Friday, September 27, 2013

Sidewalks, Great Commuting Link, Bikey Dates

Can I get a hallelujah for cooler fall weather? 
With lows in the 50s and 60s and highs barely above the 80-degree mark, being outside is a good thing again.

Since my last post, I rode my bike as transportation three times, and three days in a row! I rode to a retreat 2 miles from my home on Saturday, to church two miles from my home on Sunday, and to work 6(+) miles from my home on Monday. It's been a long time since I've ridden that much and 21 miles in 3 back-to-back days did me in. I will try to ride twice to work next week, and go from there - maybe add once per week and see if I have a week where I can ride all five days?

The bike is set up perfectly for commuting, now, in terms of accessories: I love all my baskets, and having ready access to my phone (photos while stopped; safety) is fabulous. I also continue to love my easy-to-charge-mount-remove Serfas lights. Where I'm struggling this week is with the hills to and from work. I am trying to decide whether to replace the rear wheel/hub and shifter (currently a 3-speed Shimano Nexus) with an 8-speed Shimano Alfine. I wonder if that would help much on the hills... I struggle on a few. I may also require (at least temporarily), a slightly different route in order to reduce some of the hills. In particular, a route I favor for familiarity and safety and reduced traffic may not be my best bet. It may be better to take the road just a smidgen West of it, which I have been reluctant to do because: (1) it also functions as a highway on/off ramp in both directions in addition to being an overpass, and (2) it requires additional time on a very busy, if only somewhat bike-friendly arterial road (which makes it friendlier by a mile when compared with most other arterial roads in the area). My current route places me on this large road for .3 miles; the changed route would place me on the road for .6 (1/2 kilometer vs. full kilometer).

On this arterial road, I find my ride east in the morning to be okay to share with cars. I think this is because the sun is blocked by tall buildings, and because there's not really a standard "start" time to cause a total glut of cars - people are working their way in to their offices any time between 7:00-9:00am. My ride home is a different story. People flee the area between 5:00-5:30 en masse, and after a day of work, they are anxious to get home and annoyed with traffic. Their mood is not improved by a struggling bicyclist huffing up an incline at 5MPH. I feel crowded, like I'm at risk, and it's upsetting enough to make me want to ditch th commute...all for this .3 miles of my 6+! That's, what, 5% of my ride? Crazytown. So, Monday, I opted to take the sidewalk on my westbound .3 miles on this road. There are occasionally pedestrians, but there were none that day. The sidewalk is hardly ideal. It is narrow, bumpy, and quite close to the road, but the decision was made for me when I saw that the position of the setting sun would operate to blind both me and the cars behind me. (Ah, that time in the fall when the sun is right in your eyes at 6pm. Duly noted; no staying at the office past 5pm when you're biking home, Rebecca.) Added to my stress about this stretch was the realization, at about 5:30pm, that I had left my pouch with my bike lights at HOME. So I couldn't even be blinky to help my visibility, and I was stressed bout getting home in time for the 7:00pm sunset. I ultimately decided that the decreased visibility (I got home before dark; no worries from that angle), the aggressive rush-hour drivers, and the narrow and busy arterial street posed a greater risk (one which I had minimal control over) when compared with the sidewalk for the following reasons:

1. Limited risk of pedestrians. In half a dozen rides so far, I think I've seen pedestrians twice. If I see a pedestrian approaching from the opposite direction, I can hop off the bike to let them pass comfortably. This is entirely within my control.

2. Exclusive sidewalk-riding on this particular road. One of the most dangerous things a bicyclist can do is alternate between sidewalks and the road. Weaving in and out makes you unpredictable, and cars are not looking to interact with or avoid bicyclists on the sidewalk and aren't prepared for you to enter the stream of traffic. On this part of my route, I was able to turn directly onto the sidewalk from a quiet side-street, and stay on the sidewalk until I could cross the route with a crosswalk, then resume road-riding on a less-crazy and wider street (=friendlier for bikes).

