Lovely Morning for a Stroll Downtown

Who knew bike transportation could be so pleasant!

Yesterday morning I had a meeting downtown. The bike is usually my first choice for going anyplace within 5 miles, but especially for going downtown. I love to ride in downtown, but I also have very little experience with driving a car there, so I don’t really know where to park one. That unknown makes the bike even more appealing.

It was an exceptionally lovely morning. The humidity is still low enough to wear meeting clothes on the bike (come summer, I will have to take a change of clothes if I want to use the bike). My objective for the ride was to keep my exertion level to that of walking. I didn’t want to sweat (insofar as that’s possible in Florida). I don’t have a speedometer on my bike, but based on experience, that’s ~8mph for me.

Let’s talk about speed for a minute

There is a myth in bicycling that is sadly perpetuated by many accomplished bicycle drivers as well as bikeway advocates. That is that one cannot ride at a casual pace on the road. This mindset is a developmental plateau on the way to becoming a liberated cyclist. The first big step is learning to control your space, but the leap to freedom is learning that you can do so without riding at the highest speed you can muster.

A number of years ago I posited this notion of the need for speed in the company of one who knew better. I was firmly corrected. Of course I didn’t believe it, but I went out and experimented and discovered he was right.

I suffered from this mindset for a while, myself. A number of years ago I posited this notion of the need for speed in the company of one who knew better. I was firmly corrected. Of course I didn’t believe it, but as is my wont, I went out and experimented and discovered he was right.

The fact that this myth remains ingrained in many “vehicular cyclists” is an indication of a deficiency in the way traffic cycling has been taught and explained. Previous cycling education programs have basically dropped people off at this plateau, with a fixation on lane position, the unspoken belief that they have to go fast and no other tools. The poor dears are exhausting themselves trying to accommodate the culture of speed, really to no avail. It makes them say things like, “When we design roads and promote policies, [the casual cyclist] is the guy we should be thinking about — not ourselves, the efficient vehicular commuters, but the folks who just want to mosey around comfortably.” Aside from seeming  paternalistic, that statement causes me cognitive dissonance because I mosey around comfortably by default, unless I have a non-traffic-related reason or desire to ride faster.

People! Passing motorists have no idea if you’re going 8mph or 18mph! Nor do they recognize or appreciate the difference if they get stuck behind you for a few seconds. RELAX!

The truth is, a general traffic lane supports the cyclist who is hammering as fast as she can (a range of roughly 15-25mph), as well as the casual cyclist who is not exerting herself (8-15mph). Good route options (as are prevalent in the urban core) and the strategies taught in CyclingSavvy further enhance road travel for both slow and fast cyclists. The segregated urban cycletrack only supports slow cycling. By our cultural and political nature, such facilities will be socially and, ultimately legally, compulsory. It’s a poor trade to “accommodate” the lowest common denominator. Especially since it really doesn’t.

Before we get the tangential “yeah but” comments about busy suburban 2-lane roads. I’m talking about riding in the urban core where there are numerous route options and lots of roads with multiple lanes. The urban core is where advocates want to build special infrastructure. This is where it is ALREADY easy to ride. We’ll talk about 2-lane roads with no alternatives and semi-rural, over-developed areas some other time, OK? But keep in mind, no one is trying to help you out with that while they’re clamoring for unnecessary, symbolic stuff with pretty-colored paint in downtown.

So, back to the route

[cetsEmbedGmap src= width=640 height=425 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

I live very close to the Cady Way trail. My hope is these little maps can benefit anyone coming into town from it, as well as those who simply live in surrounding neighborhoods.

I decided to take the neighborhood route half way. No cars passed me while I was riding between home and Ferncreek. I had to wait a few seconds to get a gap to turn left on Bumby. I left space for a car to pass on my right to turn right, one did. I’m not crazy about Ferncreek, but it’s the price for the quiet, treelined streets and there wasn’t much traffic. Entire blocks of the bike lane were visibly unusable, which was fine with me. I did have occasion to discover why there are huge piles of leaves in the bike lane there. The lawn service guys are blowing all the leaves off the lawns into the street.

