Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bike Plan

Recognize the above image? If you've biked in Seattle, you've probably come across this free city map available online and in hard copy. This image is cropped to show the route through South of Downtown to get to the I-90 shared use trail which then goes to the Mount Baker Pedestrian Tunnel. It looks straight forward after you get through the mess which is Jackson St (blue horizontal line towards the left top of the image) and the International District. Go west on Dearborn which although busy does have a bike lane. Then you need to cross Rainier Ave S to get to Hiawatha Pl S, turn right and you'll end up on the path after a couple of blocks.

It's been some years since I've done this route through here on my bike. I was all ready to go last weekend as I wanted to join a couple of my typical bike courses to get some more miles in. No biggie. I checked the map as a refresher. What is that little purple jog which the route takes around Rainier/Dearborn? That intersection is busy so I figured it was just an easier little re-route to take you to a better way to cross that intersection. (Route based on Seattle bike map is here.)

Uh no. No! NO!

This route is even signed with helpful little images like the one below:

So as I was riding along Dearborn headed towards the intersection, I see the scene below. I'm standing on a sharrow sign with my bike and it looks very clear that I need to turn right at the next intersection (Poplar Ave S).

Great! This makes me feel a little more secure about where I'm going and it's pretty clear that I should turn. Immediately after I turn right there is another sign directing me to turn left (onto S Dean St) and matching the bike map. Here is the scene and notice the bike sign at the far right
directing a bicyclist to turn left.

And what do you get when you turn onto S. Dean St as directed by signs and map? Chewed up pavement, gravel and sheer bewilderment about what you are supposed to do next. I turned that corner and my jaw dropped in disbelief.

This is what the road surface looks like and yep, that's just chunks of pavement and piles of gravel arranged in a most artistic pot holed sort of way.

This is the broader scene.

And that's it. I didn't see any more signs and no obvious way to go through the intersection. I guess I was supposed to use the crosswalks with my bike (! No way!)but I ended up riding on the sidewalk (! No Way!) of Rainier for a block. the sidewalk was narrow, pitted and full of driveway cutouts like many sidewalks are in Seattle. I got to the next street down and waited for a bit for traffic to clear and bolted across.

What the hell?

By myself I'd just ride in the through lane and go through the intersection acting like a car. Keep in mind that when I was riding early on a weekend morning it wasn't that busy. Still when it is busy, it's almost easier to behave like a car as traffic isn't going as fast. I deliberately checked the bike map as a reference to see what was recommended through this area. I checked the Cascade's bike forums too trying to see what were the most recommend routes to get to the I-90 path.

This is what makes me crazy about biking. Yep, there are recommended routes and various ways to get places but looking at bike maps and checking online for bike routes doesn't give you the little details needed. And then you come across routing instructions which are plain dangerous. Hmmph.

Don't get me wrong. There are some really nice mapping features out there. I like but any route is only as good and detail-oriented as the person who put the route into the system. It's the little details which are really valuable to a nervous cyclist like me. Maps put out by the city are instantly out of date or just plain nuts about routing. What about the efforts to get Google to add bike routing to their maps? This seems like both a good idea and a disaster waiting to happen. Where would Google get their bike routing information? From city maps which aren't up to date and often seem to deliberately pick the busiest street to ride?

After some googling about a bit. I did find this bike route planner for San Francisco. It has some mixed reviews but it is an interesting program. Is there anything like this for Seattle yet? Not that I can tell. And no, there isn't the detail needed especially for newbie cyclists.

Seattle did pass a "Seattle Bicycle Master Plan" recently and I know I have been seeing the sharrows painted in the most unlikeliest of places. Yesterday I biked to work and followed new bike signs which directed me from Downtown to the Interurban trail via Fremont. This time, the signs worked! It was a clear route with easy to navigate sharrows, bike lanes and good road conditions.

With gasoline prices not likely to go down anytime soon, I only see busing and biking rates increasing. I'm not sure Seattle is at all ready for this.


Enniferjay said...

I had a book of maps for cyclists in SF that had the easy and hard grades. It was really helpful. I haven't found one for San Diego, but I haven't looked really hard. Then again, there are books with EVERYTHING in San Francisco, famous movies scenes, best murals, best staircases, best bakeries... Hope you find something that works for Seattle.

rpd said...

I had a similar experience coming off the Mt. Baker Tunnel a few weeks ago too only traffic was flying on MLK Way and it really wasn't so safe to be riding on the road. Like you, I hit the sidewalk and then managed to find a side street that I could use to Dearborn. That was OK. Dropping down into the city though got really dicey as the turn from Dearborn down to 5th towards Pioneer Square. There is an intersection designed for cars.

You are right. Seattle isn't ready for this. We cannot even get bike paths to connect with all the northern and southern suburbs.