Sep 132011

Years ago a friend of mine taught me about wormholes: those semi-secret byways that locals know that cut miles out of a route or let you skip traffic lights or pesky left turns on busy streets.

Seems to me a wormhole for cyclists does all those things, keeps you out of the heaviest traffic (I’m experienced at riding in traffic but you never get to relax and we all know some streets are more hostile than others), and also does what it can to make climbs easier, which is no small feat in a city with Spokane’s topography.

A while back I needed to climb from downtown to a location around 9th and Cedar, then head east across the hill from there. This route serves as a good example of different ways of thinking about how to get from Point A to Point B to expand on the thoughts in There and Back Again Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2, and More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3.

I used to live on Cedar, so I know that coming from downtown if you can take that steep climb up old brick pavers on Jefferson from a dead stop at 4th Ave. under the freeway, turn right/west and climb another block, then turn left at Adams and climb a bit more, you’re on the shallowest hill climb on that end of the South Hill and it gets easier. (The bike lane up Maple to Cedar would be okay if I were coming from the west, although it’s not in great shape, the overall climb is steeper, and the traffic is a lot heavier.)

On Adams you’re still climbing, mind you, but you don’t have to look at a vertical hill right in front of your face the way you would on Lincoln, say, or Bernard if you were farther east—those streets that make a heart monitor shoot off the charts (or a cyclist get off the bike and walk up the sidewalk, pushing the bike. No false pride for me!).

Choosing your hill—that’s cycling in Spokane.

Going east from 9th and Cedar the first time, though, I rode like a driver. I went uphill to 14th, which is a minor arterial and thus carries the through traffic for which side streets have to stop, and headed east. After hitting the light at Lincoln, I got to do another one of those steep climbs from a dead stop to continue east on 14th to Grand, where I turned south up the hill by Manito Park.

Thinking like a driver: Use major or minor arterials for fastest movement, don't worry about having to stop because you don't have to do the work yourself to get started again, and don't think for a second about the steepness of the climbs.

I climbed some more up Grand to 18th, then cut east. This put me cheek by jowl with a pretty steady flow of traffic (some of it speeding) on Grand. It wasn’t particularly pleasant and those steep climbs meant hard work. If you look at the map, though, you see a nice set of straight lines–very driver-like in that it ignores topography and traffic.

The second time, I rode like a cyclist. I remembered that Adams is—wait for it—the shallowest hill climb on that end of the South Hill. So I used that knowledge.

I rode up Adams to 18th, then headed east. While it climbed pretty steadily the whole way, it was gentle and the streets were quiet. You have to make a jig-jog at Lincoln south half a block to continue east around the edge of Cannon Hill Park. Then you can cut through Manito Park and admire the duck pond and the brilliance of the Olmsted Brothers, who designed Spokane’s park system and the boulevards around them.

If I were in a car, I couldn’t use 18th all the way—I’d have to turn left at the park to 17th and then double back—but on a bike I had the advantage and the prettier route. I’m aware that uncontrolled intersections add a variable I wouldn’t have on those main through streets with the stop signs and I stayed alert but it was still a lot more enjoyable. Incidentally, something pretty close to this is the route Google Maps shows if you choose the Bicycling option. (Strangely, though, they send pedestrians over to Monroe and route them along the busiest streets.)

Thinking like a bicyclist: Avoid streets where really heavy traffic makes it unpleasant, take a route through a park, find a way that means you won't have to stop at the bottom of a steep climb and lose all your momentum, and choose the shallowest climbs possible.

Another great thing about Spokane’s topography awaited me at the corner of 18th and Upper Terrace. From there to get to my destination I had two choices: left and downhill to Rockwood, and then a climb back up, or right and downhill to Rockwood and downhill to my destination. (These are choices I’m intimately familiar with, as Rockwood Bakery is on 18th just east of Grand and I take these routes regularly….) How cool is it that I had two very different options for the same destination with two different levels of effort so I could choose based on my energy level?

Think like a cyclist when you ride your bike, not like a driver, and you’ll find that choosing good routes becomes second nature.

Got any wormholes to share?


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

  • Do you think like a driver when you ride a bike, or do you find you think differently about route selection?
  • How about your behavior toward others on the road–has bike commuting changed that?
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Reader Comments

  1. Very cool. I am still learning these things. I’m lucky to have a route that was already vetted by those in the know but I’m learning little nuances about working with traffic, trying different wormholes to get around hills, and even small things like trying to make a left at a major intersection (do I get IN traffic and turn like a car, or cross, wait, cross again to make the turn?). I’m learning a lot too by watching other cyclists in the city (hopefully ones with good habits!) and sometimes following them for safety!

  2. My favorite new wormhole from the northside to downtown is south on Elm street from Boone or Broadway and left on the new Summit Parkway through the Kendall yards project. It’s a nice long stretch of brand new smooth pavement that crosses over Ash and Maple with no waiting. Right now one has to go back up to College for the last few blocks to Monroe, but Summit Parkway should go through to Monroe by late fall. From there it is an easy hop across the Monroe St. bridge and then over to Jefferson to the new bike lanes. I really like that route for crossing through downtown, and it leaves one right at the start of the great route up the the south hill mentioned above. 🙂

    If one’s destination is downtown, then a left on Bridge Ave. from Monroe cuts over to the Post St. Bridge (which is much less hectic than Monroe), and leads to Riverfront Park and beyond. 🙂

    I like the efficiency of my non-arterial bike routes so much, that I often drive them or parts of them when in the car. For me, thinking like a cyclist makes driving easier, too. 🙂

    Happy cycling! 🙂

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