Saturday, August 21, 2010

Favourite Cycling Routes

While I ride for transportation on the streets of Cambridge, Somerville, Boston and beyond on a (mostly) daily basis, it is of course physically impossible to photograph myself doing so. But recently the Co-Habitant was with me, and he surprised me by taking some snapshots with his mobile phone. I wanted to share these, because they happen to be of my favourite cycling route.

We cannot always articulate what we like or don't like about cycling in our city. But taking our favourite route as a starting point and examining what is so great about it, can lead us to discover our preferences - as well as our anxieties - when it comes to transportation cycling.

The pictures here document a busy street around the corner from my home that stretches through several neighborhoods along the border of Somerville and Cambridge, winds into MIT territory, and then proceeds directly over the Longfellow Bridge across the Charles River, into the center of Boston.  It is not a traffic-calmed side-street, but a crowded major road, and it is not especially attractive. And yet, it is my favourite cycling route in the area. It goes on forever, gives me easy access to Boston,  and does not make me deal with ambiguous traffic situations.

When cycling in the city, I think it is ambiguity that causes me the most anxiety: left turns from side streets onto busy roads; bicycle lanes that suddenly end; commuter trails that force the cyclist to cross busy intersections without streetlights; roundabouts and stop signs where questions arise about the right of way and I never know whether the car is really letting me go... I could go on. But on this route, none of those things happen. I am basically cycling down an endless avenue, and as long as I abide by street lights, the road will take me where I need to go. This not only eliminates ambiguities, but appeals to my love of the "endless open road." I like knowing that I can get on this road around the corner from my house and end up in downtown Boston, stress-free.

You have probably noticed that this route has a bike lane most of the way. But that is not what I like about it - at least not the lane alone. Unlike most streets with bike lanes in my area, this one is consistent and logical. At no point does it suddenly end in a dangerous spot, and at no point does it place you in the door zone of parked cars. It even takes you through a curve in the road with a left-turn lane specifically for bikes. The bike lane here functions as a bike lane should in my view - a suggestive marking, similar to a bus lane, that signifies a space on the road where bicycles have priority over motor vehicles. It goes without saying that you must still be vigilant of things like occasional double-parked vehicles, and vehicles making right turns at intersections. But overall, the lane - and specifically its consistency - has the effect of legitimising the presence of bicycle traffic. There are quite a few bicycles passing through, and it is just another lane of traffic. Normal. I do not always feel this way about bike lanes, but on this particular route it seems to me that they really do have this positive effect.

When a cycling route feels comfortable and convenient... well, that is pretty much how it ought to be. Cycling for transportation in the city should not feel as if you are going into battle every day; it should feel like the city you live in is open and accessible to you. This is my favourite route, because it does just that. 

22 comments:

  1. I liked this post. I felt as if I could relate a lot to it.
    -ryan
    Houston.

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  2. it's interesting. i've already commented to you elsewhere that this is just about my exact route to work daily. however, on my commute home, i've been mixing it up and taking longer, more meandering routes to avoid the main artery that you describe above. while i agree that the constant stream of bicycles on this route "legitimatizes" cycling in the city, and that this route epitomizes the accessibility of this fair city to cyclists, i get tired of dealing with all the cyclists who share this route. there are too many aggressive and discourteous cyclists who, collectively, have the effect of turning me off from this route. in the mornings when i'm full of energy, it doesn't bother me as much and i choose this route since it is so direct to my work. but at the end of a long work day, when i'm tired, i just don't like dealing with the heavy traffic flow, and i also dislike the constant exhaust stream from lines of backed up cars. instead, in the evening, i stick to the leafy one-way side streets of cambridge, taking in the residential calm and decompressing from the stress of my work. it only adds about 5-10 minutes to my commute, but it's well worth it for me.

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  3. Nice post. I wish more infrastructure funding decisions were made with consideration to whether or not the project promotes bicycling as transportation. I am convinced we would see much more bike commuting in Flagstaff if only one of our most heavily used roads, Milton Avenue, was even moderately safe for cyclists. Instead it was designed to be a speedway and most bicyclists end up using narrow sidewalks. It is not a pleasant commute.

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  4. My favorite route to work is past my favorite coffee shop where I often see friends and sometimes the Mayor/future Colo Governor. He lives down the street and is cool. Then it's past the birdhouse tree (which *always* makes me smile) and on to the main street to the office. It's a wide, fairly busy street with busy bike lanes. It's lined with huge trees and very old, very beautiful, million dollar houses, our library, and other cool buildings. It dead-ends right into the park where my office lives. I ride through the grand entrance to the park, glide onto the sidewalk and right to our bike locker. It's always a lovely ride.

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  5. Some roads just seem sweet to me, too. As in this case, it's usually the alignment of the road, the traffic, and harmony with where I'm going.

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  6. Beautiful bike lanes! It makes all the difference in the world to be comfortable on the road, and not feel like you have to fight for space with cars. Nice pics too. ;-)

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  7. We were just in Boston and I was amazed at the amount and quality of the cycling, pedestrian and mass transit infrastructure. We were staying out in Revere. We only drove in once, the rest of the time we utilized the subway, bus service and ferries as well as walking. Apparently they have just recently installed new bike lanes along CommonWealth. We were walking the green and one of the residents was telling us about them.

    Aaron

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  8. oh my, look at how flat! yum. glad you have good bike lane markings on that route too. I had an icky situation yesterday while riding in a bike lane that tapers off and disappears into the intersection. So frustrating.

