The Long Ride to Deland
Lisa and I had been contemplating an overnight bike trip to put on some mileage with the touring panniers, this weekend’s Florida Bicycle Association board meeting in Deland provided a good opportunity. FBA’s new Executive Director, Tim Bustos, moved back to Florida from California and has settled in Deland—making it the new headquarters of the FBA.
The meeting was Saturday and there was a meet-n-greet happy hour and dinner on Friday evening. I had a lunch meeting in Orlando, so we weren’t able to get on the road until 2:30. As long as we were not delayed by storms, we anticipated being able to make happy hour.
This map shows both routes. The route to Deland is blue, the route home—the Wiggle Route—is green. The orange and red highlights show various segments of infrastructure. They are described in the map notes. I’ve also located the photos and videos with icon pins.
View larger map
The Route to Deland
Heading out of town is easy. I have a tried and true route to Sanford/Lake Monroe. It uses mostly pleasant low-volume roads and 6.5 miles of the Seminole Wekiva Trail. There are a few traverses on busy roads, but they are made easy by simple strategies we teach in CyclingSavvy.
North of Sanford is more of a puzzle. I have ridden to the east side Deland and back a few times on a road bike. I know several routes to get there, but they would be out of the way for going to downtown Deland. U.S. 17-92 is the most direct route, but it is problematic for a couple reasons. First of all, it was going to be peak Friday (pre-holiday) rush hour when we got to Sanford. Second, FDOT has striped it with an inconsistent mishmash of shoulders and undesignated gutterspace intended for bicycle use. In some places that space is relatively tolerable to use, in others it ranges from miserable to downright dangerous.
I’ve ridden up 17-92 to Orange City many times to go to Blue Springs. With a small group of cyclists on a Sunday morning, we just ride two abreast in the lane and ignore the varying gutterside nonsense. For the southbound route, there are a few options to use parallel streets on the west side of 17-92. These options add miles, though, and they aren’t as easy to use northbound. So, as I was planning the route, I didn’t anticipate using them. If I had, I could have thought through strategies ahead of time and the ride to Deland would have been more pleasant.
The Ride to Deland
As we rolled out, clouds were gathering. We knew we’d get some rain and we were OK with that as long as we could stay out of the lightning. The clouds provided a welcome reprieve from the sun, making our ride through town even more pleasant.
Holiday traffic was already building by the time we reached Maitland. Using Maitland Ave from Packwood to Maitland Blvd was easy enough. The platoons of traffic changed lanes and passed us safely without incident or commentary. As we waited in the queue at the red light at Maitland Blvd, a large volume of traffic collected behind us. We decided to pull over and release it at the first driveway on the other side of the intersection. This took about 1o seconds and gave us a completely empty road all the way to the left turn onto Lake Shore. I regretted not setting up the cameras to record that, it would have been a really nice example of control & release. There is no legal requirement to do this on a 4-lane road, but with that volume of traffic changing lanes to pass, it would have been difficult for us to negotiate to the left lane in preparation for our turn.
A light rain shower started as we worked our way through the neighborhoods toward Altamonte Springs. But the clouds were not ominous, and the sun was peaking through.
The next high-traffic traverse was Central Pkwy in Altamonte. Central has 14ft lanes between Palm Springs and Douglas. Traffic was light before the I-4 bridge. We rode a little farther into the lane and everyone changed lanes to pass us. As we got to the bridge, a large platoon was approaching, so we moved to a lane-sharing position. Everyone passed us courteously, with plenty of clearance, slowing to reduce the speed differential. Once over the top of the bridge we were in another gap and moved back to lane control. There is a nice long downhill grade on the west side of I-4, We kept up with the traffic in the left lane all the way to the turn at Franklin.
It had stopped raining by the time we entered the Seminole Wekiva Trail through Sanlando Park. This route may seem a bit circuitous when you look at the map. Those who don’t live here might ask, why not just take Douglas? Those who live here know why. It’s a two-lane road with rolling hills and a high volume of traffic. I’ve witnessed near-head-on collisions as idiot motorists passed me into a blind hilltop. I have no proven strategy for dealing with that behavior in those conditions, so I prefer to just avoid encounters with it.
I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy a nice long section of trail that goes in my direction (as long as it’s not a peak trail-use time). The trail was virtually empty the entire way to Lake Mary. It was like having our own private, shady bicycle highway.
