When it comes to bike commuting, there is a lot of really great advice out there about how to stay safe. But there is one simple way to boil that all down, and greatly increase your safety:
Design a bike route that you would never, ever drive.
What does this mean? Let me show you my bike route, to illustrate (click on map at right to enlarge). The gray line represents my former bike route, and also the way I take when I drive my car to work. It follows Park Avenue, a one-way street with an on-road bike lane in south Minneapolis. Portland Ave, a one-way street 2 blocks west of Park, is the route home in that case.
Park and Portland are VERY busy roads. Most suburbanites and all Minneapolis-ites know them as a very quick way to get through the south side when 35W is clogged. These streets have a speed limit of 35 mph, and it’s not uncommon to get passed on your bike, very closely, by cars and trucks going 40-45 mph.
So what’s so great about my new route (in blue on the map)?
By biking on mostly residential streets, I minimize the number of cars that I come into contact with — cars don’t take these streets because it would be ridiculously slow for them. For a large part of my ride, I’m cruising down tree-lined residential streets, saying hello to people, and watching out more for kids running around kicking soccer balls than for cars. I only go through a handful of stoplights (mostly in and near downtown); however, I do have countless stop signs. But because most of the intersections I’m crossing are minor, I can do a “California stop” (car drivers do it too, so don’t even start) and be on my merry way.
It sounds like a much slower way to ride, right? Actually, it takes the exact same amount of time as my former ride (around 20-25 min), but it is different. My overall speed is slower, but I stop less often and for shorter amounts of time.
I devised this route over a period of a couple of weeks last summer, partially out of a desire to ride past Powderhorn Park and see the lake every morning. I ride right down the middle of the road, eliminating any risk of being doored, reducing the risk of hitting a pedestrian crossing the street, and ensuring that any of the slow-moving cars that I meet or that come up behind me definitely see me (I move to the side to let them pass immediately). I ding my bell the entire way through the one or two dangerous intersections.
This summer was the first time that I biked an entire season, morning and night, on the new route. And I had the fewest number of close calls that I’ve ever had. I still had a couple, but overall fewer. And my rides quickly became the most pleasant part of my day. I’ve always loved riding, but now, well, I love it even more.
What do you think, readers? If you ride, do you stick to residential streets, or are you one of those crazy bikers that I see riding down Lyndale or Cedar Avenues? Bike paths? I wish there was a quicker all bike-path way for me to get to work, but my current schedule doesn’t permit the extra half-hour each way that it would take.