Following up my previous post, the following is my observations about the mile around my home. These observations include: what makes it seem intimidating to the untrained eye; what actually makes it really easy for biking; the impediments to walking; and the opportunities I discovered on the satellite view.
I’d never paid much attention to the distance until I read Andy’s first post about the 1 Mile Solution. Turns out Publix is .8 m from home. I would have guessed it was more. That’s the distance I walked to the bus stop as a kid (in the snow, up hill both ways, mind you) but it has quite a different character from the gravel road I grew up on.
What makes it seem intimidating to the untrained eye…
I live sortof in-between the urban core and the exurban broccoli-subdivision-zone. I have lots of options for riding downtown, but my trip to the grocery store requires riding on arterial roads.
Riding to Publix is easy for me because I have the skill and knowledge to use the road safely, without fear. Some of the roads I use are unthinkable to the average person. There are no other alternatives. I live off of a 3-lane short-cut road with a fairly high volume of traffic. The grocery store is on the corner of 6-lane and 4-lane arteries.
But, as I said, my ride is easy and safe. And it would be easy and safe for any cyclist who could balance a bike, ride in a straight line and follow the rules.
What actually makes it really easy for biking…
I ride the route clockwise, so the only left turns are out of and into the neighborhood. Depending on the time of day, it sometimes takes a few minutes to get an adequate gap to turn left onto Lake Howell Rd. However, if traffic is really heavy, it is also barely moving. The first 2 roads are 2-lane and narrow. Claiming the lane is mandatory if you don’t want to be squeezed. Sadly, I see a lot of cyclists on Lake Howell Lane (the horizontal road at the top) trying to squeeze themselves into the tiny gutter—a style of riding that makes cycling feel dangerous and unpleasant.
SR 436 (the big diagonal artery) would seem to be a most intimidating place to ride a bike. It is actually not. This particular stretch has a great advantage — a 4th lane that begins at Lake Howell Lane and ends at the main Publix entrance. This lane only serves the businesses on that block, it is narrow and dotted with manhole covers (I’ve never seen so many on one stretch of road anywhere). Because of the manholes, motorists typically don’t enter the lane until necessary to set up their turn. Thru traffic obviously doesn’t use it at all. The manholes are easy enough to avoid on the bike.
The least safe part of the ride is the Publix parking lot. I really don’t like riding in parking lots.
Also, the bike rack is a tiny wheelbender located in a dark, remote corner beside the building. Only 2 bikes can have their frames locked to it. But there are seldom more than 2 bikes there. I have seen a bike parked inside the store, but haven’t tried that yet.
Leaving Publix, I use the right lane on Howell Branch Rd. Taking a right from the shopping center exit on a green light, gets me most of the way to Lake Howell Rd. before the traffic catches up. Depending on the time of day, I’m often in the queue by then anyway. Of course, I’ve ridden the length of Howell Branch Rd. and that’s easy too. Motorists change lanes and pass me cooperatively.
Often in my travels, I’ll see sidewalk cyclists trying desperately to cross the Lake Howell/Howell Branch intersection from the sidewalk, being rebuffed by turning traffic. I wish I could convey to them how much easier it is to ride on the road. And how it could only be better if more people did it and it became an accepted/expected norm.
The impediments to walking…
My roomate and I occasionally walk to Bruster’s Ice Cream in the same plaza. Walking is casual and social and requires less logistics than biking (no lock, no taking off things that could be stolen, no carrying the bike up and down the stairs) but it’s more difficult because of inadequate sidewalks and difficulty with turning motorists at crosswalks. It’s also very unscenic.
Walking north to the plaza with the movie theater and Walmart requires walking on the road or in the grass because there aren’t continuous sidewalks in that direction.
Changing the landscape: opportunities I discovered on the satellite view…
There is only one way for cyclists to have access to every destination, that is for them to overcome fear and learn to use the roads. Bikeway facilities will never connect every destination in our vast American urban areas. That’s reality. This is why I prefer to focus on helping people learn to ride with confidence and making the social environment more civil toward cyclists. It’s also why I sometimes find myself at odds with advocates who promote cycling by any means necessary (illusory facilities) without addressing other important psychological, cultural and environmental issues.
That said, if we want to promote walking and biking, we need to rethink development patterns, solve some basic infrastructure problems and find creative ways to connect people to places.
First of all, connected sidewalks would be nice for pedestrians. When Cindy and I walk to the Bruster’s, we would prefer to cross Lake Howell Rd where it is narrow—2 lanes plus the center turn lane. That’s much faster and easier than using the crosswalk at the intersection, but there is no sidewalk on the east side of the Lake Howell Rd.
The attractiveness of the environment is also factor in my decisions to walk. I give up some time and convenience to walk rather than drive. Many of our roads look like God-forsaken hellscapes. Who wants to walk through that? There’s little incentive to spend 20 minutes walking on broken concrete past dirt and trash in the hot sun when you can drive there in 5 minutes.
When I studied the satellite image of my route, I discovered an interesting potential solution. The neighborhood across the street has a cul-de-sac which opens to a small public park connected to what looks like an easement behind the Publix. What if that street was connected by a short path to the back of the shopping center?
As an isolated treatment, this might encourage a few people in the neighborhood to walk or bike to the store by making it easier and more convenient than driving.
As part of a systematic change in the way we look at how communities connect, along with some public promotion of the 1 Mile Solution, small pathways (little big things) like this could connect hundreds of suburban households to shopping areas by providing quiet, shady, pleasant routes for walking and biking.
What if our land use was planned this way? All access for everyone doesn’t have to be on arterial roads. Everything is connected. Most of the time it’s only a small easement, a fence or a hedge that blocks non-motorized access. When I first started riding in Orlando, I continually looked for (and found) small paths that allowed me to avoid busy roads. I was also regularly thwarted by fences, hedges and gated communities. The paths I found were my sneaky little routes, but what if they were part of a deliberate movement to connect us to our destinations?
This would surely be less costly than building miles of facilities alongside roads. It would contain fewer potential conflicts. It is far more palatable for novice cyclists (or parents and children) to ride on quiet streets than in bike lanes on busy roads. It doesn’t create a visual cue that makes motorists expect all cyclists to ride in a way that is not as safe or efficient as riding in the traffic lane. It doesn’t reduce the roadway rights and access of cyclists who prefer to ride in traffic lanes. And it doesn’t create dependency on extensive facility networks—cyclists could use roads without facilities for primary travel and short paths to connect preferred roads. It could create a desirable incentive to do something fun and social and get some exercise (with the kids!) as a part of a trip to the store.
Finding ways to use existing networks seems so much more logical, ecological, fiscally prudent and realistic than trying to invent a new network.