Robinson was nearly empty when I turned onto it. I maintained my casual pace (which gained a bit of free speed coming down the little grade toward Lake Eola). A few small platoons of cars passed me in the left lane without trouble. There wasn’t a hint of incivility.

At rush hour, I might use a different parallel road due to traffic density, but there are a number of options with either no traffic or more lanes. South Street actually works well since it has 3 lanes in the same direction. I will be happy to draw other route options on the map, upon request.

I needed some photos of the skyline from across the lake, and I wasn’t late (yet), so I pulled over and snapped a few. The bike is the perfect vehicle for such an errand!

On Orange Ave., I practically coasted along with the cars. I love riding downtown. I love entering the cavern of buildings with an unhindered view of it all.

I pulled in to City Hall without a minute to spare. Locked up next to Mighk’s bike and headed in for a meeting to take a look at the City’s planned wayfinding system. Good stuff. More on that in a future post.

After the meeting at City Hall, I had another scheduled at B3 (to discuss how CyclingSavvy can helping the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation with their first bicycle ride event next fall). Such is a day in the life of my unpaid, unofficial job. But before leaving downtown, I needed a photo of the new Amway Center (for a job that offers actual income). I love the bike racks they installed!

From there,  I headed up Garland. As I got to Robinson, there was a freight train inching its way into town. I had a green light, so I turned right onto Robinson, putting me ahead of a bunch of traffic to the west. (The car in the photo actually turned right behind me and then passed me. I had stopped on a stop bar, which I assumed was for the crossing.) During the long wait, lots of traffic collected. The signals at Orange, Magnolia and Rosalind kept us all going the same pace through downtown. After crossing Rosalind, I decided to pull into the Eola Park Centre parking lot to release the traffic. This just makes things more pleasant for all of us and delays me about 10 seconds. When the traffic was past, I went back out onto an empty road and continued on my way.

A friendly moment

When I pulled into the parking lot entrance, a car was waiting to turn onto Robinson. I thought, from its position that the driver intended to turn left. I whipped a U-turn and rolled up on the right side of it. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t recall seeing a turn signal. I was in a pretty poor position if he was turning right, so I got his attention and asked. Turns out, he was turning right, but he rolled down his window and said, “you can go ahead and go first.” We exchanged a friendly greeting, traffic cleared, I pulled into the right lane, he turned out and passed me easily in the left lane. This may seem silly, but that friendly human connection made my little pull-out feel as worthwhile as getting the road to myself afterward.

It was a really nice ride, both ways. I lost count of how many friendly waves I got from other road users (cyclists, motorists and pedestrians). Not a second of unpleasantness.

This is a great city for people like us, who just like to ride our bikes.

21 replies
  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    Nice. Thanks for the reminder that going as fast as one can is not always the best way to get to one’s destination.

    You are right, of course–a patient pace doesn’t take that much longer than a wide-open-throttle race in the urban grid system. You are also right to acknowledge that in more suburban commutes like my thirteen-mile route to work, faster works to a point.

    I find that whether I average 13 or 15 miles an hour matters little in my point to point time over a less-than-thirteen mile ride. It is thus easy for me to take whichever bike is closest to the garage door (as long as it has the ability to carry what I’m carrying) rather than always having to have the “thoroughbred” ready to commute.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Thank you Tom!

      You just reminded me of another point on total-trip average speed. I find that in downtown my average speed (including stops) varies based on which traffic lights I get red or green and not on my cruising speed.

      By riding a casual pace I find 2 advantages: 1) I often pull up behind faster traffic that has just started moving again on a green light. I end up maintaining the same slow average speed that they are without stopping or bursts of acceleration. 2) If I’m monitoring the ped countdown clocks, I have a full supply of reserve energy to do a quick sprint and catch a light before it goes red. Then I settle back to mosey pace. This not only saves me a minute of waiting at a red light, it gets me the road almost entirely to myself for a bit more than that minute.

