Google Maps: Which Way Do I Go?

One’s route to work by bicycle is a critical factor in persistent successful bicycle commuting.  I have seen many people complain that they just don’t have a safe route by which they can make their daily trip.  Often cited limitations include: too heavy of traffic, no good trails, no sidewalks, crazy drivers, too long of distance, et cetera.   Many people persist in these excuses for so long that they become old and frail before realizing that they have missed out on a life time of bicycle commuting!

Range is a topic to be discussed in detail on a later day, but in my experience almost anyone can do a 10 mile per day commute from day one.  If one  lives further than that, you may have to work up to your full-time commute. [For example, ride 3-4 days per week or occasionally take the bus one way. However, eventually one can probably ride up to 50 miles per day!]

Don’t repeat my mistake!

When I first started my current commute, I did not take the time to map my trip out on any kind of map.  At that time I felt most comfortable on trails and I had become very familiar with this particular trail when I first moved to my current city [It was the trail I took to visit my then girlfriend – now wife 🙂 ].   I knew where this trail was in relationship to my home and in relationship to my work, so I maximized my trail use.  I thought this way was spectacular: once I arrived on the trail it was flat; I  got to ride past amazing parks; I was generally able to avoid heavy traffic and busy intersections; the trail seemed to go straight.

The problem was that this trail-based route was extending the length of my trip by 4-9 miles each day and meant that I had to peddle like a mad person in order to make it  to work in under one hour.  Also, there was a massive hill to overcome twice per day in route to the trail! I did not realize the errors to my way until I marked this trail out on Google Maps.

For those who do not know, when you go to Google Maps and enter directions from Point A to Point B, you can choose different modes of transportation.  The default is automobile (for some reason) but you can also choose public transit, walking, air plane, and bicycle.

Below is an example of the bicycle route from San Francisco to New York.  According to Google, this route is 3219 miles and will take a calculated 274 hours.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 20.34.37

Fantastically, the majority of bicycle trails in major US metro areas are included in the calculation to find your best way and will favor the most “bikable” path.  Thus, Google Maps will tell you which way to go with very little thought involved.  An added bonus is there is a schematic of the relative elevation so you can predict where the hills will be.

(I am not sure how well this works for my international readers. Please let me know in the comments how this function works for you.)

My original route, mentioned above, when calculated by Google Maps was an astonishing 16.3 miles. You can see the path is a bit meandering in the featured image above! When I plug in my home address and the address of my work and hit the bicycle tab, I get an amazing route that is 11.7 miles.  The problem with the preferred Google Map route is that the traffic is generally really heavy at the times I ride to work.  I very rarely take this shorter route, because it often takes longer than my current route.

My current route is a hybrid between the extremely long mostly bike trail route and the amazingly short, high traffic Google Maps route, and logs in at just over 14.0 miles each way – 28 miles per day.  This way has a nice combination being mostly flat, about 40% trail, and avoidance of major traffic arteries.

Since discovering Google Maps, I have explored additional pathways that work for different situations.  In the winter months, it is nice to have a  plethora of different known paths so that you can modify your route according to pass-ability.   There are some days where the trails are simply not usable due to snow or ice.  Likewise, certain conditions make the smaller streets, busy streets, or sidewalks difficult to traverse.  I have a large arsenal of potential ways of getting home available to me.

As I have already alluded to in a previous post, I rode to work in monsoon-like conditions on the day of the Great Colorado Flood of 2013.  At about 6:00 am that morning, I took what I call “The Southern Route” and rode through Expo Park in Aurora, Colorado.  The lakes in this park were building up rapidly; I could predict that in very little time this trail would be completely submerged! This turned out to be the case as you can see in this photo from later in the day.  I knew that taking this path back home after work was simply not an option.  Fortunately, I knew that “The Northern Route” just happens to be on higher ground and I would completely avoid all flooding.  I made it home safely and just a little soaked!

For those people skeptical about bicycle riding to work, I hope that this post helps to enlighten you.  If I can find a way home in the most bizarre conditions (including the largest flood in over 1000 years), you can likely find one way that is safe and passable on a typical day.  There is literally nowhere in the United States where bicycling to work is not an option.  If you think you cannot bike to work, I can promise you that you are making unreasonable excuses! 🙂


Post script: A few notes about the progression of this blog. I have been working hard in the background on updating the look of the pages.  I will be updating the theme some time within the next few months.  Also, my wife is working hard on a logo for the blog that will soon be displayed prominently at the top of the page.  The current picture at the top is just a place holder so that the space at  the top is not blank.  The picture is a real picture that we took of a nice tropical island in Bora Bora last summer.  At the moment, the picture has very little to do with biking.  However, in the future I will write about how Bora Bora is related to an everyday bicycle commute!


Thank you for reading.  I look forward to any comments!



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