Sunday, February 5, 2012

In search of a better bike route mapping tool

"Dear Google Bike Maps staff,
Please remove South Capitol Street from all possible bike route options in Washington, DC. That road is barely fit for cars; it is a total disaster for some poor schmuck on a bicycle...."

Now, I'll admit that I've ridden around the country on all manner of inappropriate roads for a bicycle. Shoulderless truck routes, 10-mile-long gravel paths, steep and often shoulderless Highway 1 down the Pacific coastline, the occasional stretch of interstate highway across New Mexico and Texas (which was actually legal, if you can believe it). But these perhaps foolhardy route choices were made before google launched the supposedly ever-improving bike mapping feature that I've come to rely on quite heavily in recent months. Well, I think the mappers need more feedback, because there are a few "suggested" roads I've discovered lately that a bicycle has no business being on. Ever. Like South Capitol Street in Anacostia. I count myself lucky to be alive to tell the tale. Bikers, beware!

[Note: The other suggested google bike route from where I was departing in Eastern Market involved Suitland Parkway, which, having been on it in a car numerous times on my way out to Drew-Freeman Middle School, I recognize as a road that only a cyclist with suicidal tendencies would tackle. Yet somehow that red flag did not elicit suspicion about South Capitol Street. Oh, silly Ibti....]

My foray with Ollie down a 2.5-mile stretch of South Capitol Street last Wednesday to get to Patterson Elementary was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had. (I know exactly how far it was, thanks to the snazzy new bike computer from Ryan -- a replacement for the one stolen at the farmers' market just before Christmas. I'm glad that the bike computer and I were not reduced to chalk outlines on the asphalt after our misguided adventure.) Going over the 11th Street Bridge under construction was scary enough on the 2-foot-wide sidewalk alongside speeding SUVs, but all was not lost... yet. (Am I losing my nerve a bit, getting soft with the comparatively easy city riding? Ah, who am I kidding, I'm not so tough. It is more likely my latent chickenheartedness emerging once again.)

Anyway, things seemed somewhat smooth with a nicely paved half mile of dedicated bike path along the Anacostia once I crossed the bridge into Southeast and it was a beautiful, sunny day after all. Then the bike path ended abruptly, so I rode on the sidewalk. See how calm and adaptable I was? Not even swearing... yet. Then the sidewalk simply ended, so I shook my head and crossed South Capitol (at a crosswalk: safety first!) to ride on the opposite sidewalk. Then that ended, too. I took a deep breath and crossed back over to ride on the right-hand road shoulder. Then that ended, so I crossed over to the left-hand road shoulder, now starting to really sweat as cars zoomed past. Thank god I was not there during rush hour, because right as I crossed under 295 that road shoulder ended, too. I will concede a few expletives and a few yelps of fear escaped as I saw the yellow line on my right scooting ever closer to the concrete barrier on my left. I decided that the safest option at this point was to cut over three lanes to ride in the right lane of the now sidewalkless, shoulderless road. Yes, that was the safest option. What the...? But things were looking more residential about a quarter mile ahead. Yes, I do believe I spied a sidewalk and the road appeared to get smaller, so I persevered.

I'm so glad I did. The school visit wound up being a delightful hour of singing and dancing and nibbling and talking about food with a fabulous group of preschoolers and a cadre of amazing teachers. I happily accepted a ride back to Columbia Heights with Vera afterwards, with Ollie lying comfortably in the car's spacious trunk. I also decided that next time I head out that way, I'm taking the metro.

1 comment:

  1. I've been in situations like this too - where you think it's going to be ok only to have it turn out to be a highway onramp. I've started using the street view in addition to the bike route feature. The other thing that's really helped me out is my folding bike - if I do end up in an area that's kind of sketchy the bus is always an option (and it's easy to fit in anyone's trunk)


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