I have great admiration for people who make a regular long-distance commute. The longest commute I’ve had was about 11 miles and I didn’t bike it every day. In the last few years, my commute shrunk to 3.5 miles, then to the length of my condo. Now I use the bike for utility trips and some meetings. My radius is roughly 6 miles, with most trips being under 3. I feel very fortunate to be living in close proximity to almost everything I need. In most cases the bike is the most convenient means of transportation to get there. Determining factors are time/distance and trip quality. Cleaner, greener and cheaper are secondary considerations (not necessarily in that order). Oh, and difficulty parking the car is a deterrent to driving it, even if I don’t really feel like riding the bike.
Sunday I planned to make a trip well outside my normal range. My destination in Tuscawilla is ~15 miles away. By car it would be about 25-30 minutes (off-peak) and fairly frustrating—car trips are time wasted in between what I was doing and what I want to do next. By bike it was an hour and 20 minutes… into an 18mph headwind/crosswind. But I was outside, getting exercise, so I didn’t regard it as lost time. It was a weekend, and I had time to spare.
A great asset
I live near the South end of the Cady Way Trail. It turns out that using Cady Way for a little over half of the way is actually the shortest and fastest route. During the day, this makes for a pleasant ride with few traffic lights. Using Beach St. instead of the trail eliminates the stretch of stop sign hell. Mount Cady adds some topography to the ride, while crossing 436 without delay. I seldom have to wait to cross Forsyth and Goldenrod, the median refuges make that pretty easy. I avoid some delay and risk at Hall by doing a jughandle turn to the right northbound lane to get to the trail on the other side. Heading westbound there, I get a gap on Aloma and ride into the left turn lane for Hall (you can see what I mean if you zoom in on the satellite). I was pleased to see two other cyclists doing that Sunday. That’s much safer and quicker than using the crosswalks. Someday, they plan to build a bridge there.
All-in-all, my ride north was uneventful. I was hoping for some tailwind reward on the trip home, but I didn’t head home until after 9PM. By then the winds had died down to 6mph and moved from East to Southeast.
A different route home
After dark, the trail is not an option for me. It may seem odd, but I feel much safer on the road. The features that make the Cady Way Trail a quality ride during the day — isolation on its own right-of-way — scare me at night. There are several stretches of that trail where there is no escape, no lighting and no one around to hear you scream. There have been robberies and assaults on it as recently as last month.
The road route home from Tuscawilla is a little over a mile longer than the trail route, but it is mostly low-volume streets. There’s a short stint on Tuscawilla Rd that can’t be avoided, and a short stint on 436 that can be by adding extra miles. I’m comfortable controlling the lane on 436 (day or night), so I opted for the shorter distance. I did add a few tenths of a mile avoiding most of the bike lane on Lakemont and all of it on Glenridge — both of those are notorious for glass, which I can’t see in the dark.
I had a really nice ride home.
What makes a long trip worth biking
I didn’t experience any incivility in either direction. That is something that always enters my mind when I’m planning a bike trip to the burbs. Ugly behavior is more prevalent out there than it is in town. This trip was free of negative energy.
Though it took 3 times longer than driving a car, it was much more enjoyable. Still, the equation to determine whether to drive the bike or car always includes time available. The decision also includes my level of energy and ambition at the time. I suspect I may be more physically ambitious than the average Central Floridian, but nowhere near as ambitious as many of our readers.
On the way home, I was thinking about what made my bike trip worthwhile and how that fits into strategies for promoting bicycling.
- First and foremost was the confidence and empowerment to choose the best route without fear of any road. Without that, reaching my destination would not have been possible. I prefer trails and low volume roads because I don’t care for traffic noise, but I can connect them or opt for more direct routes because fear is not a barrier. The ability to choose any road has nothing to with speed, strength or elite talents. It is available to anyone who wants it. It simply involves gaining a better understanding of how the roadway works and using it to your advantage. You can do that here.
- On the way out, the trail was a great asset. It provided a shorter route and fewer traffic light delays than a road route. I am grateful that our community has invested in it and other trails like it. Unfortunately, it did not offer me the social safety I need to ride home at night. But having the confidence to use the roads, day or night, allowed me to chose a better route home.
- Luxury of time. Generally, I have found that when my life is not hectic or rushed, I’m more inclined to chose the bike vs the car. As soon as I feel stressed for time, I have a hard time getting my head around an extra 15 or 20 minutes of travel time, let alone adding an hour or two.
- Physical energy. Short trips don’t take much energy. I tend to operate at very low speeds because hammering a 2 mile trip doesn’t save any time over moseying. Short trip time is mostly determined by traffic lights. Longer trips require more effort, especially covering the distance into a headwind. I still don’t hammer, but I pick a speed that is sustainable and offers enough time gain to be worth the energy. My trip to Tuscawilla was an hour and 20 minutes (including stopped time), and, except for a short, congested area on the trail, I rode at a higher aerobic output than I usually muster for a 15-minute trip downtown.
- Did I mention it was a lovely spring day? Yeah. 78°.
Even though I prefer to use my bike, and do use it for more trips than I use the car, my decisions are rooted in practical considerations that have little to do with infrastructure. I suspect that’s the same for 99% of the population.