Monday, June 30, 2014

The Real Deal: Intermediate Commute

Despite my misgivings yesterday evening about the new route I was testing, today I went for the real deal and my ride was actually pleasant. It helped that I made a slight modification to my route to remove one of the neighborhood cut-throughs. The other cut-through was navigable even with my big front bag on my bike (so much so that a guy on a scooter follow me up the path). Also, I got the worst part of the route out of the way early--there's a stretch as I'm getting off campus where I have to ride on the sidewalk before I can turn into the first neighborhood.

I was surprised that there weren't as many people on bikes during the ride home, not even on the Capital Crescent Trail, but I guess I'm comparing it to a decent weekend when a lot of people tend to be out (I even had a double Brompton sighting yesterday!). There were long stretches in the neighborhoods when I didn't have a lot of cars to contend with, and it was really to nice take my lane and go at an easy pace (though I still made good time).

My morning commute was good too. I took a longer route than usual to get around the problematic areas, but the quality of the ride was much improved. The only sort-of issue was when a work truck came up onto the multi-use path right as I was going down it--that really woke me up!

Anyway, after today's rides I've feeling better about my bike commute options generally. It took me a while to get here this year, but I hope to be able to sustain it.

Total miles: 8.94 (.9 + 3.6 + 4.44)
Observation: When I'm riding on a sidewalk without a treelawn next to it, I feel like I'm riding next to traffic anyway.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dry Run 2: Intermediate Commute Home (in which I discover theneighborhood "cut-through")

After a failed dry run in early May, I finally managed to try out my "intermediate" bike commute route. Basically I'm trying to get from Upper NW DC / Chevy Chase to the NIH campus area, where I would be able to catch a shuttle; the ride gets me 1/3 of the way to work.

If I were to drive, getting to the campus would be pretty straightforward. However, I'm not willing to take the lane and ride along Wisconsin Ave./Rockville Pike or Connecticut Ave., so I try to go along neighborhood streets. The ride itself is fine, but I get tripped up by--for lack of a better term--the neighborhood "cut-through" (or maybe there is a better term and I just don't know it?).

I'm defining neighborhood cut-through as a little path that connects two streets (or sometimes trails) at a point where there is no other nearby street to connect them. The entrance to these paths can be hard to spot if you are going too fast, as they look like they might be leading to someone's backyard. I made the mistake of thinking this during my first attempt at this dry run, and ended up turning around because I was afraid I'd be trespassing onto someone's property. It was only after some careful study of Google Maps Street View that I realized I there was a path between some overgrown bushes (see image below).

Cut-through from adjacent street to Capital Crescent Trail

If I had to guess, I would say that the intended function of these neighborhood cut-throughs is to serve as pedestrian shortcuts in neighborhoods with irregular street designs, where people would otherwise have to walk several blocks out of their way if they wanted to go "straight" through the neighborhood. This is great for walkers, and in theory it could be great for bikers--the route I planned was definitely the most direct one for what I was trying to accomplish. In practice, however, it was not a great bike route: as I said, I missed the first one when I tried my dry run in May, and then today I missed another, as entrances tend to be hidden among houses and lawns. When I did manage to find the cut-throughs, I usually had to dismount and walk my bike through the gravel and mulch. Even if I attempted to ride, they were often narrow, some of them have barriers which I have to navigate slowly to avoid scraping my legs against them. Then the cut-throughs open abruptly onto the street and sidewalk, where walker and drivers aren't on the look-out for a biker bursting through the bushes.

Anyway, on the route I tried today, there are no less than four cut-throughs (see image below), two of which are ways of entering/exiting the Capital Crescent Trail. It's a ride of about five miles, and I'm not going fast by any means, but these cut-throughs slow me down even more. On the way home I tried another way that was marked "Bike Route" and there were just as many cut-throughs (so maybe someone thinks they're bike appropriate, but I disagree).

Orange arrows indicate cut-throughs along route
Yellow arrow other cut-throughs in the area I've tried

As I'm not a big fan of these cut-throughs, I'm not sure what to make of this commute route. I don't know that I have very many other options because I don't want to ride on a busy thoroughfare. I've tried riding through downtown Bethesda to get from the NIH campus to home, but that was miserable in a different way. So I guess I may have to keep trying, but for now it's a viable option, even if it's not an ideal one. And I haven't even mentioned what a pain it is to cross Rockville Pike to get to campus!!

Observation: There are a lot of standalone basketball hoops on driveways in the Bethesda neighborhoods between Jones Bridge Road and East-West Highway.