We made a pit stop at Panera to refill water bottles and check the weather radar. There were ominous clouds to the northeast and we saw a few streaks of lightning. The radar showed the storms moving northeast toward Daytona. I figured at our speed we’d probably follow behind them and avoid any significant weather.
At Lake Mary Blvd, we abandoned the trail. It runs parallel to International Parkway, but with 15 driveway crossings (meaning 30 bone-jarring gutter pan crossings), it’s not a better alternative to the road—a 4-lane divided boulevard with silky new asphalt. Even as we approached rush hour, traffic was surprisingly light on IP.
I had initially anticipated preparing the video cameras at this point, but with weather and time concerns, we chose not to take the time. Mine was mounted to my helmet, but I hadn’t adjusted it. Lisa’s was in its case. While we would have gotten some nice lane control passing behavior on IP, I most regretted that we didn’t get video just north of 46a. At this point IP grows a designated bike lane. We moved over into it after crossing the intersection. There was a queue of cars collected behind us at the red light. We waited for them to pass. They didn’t pass. I looked in my mirror. Every one of the cars in the right lane behind us was headed for one of the shopping center driveways. Fortunately for us, the driver of the first vehicle did not try to pass us before turning right. Kudos to him! A chain of follow-the-leader right turns would have been ugly for us. This was an excellent demonstration of how being in the bike lane didn’t get us out of the way. In fact, it would have been faster for those turning cars if we had been riding in the left tire track.
The usual route we use from IP to the St Johns bridge was closed for construction a month ago when I was up there scouting a route for the Cystic Fibrosis ride. I didn’t know if it would be open again, and didn’t want to chance it and have to backtrack.
We decided to use a CyclingSavvy strategy on SR 46 to bridge the gap. By now, rush hour traffic was intensifying. We got video of this on the way home (embedded below), but I really regret not shooting this rush hour traverse. It worked perfectly. We heard one angry honk from several cars behind us at a point where we were traveling in a queue of heavy traffic (a traffic jam of motorists). But it was as safe and uneventful then as it was again on Saturday afternoon and would be on any given Sunday morning.
Likewise, we had a flawless traverse of the I-4 interchange at 17-92. It’s less complicated northbound than southbound (we shot video southbound on Saturday). But there was a massive amount of traffic merging onto 17-92 from I-4. That was no problem at all, we controlled the right lane until we saw a motorist slowing to merge behind us, then we moved to the wide shoulder to climb the bridge. Aside from the wide shoulder, the bridge sucks. The pavement is grooved concrete—perfect for catching glass shards and setting them up like sharks teeth—and the traffic noise is a deafening combination of high-revving engines and tire buzz from the surface.
Descent into Hell
The other side of the bridge is where things become problematic, especially in heavy traffic. The first thing that happens is the shoulder opens up into a high speed right turnout for Lake Monroe Park. It’s pretty easy to come down that bridge at close to 30mph on the bike, so I typically move to lane control if I have a gap. I was able to do that, but Lisa (who is in better shape and climbed faster than me) was waiting at the park entrance. I pulled in and stopped just as a huge platoon of traffic came over the bridge. Watching the endless traffic and looking at the 2-foot-wide gutter space on the road ahead (just enough to make us look like jerks for controlling the lane), we decided the quiet solitude of the Spring to Spring trail would be worth the extra travel distance.
This trail winds under a lush canopy. It’s really beautiful, albeit somewhat impractical for transportation. The tight blind corners can be quite treacherous where there are a lot of users of varying skill. It was completely empty Friday evening.
When we got to the Dirksen trailhead, I got out the iPhone GPS to determine which way to go. I wished I had taken the time to fully plan an alternative to 17-92. We could go left to Shell Rd or right and use a neighborhood route. I’ve used Shell many times, but it is a narrow 2-lane collector road serving a lot of neighborhood streets and I didn’t know what rush hour traffic would be like. The route we chose turned out to be a really nice one. We used it on the way home, too.
Since I wasn’t sure how heavy rush hour traffic would be on Highbanks, I opted to go back to 17-92 early, rather than attempt a left on Highbanks from Naranja. Where we entered 17-92 again at Colombia Rd, there was a standard 5ft “bike lane” (undesignated). The hostility began almost immediately. Approaching Highbanks the bike lane continues to the right of a dual-destination right lane. Traffic was stacked up at the light and numerous cars were flashing right turn signals. I pulled into a gap as traffic ahead of me slowed. A white car came from behind, accelerating to close the gap and attempting to buzz me. I slid to the right and let him pass so he could slam on his brakes behind the stopped traffic. Then I pulled back into the lane and stopped behind him. He waved his middle finger at me as I stood there behind him. I pretended not to notice. It was clear he had only accelerated after seeing me signal and move into the lane (there was a lot of space behind me when I did it and traffic was slowing in all lanes). Lisa had pulled into the queue several cars ahead of me. He blasted his horn at us in parting.
