Vanquishing Demons in the Devil’s Vortex

Most of our arterial roads, we know from the windshield perspective—insular, disconnected and too fast for realistic perception. We have a story about these roads. The story is rooted in the beliefs (control mythology) of a culture dependent upon private automobiles as well as local lore of the road itself.

That’s why Dan and Brian can create excellent video of them riding on Southern California arterial roads and people in cities with much more docile traffic will shrug it off and say, “well, you can’t do that on our roads.”

Colonial Drive looks like a run-of-the-mill commercial traffic sewer to anyone from anywhere, but to Orlandoans it holds additional mythical properties. It’s C o l o n i a l! Even I used to go out of my way to avoid riding on Colonial. That is, until one day I paused to examine my route choice and realized that riding a section of Colonial would provide a far superior route solution to what I had been doing. Now I use parts of Colonial regularly.

Outsider Perspective

At the beginning of the month, Mighk and I went to St. Louis to train a group of CyclingSavvy instructors. We asked Karen Karabell to provide us with a map locating the most fearsome intersections and interchanges within a reasonable 15-17 mile route. From there, we examined the Google satellite and streetview to see which would make for good lesson features. Our three basic criteria are: it looks intimidating (99% of cyclists would never consider riding a bike there); it’s easy when ridden with an awareness of traffic flow; and the best solution defies the “far right” bias. Bonus points if it makes the easiest connection to a desired destination or between two bike routes.

Planning a road tour in a place you’ve never been is interesting. For one thing, our Orlando road tour specifically includes a few features that are intimidating entirely because of local lore, yet incredibly easy to ride. That’s part of the strategy of CyclingSavvy—to bust through the lore, false strictures and irrational beliefs that cause people to ride in ways that expose them to risk and limit their ability to use a bicycle for transportation.

So back to St. Louis. When planning the CSI road tour (where candidates will be preparing lesson plans, teaching the features then sending their fellow candidates through one at a time), we were attracted by the craziest stuff you could see from outer space. And St. Louis did not disappoint! Here’s the route:

View larger map

Even though we selected all of these features because we knew they could be ridden easily despite how intimidating they seemed, when we went out to ground-truth them we found them even easier than we imagined! In fact, they were incredibly fun!

But we also upended a bit of local lore for our host:

When Mighk and Keri suggested riding on Kingshighway Boulevard between Barnes Hospital Drive and Manchester Road, I did not confess that when commuting on my bicycle I have always avoided this particular stretch of roadway.

Read: Nothing to fear but fear itself and check out the video of us riding it.

BTW, our friend Andy Cline of Carbon Trace got to teach this feature. In the training, he nicknamed it the Devil’s Vortex. Here’s his report on it: What I learned in CSI Training

Looks scary, doesn’t it? Well, it’s really a big purring pussy cat when you drive your bicycle through it properly.

Fellow CSI, Melissa Brown, who was 34 weeks pregnant at the time, wrote a report of the training as well:

While portions of this route seem intimidating upon first glance, even for the seasoned road cyclist, Cycling Savvy provides the skills, information, and confidence necessary to navigate the features, breaking them down into manageable chunks for cyclists of every level.

Read: Cycling Savvy Instructor! on Melissa’s blog, Her Green Life.

For the perspective of a seasoned cyclist—someone with decades more cycling experience than I have—check out Illinois’ first CSI, Gary Cziko’s introduction: CyclingSavvy: A Course for All Cyclists, Novices to Veterans

When CyclingSavvy came to the midwest in April and June 2011, I took both the Three-Part Course and the Instructors’ Course in St. Louis. I believe that I learned more in these few months about cycling safely and comfortably in traffic than I had learned from my previous 50 or so years of cycling.

I, too, found this training quite rewarding. As with every new experience, I learned even more about what I teach and how to teach it. And the Midwest Region is blessed with a terrific crew of CSIs!

7 replies
  1. bencott
    bencott says:

    i once biked 436 all the way from Red Bug Lake Rd. to Pershing Ave. that was a fast, fun ride, and controlling the right lane, it was the safest i’ve ever felt on a high speed road. East Colonial between Bumby and Bennett is pretty easy. you just have to plan ahead as far as which lane you want to be in.
    i haven’t taken the CS courses, but i have benefited from Mighk’s and Keri’s tutelage through social rides. i guess you could call it “CS Lite.”

  2. NE2
    NE2 says:

    One of these mornings I’m going to stand on the side of Apopka-Vineland at Buena Vista Woods and film southbound traffic towards Disney. There’s very little platooning and a whole lot of dense traffic, more like I-4 than most surface streets. I haven’t tried it, but it seems to me that one cyclist would cause serious delays.

  3. Lyle
    Lyle says:

    Hm. Sometimes, certain features are intimidating in local lore for good reason, which might not be obvious to the outsider who parachutes in for a brief visit. I’m just saying… Sometimes something is intimidating to one local user and not another, and not necessarily because the former rider is inexperienced. So for example, here are a few places I avoid riding if possible: Not because I don’t know how to negotiate these intersections, but because I have experience with the drivers, speeds and sight lines at various times of day. If you look at these with StreetView or satellite imagery, you’ll think they are perfectly fine places to ride, and indeed, if you visit them at the right time of day you have every likelihood of never encountering one single conflict. I wonder if I would be as aware of the same kind of threats if I were visiting a strange city.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Of course, that’s true here. And most often of the ones that look like “perfectly fine places to ride.”

  4. David
    David says:

    Hmmmm…. What are the opportunities to show bicyclists how to handle traffic on major streets (don’t you need traffic to learn traffic skills?) as close to or right from the beginning?

    The often repeated advice is to learn on quiet pleasant streets. But… If you become “good enough for me” while avoiding traffic how will that affect your your incentive to learn “difficult” traffic?

    If so, how would you select students and the progression of skills for a traffic immersion approach?

    • Mighk Wilson
      Mighk Wilson says:

      We’ve had students who could barely control the bike attend our course, and leave with immensely improved skills and confidence.

      The same skills and basic strategies are necessary whether one bikes on a neighborhood street or an arterial, except for one key difference — changing lanes with high-speed overtaking traffic. So we show people how to avoid having to merge with high-speed traffic. Heck, I can do it, but I’d rather not; why should I expect a novice to learn it?

      We usually only get one chance with students. If we teach to and tell them, “Keep to low-speed streets,” many of them will stay stuck at that level because they’ve never dealt directly with the more complex environments.

      As we showed in the post with John Alexander on the Lake Mary Blvd. interchange — — our students go on to see the possibilities of what they can do, and even surprise us.

      Once you change their BELIEFS, everything else is possible.

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