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  9. Hmm.. I don't really like cycling on that part of Broadway. The bicycle lane is too narrow. It's okay between Hampshire and GGW but near the hotel it has tons of potholes and double parked cabbies, afterward there is the weird merge with Main St. and then the approach onto the bridge which is treacherous, with high speed traffic coming from both directions and tons of debris in the lanes. Finally there's the bridge, which is steep and is paved unevenly. The way back is bad too, especially with the narrow doorzone lane and tight turn.

    I very much prefer to take a right off Hampshire onto Portland, go straight along to Mass Ave., take a left, and head over the flat and smooth bridge.

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  10. Beautiful area you cycle through. I totally agree with your last comments. One should arrive in a least as good mood as departing. And there are routes that can do even better :).

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  11. BTW, can you please share your favorite route to Walden Pond?

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  12. somervillain - I think the main difference between your and my experience of this route, is the times of day we are on it. Since my work schedule is unusual, I am almost never there during the peak of the morning commute and only sometimes there during the evening commute. As far as the latter goes, there certainly are occasions of cyclist rudeness and automotive kerfuffles - but to a much lesser extent than on the alternative route, which is Mass Ave. (Mind you, I don't hate Mass Ave as some do; I just like it less than Beacon).

    As for meandering alternative routes on side streets- I favoured them initially, but have grown to prefer main roads with faster, but more consitent traffic. Whether or not there is a bike lane does not matter, but I want street lights and as few turns as possible. Somehow I feel safer on those routes.

    Herzog - Oddly, I prefer the Longfellow Bridge when heading into Boston, but the Mass Ave Bridge when coming back to Cambridge. I almost never do it the other way around. Also, I really like arriving to my destinations in Boston via Charles St.

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  13. The easiest route to Walden Pond from Somerville and Cambridge lies through the Minuteman trail. If you can get to Davis Square safely, you can take the Minuteman (with initial connectors and interruptions before Alewife and later a weird crossing in Arlington) all the way to Bedford (~13 miles). From there, you can take a slightly hilly road (route 62) all the way to Concord. From Concord, you can take Walden St to Walden pond. The ride is roughly 20 miles one way.

    The alternative and hillier ride would be to either take Mass Ave all the way (or hop on it from Lexington Centre) to Rt 2a via Minuteman park and end up in Concord. It's a hilly but shorter route.

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  14. I think MDI's directions are weird, so I'll rephrase them:

    . Somerville to Davis Sq
    . Extension to Minuteman Trail
    . Minuteman Trail to the end, in Bedford
    . Straight on Railroad Ave
    . Right on McMahon Rd
    . Left on Rt 62
    . At Concord center roundabout, right onto Main St
    . Left on Walden St
    . Proceed until Walden Pond, which will be on your right shortly after crossing Rt. 2, which you can't miss

    This is not the most direct route, but it makes for a nice ride and I can do it on a single speed.

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  15. I recently discovered your blog and I'm smitten! The bikes, the photography, the locale...it's all a terribly addictive combination. And now I'm missing Boston.

    Just the encouragement I need to keep pedaling. Thank you!

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  16. Tiny Homestead - There is an upslope to one portion of the route that is not on the pictures, and also the bridge over the Charles is steep as Herzog mentioned. But other than that, it is pretty flat. And yes, I don't like disappearing lanes either.

    Maggie - I am reluctant to associate the things I like about this route with bike lanes. We were just visiting Portland, ME and the city has no bike lanes at all in the main parts of town, zero - and yet the roads are entirely cycleable. I think there are other factors at play that are more important than the presence of bike lanes, and without them the lanes themselves do not necessarily do any good...

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  17. I totally agree with your comment about the lane markings. I think that the lane markings are maybe icing on the cake of a well designed route. In my city I sometimes prefer the roads that don't have lane markings, because as I noted above a bad lane marking can be worse than no lane marking.

    I'm glad you have some hills to deal with :) I'm just jealous because I live on a hill so every trip starts with a ridiculous descent and ends with a walk back up. One day I hope to be able to ride all the way up.

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  18. the tiny homestead: the route that velouria mentioned is indeed rather flat, but that doesn't mean that all parts of our area are flat. cambridge is mostly flat, but neighboring somerville has some *serious* hills, and i happen to live on top of one of them. so i feel your pain-- i too have a nice downhill coast to work, but then have to deal with a really steep hill for that last 2-3 minutes of my commute. it's something i never look forward to when i'm tired, but on the other hand it has worked wonders for my hill climbing ability :-).

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  19. WOW, for all the very real problems and challenges to riding in Boston it still sounds like a neat place for somebody who wants to spend more time on a bike.

    You've mentioned this before I'm sure, but how much of the routes you use are shaded enough to be adescribed as shady? I'm not just talking about being able to find a shady spot when you want one but rather routes where you can really stay out of the sun enough to make a difference? I think it's probably impossible to find that anywhere to any great degree but it is one of my cycling fantasies to be able to ride to the market,bookstore, pool or whatever and be under the trees the whole way...(that and have it be all downhill and lined with Icecream vendors and the kind of girls from beer commercials waiting to bring me damp towels for my forehead ...)

    Spindizzy

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  20. That route in particular is shady for most of the way, save for several intersections, which is one reason I like it. I am also sensitive to direct sun and seek out the shadiest places, so to speak.

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  21. Spindizzy--there are indeed shady areas in Boston where they have girls from the beer commercials... :)

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  22. My fantasy realised, 20 years too late...alas.

    Spindizzy

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