Sep 122011

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:


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.


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 . 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 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
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