That set the stage for the next few miles. Now we had reached FDOT’s despicable 29-inch, double-striped, gutter lane. I’m pretty sure this is what the roads of hell look like—heavy traffic, hostile motorists and a nasty, substandard space painted to look like a bike lane.
This stretch of road goes over some gently rolling hills. We were able to get enough of a gap in heavy traffic to control the lane on the down-hill (with light traffic changing lanes easily), but we decided to stay far right when climbing. Interestingly, I think the width of our panniers counteracted the normal effects of the substandard lane. I have ridden in this space on a road bike and experienced very unpleasant close passing. But I think our panniers hanging out over the fogline caused everyone to move over more than usual. This didn’t eliminate the yells of “get off the road,” which, as often as not, issued from vehicles in the left lane.
I was relieved for that gutter lane to go away at Enterprise Rd, but I had forgotten what the road configuration was like on the other side of the intersection. Thinking the high-speed entrance was a merge lane, we took advantage of a gap to to move into it and release the traffic that had stacked up behind us at the light. I figured it would lead us to the next section of bike lane, which I remembered being standard-width. To my dismay, the arrows pointed the other direction. Instead of a long merge lane, it almost immediately became a 1000ft continuous right turn lane. That was our cue to make a right turn and look at the map again.
We were entering Orange City. Once past the continuous RTOL, 17-92 has fresh pavement and freshly-striped (undesignated) bike space which meets the 5ft standard. There are numerous intersections and driveways, every few hundred feet, all the way through the heart of Orange City. I was concerned about hook/cross crash risk with that volume of traffic and that many opportunities.
Orange city is one of those places that looks to have a rich grid on the map, but in reality 80% of it is dirt roads. Looking at the map, we had an option to go to the right or left for a parallel paved route. I’m very familiar with the roads on the west side of 17-92, but I have never used them at rush hour and didn’t know what kind of traffic volume there would be. It’s also hilly on that side. I decided we should take Levitt, on the east side. It seemed easy enough and looked as though it would bring us out on Minnesota, which is where I wanted to set up to get through the 472 interchange.
Turns out, we should have taken the known west side route. Levitt was wonderful, no traffic at all. With good reason. Despite Google marking it yellow—as a thru route—it is not. We had to backtrack 2 blocks and head back out to 17-92. And the sky was beginning to look ominous again.
The crossing of the 472 interchange is complicated. Well, the physical strategy for it is quite easy. The complicating factor is the human element of very hostile motorists. The over-exposure to meanness had already frayed our nerves and worn us down.
My original intention was to turn onto 17-92 from Minnesota with a green light. This would have given us an empty road to get through the interchange. But now we were going to be doing this with a platoon of traffic.
The light was red. We pulled up behind the queue in the left tire track. My hope was that the majority of traffic in the right lane would be heading for that ramp, so we would be able to release them to our right very quickly (the ramp forms 300ft past the intersection). If all went as planned, it would look like the photo on the right (you can see that video clip at 3:29) and there would be no incivility.
I was half right. The traffic flow was perfect, except for the guy who slid easily into the ramp, then slowed down to yell “get off the road!” No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.
For a mile or so after the interchange, the shoulder was clean and striped to the left of right-turn lanes. We used it without incident. North of Taylor, it begins to disintegrate. The RTOLs cut through it, there is gravel and sand—it’s basically unusable. We were grateful for it to go away entirely.
At Beresford Ave, thru traffic is diverted off Woodland and the road becomes 3-lane (one in each direction with a center turn lane). This made for easy passing, which all but one motorist managed to do without hurling insults at us.
We arrived at the Dubliner to a warm welcome from our FBA colleagues. And beer. Within seconds, the sky opened up as the next round of storms arrived.
I do most of my cycling in the urban core of Orlando. Within my 5 mile range, it’s very rare that I even get honked at. I hadn’t heard “get off the road” in, well, longer than I can remember. I occasionally venture to the burbs and typically experience some amount of incivility, but it is not so constant that it colors the whole trip.