      A note on #2. I tried to sprint for a light on the St Pete cycletrack and almost got hit by a turning car. It’s not safe to sprint from an edge-of-the-road segregated space unless it has a completely separate dedicated signal phase. Even then, it’s still probably not a good idea because of all the potential surprises (such as pedestrian incursions).

      • NE2
        NE2 says:

        Apologies for taking this off topic, but I’m reminded of how I drive a car in stop-and-go traffic. I’ll go slower than the ‘go’ speed and try to time it so when I catch back up during the ‘stop’ phase the next ‘go’ phase has begun. Supposedly this also helps traffic behind me:

      • Tom
        Tom says:

        I’ve noted similar results regarding traffic lights. I have a roughly mile-long stretch that involves four traffic lights. On a bike, going a maximum of twenty or so but more likely averaging about fifteen, I lose ground by two or three cars to a car that was behind me at the first of the lights.

        I have, on occasion, pulled up at the last of those four lights beside a motorist that passed me dangerously right after leaving the first.

        I waved to the guy, and asked him how much time his dangerous pass got him over me…

  2. Scott
    Scott says:

    “Passing motorists have no idea if you’re going 8mph or 18mph! Nor do they recognize or appreciate the difference if they get stuck behind you for a few seconds.”

    This is so true. I’m usually a “fast as possible” cyclist, partly because I don’t want to generate more harassment from other drivers. This is a good reminder that it isn’t necessary to always go full speed.

    Regarding motorists not being able to judge your speed, I got pulled over once by a cop who adamantly claimed that I was riding “2 mph”. I was actually going about 10 mph, and I would have been going much faster except that I was riding *behind* his cruiser and that’s the speed he was going!

    • Tom
      Tom says:

      I wonder about that sort of thing from time to time. I suppose that if the cruiser was equipped with a good digital speedometer, he might have been able to say with certainty you were going that fast. However, the analog speedometer in my own car is far from that accurate. It looks like I’m doing somewhere between five and fifteen when I’m going something between five and fifteen, but I could be doing fifteen and it would be hard to say I wasn’t only going five.

      My point is that most speedometers are far from accurate in that range–indeed, most are only accurate to within ten or fifteen percent, anyway (tire size and inflation being variables that affect the reading). If I’m not going 45 in a 25 zone, the motorist behind me who insists on his gawd-given right to go 50 in a 25 zone will get ticked at me for blocking his path. He won’t care whether I’m going ten or twelve–he can’t tell the difference based on his speedometer–I’m not going 45, and that’s all that matters to him.

      sorry for the rant…

  3. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    It’s mostly psychological. Usually, I agree with y’all, but at the website link, I encountered a situation where I felt internalized pressure to ride full out, even though not a single motorist was behind. Since Monday, I simply make a one-block detour and mostly ride fast in a couple of spots so I can swoop around some cool corners like a “Chuck Yeager wannabe.”

    • NE2
      NE2 says:

      Heh. I ride around the pickup/dropoff loop at the local park when I want to play “Dale Earnhardt wannabe”.

  4. Eric
    Eric says:

    Opposite for me.

    I’ve always thought exercise to be an anathema. If I cycled somewhere and was out of breath for even a second or two, I knew I was doing it wrong. Same with cracking a sweat if the temperature was less than 80F.

    But then, month before last, I saw the doctor and was surprised to see that I was about 15 pounds heavier than I thought I was. I am by no means overweight, but I’ve always been “self regulating” meaning that my overactive thyroid gland allowed me to eat up to 6,000 calories a day (3x the norm) and still not gain a pound.

    When I met my wife, I told her right off that I was expensive to feed.

    In fact, there for a while, no matter how much I ate, I was still losing weight, but that was when I was aboard ship and was very active. Lifting 100 pounds with one hand was easy as was eating two steak dinners with three baked potatoes and three or four tossed salads. No dessert, thanks.

    Lately I’ve been paying attention to how much I eat. AYCE places no longer hold the same tantalization for me they used to although Sunday, went to one and I knocked down three full plates plus dessert.

    I’ve also been picking up the cycling pace. The dog has, too. And I have noticed a change.

