Adventures in Route Planning and Improvisation

Yesterday I joined fellow LCI (CommuteOrlando editor and occasional contributor) Lisa B in Tuscawilla to teach bike handling to Joy VonWerder’s triathlon training group. This meant I would be commuting from College Park to Tuscawilla at rush hour… with panniers full of cones and Street Smarts books.

I planned a route using familiar roads and the Cady Way trail. I also took note of some unfamiliar surrounding roads and made a mental note to check them out sometime.

As I left the office, the microbursts from nearby thunderstorms were swirling around, promising to add unwanted excitement to my adventure. But I was committed.

My route went as planned, easy and relatively traffic free, for the first 10 miles. Even though I used mostly low-volume roads, the trail was a lovely, peaceful interlude. I found, as Andrew says, crossing motorists are very accommodating and respectful of trail traffic at some of the potentially-dicey crossings in Goldenrod.

My plan had been to make a jug-handle turn onto Hall Rd. (mile 10) and wait in the northbound queue for the light to continue north up Howell Branch. I’ve done this maneuver numerous times, but not at rush hour. When I arrived at Hall, there was a queue of traffic extending south as far as I could see. I didn’t want to cross and then stop in front of them at the light. The right lane on the other side is not wide enough to share. I didn’t want to go find the end of the queue and then sit in traffic, that would be silly. So, if I wanted to go north up Howell Branch, my best option was to use the trail crosswalks to cross Hall, then Aloma, then wait on the northeast corner through a third light cycle, until the Hall Rd traffic was stopped again, to turn onto Howell Branch. At that point, I’d have the road pretty much to myself.

But three light cycles? I’m not that patient. And each cycle is really long. It takes two long ones just to continue east on the trail. I had plenty of time to think through my decision.

I decided to employ the alternate roads I’d noted during my route planning (this map is my entire actual route, the diversion begins at mile 10). I’ve been studying maps and planning routes for 2 decades and I’m accomplished at recognizing good cycling roads, but you still never know. The satellite is very helpful in showing where traffic lights are and you can get a sense of lane widths and road configuration, but it doesn’t tell you much about surface quality or traffic patterns. I’m pretty conservative about trying unfamiliar roads when I’m on a time schedule.

I was a little worried about Tuscawilla Rd, knowing how thick the traffic can be at rush hour, but I was pretty sure it had a wide curb lane. It does. When I got to the crossing, I pushed the button for the light and then noticed there was no traffic in either direction. I was on Tuscawilla alone for an amazingly long time. The traffic didn’t catch up to me until just before my turn.

When I was alone, or nearly alone, I rode several feet out from the gutter seam. The few lone cars passed me in the left lane. As the big clot of traffic approached, I moved to the secondary lane-sharing position about 1.5 ft from the seam. The passing cars deflected toward the centerline and I got ample clearance (fortunately there were no large trucks). The problem with this sharing position is that motorists turning right at Gabriella had zero concern for my direction of travel and were totally willing to pass and turn in front of me. I was turning at Gabriella, but I still was at risk for being cut off in the corner. As the cars were slowing to turn, I moved a little left to protect myself.

I was pleasantly surprised that both Gabriella Ln and Brooks Ln had very little traffic. It was a very peaceful route at peak rush hour. I was able to cross Red Bug Rd at a traffic light and use residential streets to get over to Citrus Rd and into Tuscawilla. The total distance ended up being 2 miles shorter than my planned route.

Or it would have been. Since I hadn’t memorized this route, I forgot what I was supposed to do north of Red Bug Rd. and took and unplanned tour of that neighborhood. I still managed to get to my destination on time. The thunderstorms remained an ominous threat in the distance, but it never rained on my route.

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