I’m sure traffic volume had some influence on the hostility, but it wasn’t like we were causing a back-up. Most of our time on 17-92 we were completely marginalized, attempting to use the inconsistent-but-consistently-crappy infrastructure. Of course, that makes the hostility harder to bear, it’s like being kicked while you’re down.
This Slate article, Your Commute is Killing You, gave me a few clues about the intensity of the hostility up there.
Commuting is a migraine-inducing life-suck—a mundane task about as pleasurable as assembling flat-pack furniture or getting your license renewed, and you have to do it every day. If you are commuting, you are not spending quality time with your loved ones. You are not exercising, doing challenging work, having sex, petting your dog, or playing with your kids (or your Wii). You are not doing any of the things that make human beings happy.
People who live in that corridor—Debary, Orange City, Deland—have some of the longest and most miserable commutes in the metro area. Add in some hate radio and you have a recipe for a sociopathic attitude toward other road users. The pervasive belief that cyclists don’t belong on the road is made worse by the marginal gutter lanes intended for our use.
I don’t know how to solve the incivility problem since there’s no political will to do it—even among bike advocates—but it is definitely an impediment to cycling. One thing is for sure, we are not going to build our way out of it, especially with facilities that reinforce the beliefs behind it. Even for people like us who are comfortable and confident in traffic, relentless hostility takes a psychological toll on our will to ride assertively… or our desire to ride at all.
The Wiggle Route
For the ride home, I wanted nothing to do with 17-92. My goal was to avoid every inch possible.
We attended the morning half of the board meeting and headed home after lunch, around 2:30. I’m not familiar with the streets of downtown Deland, but decided to see what Florida Ave had to offer. Good choice! It had light traffic and signals to cross the busy roads. When we got to the end of it we jogged a block to the west and took Clara Ave as far as it went. A small subdivision connected us to McGregor where we’d have to go back to 17-92.
Riding south around the 472 interchange is facilitated by Firehouse Rd. I’ve used this a number of times, it takes you around the outside of the ramps and back to 17-92 south of all the merging and diverging. From there, it’s another 800 ft to Minnesota. This time we used the west side route.
It was very hot out, these residential roads offer more than a refuge from neanderthals and noisy traffic, they offer a blessed tree canopy!
When we got to the end of the west side route, we did a quick dogleg to the east side of 17-92 and followed a route I had explored a month ago as an option for the Cystic Fibrosis ride. Hillside was a bit stop-sign-infested, but the route worked well, taking us to Saxon Blvd. Using Saxon for 1000ft to get to Enterprise was easy with the dogleg technique we teach in CyclingSavvy.
We swooped down through Glen Abbey and back across 17-92 again. A short collection of neighborhood streets brought us down to Highbanks. I usually take Shell Rd from here, but it has less shade than the neighborhood streets on the east side, so we crossed back over and headed for the Spring to Spring trail.
We did it! We rode from Deland to the St. Johns bridge without having to use 17-92 for more than a few hundred feet. Best of all, there was not only zero incivility, we exchanged friendly waves with 4 motorists and heard, “that’s the way to travel” from one.
One thing I really wanted to do on this trip was shoot video of the 17-92@I-4 interchange. Most people climb the bridge on the wide shoulder, but on the other side of the bridge, you have to leave the shoulder to stay to the left of the right-turn lane, then hold your ground with merging traffic and control the chute to Orange Blvd. The lane in which you enter Orange Blvd., becomes the on-ramp to I-4 East, so you have to change lanes right away. So here’s what it looks like:
Since road construction forced us to cross the 46@I-4 interchange, we shot some video there as well. This is pretty straight-forward—it works best to control the left thru lane through the interchange. The traffic lights at I-4 collect so much traffic that if you rode through in the right lane, you’d probably have to do a jughandle turn to make a left on Wayside. Here’s what that one looks like:
The rest of the trip was equally pleasant and uneventful. We stopped for a snack at Panera. The Seminole Wekiva Trail had a few more users on it than Friday, but wasn’t crowded. We used a slightly different route to get to Central southbound. Instead of taking Laura to Central and climbing the hill on Central, we took Citrus to Douglas and entered the left turn lane for Central. This allowed us to turn onto Central with a green light and climb the bridge in peace without a platoon of traffic passing us.
The wiggle route is about 4 1/2 miles longer than going directly up 17-92. It has more stop signs, obviously, but fewer traffic lights. It was definitely worth it for the solitude and shade.
I probably won’t be riding to Deland again any time soon, but I look forward to using the wiggle route on my next trip to Blue Springs—at least for the ride home.