was a vehicle
    I had as the same right to the road as he did. He was
    even more stunned when he was told that if I pressed
    charges he would be arrested for assault with a deadly
    weapon. (I think that was the term.)

    Around the same time the city was adjusting the loops
    to detect bicycles. I think that was mainly because we
    had bicycle cops. Anyway, it was nice to live in a city
    that was becoming cyclist friendly.

    Then, about ten years ago the bicycle friendly folks
    came to town. The city started adding parking-bike
    combo lanes. The problem is that both the city staff
    and the police considers these to be extra wide parking
    lanes. This means that drivers are not required to
    leave space to their left. If we can’t pass totally
    within the parking lane we have a new set of rules.
    We must come to a FULL stop behind the “vehicle’.
    After passing the parked car we must immediately
    leave the traffic lane and return to the parking lane.
    Depending on the amount of traffic and parked cars
    it is possible that a pedestrian on the adjacent sidewalk
    could make better time.

    When some our minor roads intersect a larger road the
    single lane becomes three; left, straight, or right turn
    lanes. Under most of the right turns only signs are
    smaller “except bicycle” signs. The police consider
    these to mean that cyclists can only use the right
    turn lane. If caught going straight in a straight only
    lane a cyclist could get a ticket.

    I find these “improvement” to be both inconvenient
    and dangerous. It is becoming harder to find a road
    to cycle on. If my city become any more bicycle friendly
    I may be forced to buy a car.

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