3. Very quiet side streets and minimal driveways.  On the .3 mile route, there are only two side streets which intersect the sidewalk, and only a couple of business driveways. Again, this is something I can control for by being especially observant of traffic patterns around me. I ride slowly on the sidewalk (~4-5MPH) and looked around extensively prior to entering any driveway or street.

I am generally an advocate of "bikes belong in the street / pedestrians belong on sidewalks", but I also think that you have to make a call based upon how aggressive your vehicular companions are and how visible and easy to avoid you can be (in this stretch, and with the particular angle of the sunlight? NOT EASY).

If I decide to continue west past my normal street to the next option to the west, I will lose the sidewalk option, but gain a wider shoulder. The road, in general, gets a smidgen wider and quieter at this point, so I think this could be okay. And when I reach the road on which I'd need to turn off, I can, as with the current route, take advantage of the crosswalk and light to safely transverse the five lanes of traffic.

The advantages to the alternate route? It's flatter. Also: shorter! By half a mile. How do I know?

There is a great link I discovered (in desperation, due to some of the hills I encounter) called Flattest Route. You put in your start and end point and it tells you, in color code, and section-by-section, the % grade of every incline you encounter. It defaults to the flattest route (which, in my case, would require heavy reliance on two arterial roads that feel more like courting suicide than reasonable options), but like on most mapping software, you can grab parts of the route to move it, and see how that affects distance and the grading of the slopes you'll encounter.

Mapping my current route and a proposed alternative, I am able to determine:

  • The current route is 6.5 miles and is estimated to take 43 minutes (this assumes I can cover a mile in 6 minutes and 40 seconds; it takes me more like 8 minutes and 10 seconds per mile or closer to 53 minutes to complete the route).
  • The proposed route is 6.0 miles and is estimated to take 40 minute (extrapolating from my real-life experience with the 6.5-mile route, this would shave about 4 minutes of my route, getting me to work in 49 minutes instead of my normal 53).
  • The current route has a maximum slope on the way to work of  15-20% ("Very Difficult") twice. There are two places where the incline is over 10%. On the way home
  • The proposed route never exceeds 15% slope and exceeds 10% just four times in each direction.  
  • My lowest altitude is 465' above sea level; my highest altitude is 603'. In both routes, I start high, work my way to the lowest point about 1/3 of the way through (toward work) or 2/3 of the way through (toward home) and end high. 
I may try out the route this weekend; if it feels good, I will try it for my work commute next week. Through this site, I can find even flatter routes, but certain bike-commuting obstacles, like highways, business complexes, or an inability to avoid arterial roads, require me to increase those routes to closer to nine miles.  

Let me just say that I totally understand why people consider bikeability when they scope a new residence, now. If (when) we decide to move someday, I will definitely require the route to be at least as, and preferably more, bikeable than my current route.

Upcoming bicycle events:

Next Arch Women brown-bag lunch: Wednesday, 10/16/13 from 12-1PM
Where: Railway Exchange Building, 611 Olive Street, 12th Floor Lobby
Topic: Knowledge Is Power! (Missouri Bicycle Laws)

Special bike events:

25th Trailnet Anniversary Ped-A-Palooza
Friday, October 11, 2013, 630-11PM
Randall Gallery downtown
Drinks, dinner, dancing, raffle, prizes!
Registration by 10/4, cost: $150pp

25th Trailnet Anniversary Family Fest
Sunday, October 13, 2013, 11AM-4PM
Culver Pavillion at Forest Park
Free entry; food and drink available for purchase
Registration encouraged, demonstrations, helmet fittings, cake, raffles

More information about either special event here.
More information about weekly rides and events here.

Happy fall! and happy riding!

Photo Source. Image Credit: Bryter Later / Flickr.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of links to other posts about sidewalk-cycling, how to, and the circumstances under which it may be the safe option:

    Let's Go Ride a Bike / Dottie / Chicago

    Chicago Bike Blog / Justyna / Chicago

    NOTE that Chicago is widely considered to be a bike-FRIENDLY city!


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