    I’ve noticed that where I used to dislike the higher ratios on my “Sunday” Raleigh DL-1, now they seem about right — cruising speed is in third gear. And on my working bike, I almost never slip below 10th speed when I used to live in the first 5 speeds.

    And in a week I dropped 5 pounds. Not where I want to be, but I’m getting there. Oh, and the dog dropped 2 pounds.

  5. Eric
    Eric says:

    “Passing motorists have no idea if you’re going 8mph or 18mph! Nor do they recognize or appreciate the difference if they get stuck behind you for a few seconds.”

    That’s right. They don’t care. I have never understood cyclists who thought they did. I can understand wanting to keep a pace like I have begun to do to burn more calories, but to keep ahead of the traffic? Huh?

    When I ask the cyclist who seems concerned about their speed in traffic why, I get back some speed differential gibberish that makes no sense.

  6. Keith
    Keith says:

    Keri – I am interested in the photo of the map page that you show in this article. Does it illustrate some of your “Keri approved” bike routes? I am especially interested in the ones on the West side of I-4. Your Google maps are useful, but since most of them originate near your residence to the East of downtown they are of lesser use to me (though no less excellent). I would like to find a route from Maitland (West of I-4) to the L.B. McLeod/Vineland Rd area – and assume it isn’t John Young Parkway. A one sheet map with an assortment of suggested routes throughout town could be a useful tool.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Keith, I’ll be happy to do that for you!! I’ll even ride it with you sometime, if you’d like.

      The photo is of the City of Orlando’s planned wayfinding system. I am familiar with some of the routes and they are ones I would use. Mighk and I plan to ride the routes and evaluate them (as well as identify any hazards which could use spot improvement). Once we’ve done that, I’ll write a more detailed post on it.

      The wayfinding system will consist of bike route signs with placards indicating direction, destination and mileage. The idea is to lead people to destinations such as the Lynx central station, downtown, the mountain bike park, cady way trail, etc. via pleasant routes. It will replace the old system that consisted of green bike route signs with no indication of where the road was taking you.

      • Keith
        Keith says:

        That would be cool! Though I am afraid that if you actually rode it with me it might make it too difficult for me to come up with excuses not to ride it more frequently. I am still an evil car driver – with good intentions though.

  7. JAT in Seattle
    JAT in Seattle says:

    Yet another great essay, Keri, you always make me think or give me a new vocabulary for things I was thinking already.

    I like to go fast, and in my mind I equate fast cycling with straight predictable non-wobbly road use, but I do admit I sometimes feel like I have to go as fast as possible because, when I’m taking the lane (and I don’t always, but I absolutely will when I know it’s the only safe option for me) I don’t want to hold people up.

    I’m really going to be thinking about this this evening on my way home.

    One last thing: I’m quite certain I read a quotation from Chuck Yeager in which he said he said there’s a time and a place for going fast but he keeps the cruise control on his pick-up set at 55…

  8. Rick
    Rick says:

    “Passing motorists have no idea if you’re going 8mph or 18mph! Nor do they recognize or appreciate the difference if they get stuck behind you for a few seconds.”
    Not always. I ride down the stretch of Bumby Avenue between Colonial and Corrine Drive most mornings and I am somewhat of a leadpedal. I like to go fast, As I was going down that stretch of road I saw a trash truck in my review mirror. That may have given me a little extra speed, but as I stopped at the light at Corrine the driver leaned out and said “Hey!” You were going over 20 mph. I grinned and said “Pretty fast huh?” He said, “Way to go man!” and gave me thumbs up. Different from the usual comments I get.

  9. Brian Glover
    Brian Glover says:

    Since you quoted me out of context, I might as well point out that you missed my point entirely: comfort is completely subjective. I didn’t say that one must go fast to be comfortable on the road. Sure, it’s possible to feel quite comfortable at any speed on any road — most of us who bother to read bike blogs do feel that way. I’m with you. But how many people in the remaining 98% agree with us? Good luck telling people that if they’d only “RELAX!,” they’d experience the world just as you do and feel comfortable in all the same places you do. Telling them that their fears are irrational doesn’t help — fears, by definition, are not rational.

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