So, I’d been riding the same commute route for a little over two years now (with small variations for hitting different grocery stores or running other errands). I thought it was pretty much the best route available, hitting a sweet-spot for low traffic density with little riding out of the way to avoid the more hairy stretches of traffic. In fact, I was so sure that this was the ideal route between my home and work that when Google Maps first added their biking directions option, I asked it to map out a route for my commute and scoffed at its silly reply. “You want me to go where? Stupid Google.”
Then three days ago I set out on my morning commute and found, a bit to my dismay, that the city of Plano was resurfacing one of the stretches of road that I commute on, and had closed the road to through traffic (I was only a bit dismayed because that stretch really does need resurfacing). So I wiggled about and took a detour which pulled me over a mile out of my way that morning, and a similar one that evening for the ride home. And the next day I took a shorter detour which plunked me smack in the middle of some more construction on a far busier street with far angrier drivers. “I guess I’ll have to take the long detour after all,” I sighed to myself as I was about to resign myself to my fate (goodness knows I love riding my bike, but after work, I just want to get home and see my girl and my dogs and my couch; and frankly, the hot, humid Texas summer weather isn’t the happiest stuff to ride in either). But then I remembered that route that Google suggested to me all those months ago. Sure, I laughed at it, but maybe it would be better than taking the long way home, even if it were busier with traffic. I’d try it that evening on the way home and evaluate it.
Eventually, it was time to head home, so I strapped on my bag and my helmet and I hit the mean streets of Plano, ready for the worst, and preparing myself to leave a little earlier in the morning tomorrow after this route failed tonight. Only… it didn’t.
It turns out that those goons at Google know what they’re talking about. This new route not only cuts a bit of distance off of my regular commute route (only about a quarter of a mile), but it cuts out about three quarters of a mile of the highest traffic density road on my ride and instead routes me through an industrial park where, to date, I’ve seen a total of two cars on the road in three days. Imagine that. On the downside, I do need to cross two sets of rough railroad tracks and … well, that’s it. Sort of.
On the route as suggested by Google, for my morning commute there are two problems:
- There is one left turn required onto a very busy stretch of road. You’re only on that stretch for about a tenth of a mile, so the pucker factor isn’t too bad, but you can wait a long time for traffic to clear enough to turn out.
- Just after that left turn is a right turn onto another busy street (the one mentioned above that had much of its length cut out by this new route. Here, the problem isn’t the turn, as it was with the previous left, this one is protected by a light. The problem is that about a quarter of a mile down the road, I need to make another left turn, and I need to cut across three lanes of traffic to set it up. Now, given the speed limit of the road (40 MPH, just coming out of a 45 MPH zone), the speed of your average cyclist, the distance from the light at the intersection, and the length of that light, it just so works out that, when it comes time to cut across those three lanes, if the cyclist had gone straight through that intersection, there will almost always be a gap between waves of cars that makes it easy to cross over. However, if the cyclist is now making a right turn at that intersection onto that stretch of road, he is now a half-cycle off with respect to the traffic lights, and the gap no longer exists to safely and easily cut across those lanes to turn left at the next light.
Fortunately, I believe I found a solution to both problems with one fell swoop. It appears, from a look at the Google Maps satellite photos, that I can easily cut through the parking lot of one of the businesses along the new route, and enter that last busy stretch of road just ahead of the light. Doing so wipes out the need for that busy left turn, and it will have me back in sync with the traffic pattern that lets me cut across the road and set up my left turn. I’ll have to try it out tomorrow to be sure it works, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t.
In the meantime I can take comfort in the fact that I’m still smarter than the Google gang about one thing; parking lots.