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  1. #1
    ---- buzzman's Avatar
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    Choosing a safe bike route

    My local REI (Boston) is offering a course in bike commuting and a portion of the course will be devoted to finding a safe route to ride.

    It set me to thinking. Certainly one of the first skills I developed as a bike rider was map reading and learning how to choose a bike route that got me safely to my destination. Here in Boston we now have an excellent series of bike maps made by Rubel. These easy to read maps provide cyclists with keys to preferred routes.

    So to help those readers who might be new to this skill I thought it would be a worthwhile thread to offer some pointers on how to do this.

    Perhaps being specific to certain categories might help:

    Transportation Cycling.

    a) commuting

    b) Point A to B travel both local and more long distance

    c) utility/messenging etc...

    Recreational

    a) Fun rides.

    b) Training routes- time trials, training loops, small group of riders training

    c) Touring- day and long distance.

    d) group and club rides

    e) Foreign travel



    What are your criteria? How do you define a safe route? And how do you choose one? What resources do you use?

    Keep in mind that a safe route not only involves how we interact with automobiles but other factors like road conditions, flooding, fog areas, high wind, steep descents or climbing.

  2. #2
    Senior Member MrCjolsen's Avatar
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    I basically have 3 criteria for a particular road - outside lane width, volume of traffic, and speed of traffic.

    Basically, an unacceptable road is one that fails all three criteria. For example, a crowded, narrow street is good if the traffic is going the same speed I ride at. A heavily travelled expressway is good if it has a nice wide shoulder or bike lane. And a narrow country road works if there's only a car every five minutes or so.

    The next problem are incidental things along the route. I have two routes to work. One is 12.5 miles and the other is 14 miles. On the shorter route, I have to make a left turn in fast moving traffic. The longer route is free of any tricky manevering. Also, along the shorter route there are some dangerous tire-eating railroad track I like to avoid, expecially when I ride my fixed gear.

  3. #3
    bragi bragi's Avatar
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    I only have three criteria:

    1. The road must have a low volume of traffic;
    or
    2. The road must have a wide shoulder or designated bike lane;
    or
    3. The cars on the road must not be able to go much faster than a bike.

    That said, a deal breaker for me is any road where the cars are going faster than 45mph, unless the shoulder is huge; at that speed or above, I don't feel that drivers expect to see a guy on a bike, nor can they react in enough time if necessary. In addition, at these speed differences (45 mph vs. 15 mph), let alone the mass difference, I don't think a styrofoam bike helmet will do much to help me in the event of a mishap.
    If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

  4. #4
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    I usually just go for it, and decide after just how fun it was!

    or white knuckler.

    Many communities have maps that chart out 'bicycle friendly' streets - IE low traffic, bike lanes, etc. and some even highlight 'bicycle unfriendly' roads- high speed, high volume roads without bike lanes, wide lanes or shoulders.

    seems pretty nice to have a community outline the good roads and the poor roads for riding.

    Sometimes on tour I wind up on a road with high speed, high volumes of traffic and narrow roads; unlike some of the brain addled 'bikes-r-like-cars' vehicular parity chestbeaters that drive a lot and post in here, I know EXACTLY how much 'fun' and 'safe' those roads are.

    high speed, high volume roads require concentration, nerves of steel and the backbone to take abuse, buzzingly close passes, honks and things thrown at you for taking the lane.

    nicer to be able to pick out a lightly trafficed country road or even a long distance MUP, even though bikes have the 'rights' to the all roads, some are more 'right' for biking than others.

    the ability to read maps is good, but its tough to tell how much shoulder or traffic a road will have until you're on it, or have a cyclist geared map.

    cyclist specific maps, i wonder if the foresterites are PRO-map, or anti-map, if it encourages prudent route selection using available bike facilties.

    sorry, i digress.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  5. #5
    BF's Level 12 Wizard SingingSabre's Avatar
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    I have a map which lists various bike-friendly streets and the degrees they're friendly to. They're rated mostly by the size of the shoulder, if they have a "bike route" sign on them or not, and speed.

    It's been good to me so far.

    I prefer bike lanes, but will gladly take the lane on an appropiate street. I won't ride on a street where I have to take the lane in moderate to heavy traffic while travelling slowly.
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  6. #6
    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by buzzman
    What are your criteria? How do you define a safe route? And how do you choose one? What resources do you use?
    I just use a map to pick a route. In the old days, I used a traditional county paper map. Now I just use maps.google.com.

    If I'm trying to get somewhere (work, a friend's house, a store), I try to pick what will be the fastest route. I try to minimize stops signs and traffic signals when possible.

    If I'm planning a recreational ride, I look at total length, how scenic it is, numbers of hills (sometimes I want more, sometimes I want to avoid them), and reducing intersection delays.

    But, whether the route planning is transportational or recreational, "safety" is never a consideration. What makes one route more "safe" than another? I don't consider that at all, because there is nothing to consider. Lane width? Nope. Traffic volumes? Nope. Number of intersections, okay, maybe, but if there is a way to reduce number of intersections without sacrificing time, I'll do it anyway, but to reduce intersection-induced delays (stop signs and red lights), not for safety considerations.

    Edit: When riding at night without lights, which has happened to me once or twice (got stuck at work with no light), I seem to recall at least once that I chose an alternate route because it had street lights, to avoid a section on my regular route without street lights.
    Last edited by Helmet Head; 02-23-07 at 12:21 AM.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    But, whether the route planning is transportational or recreational, "safety" is never a consideration. What makes one route more "safe" than another?
    Given your cycling philosophy, I'm not surprised that you don't consider high traffic volumes and high speeds to affect safety but, in my experience anyway, they do.

    I used to travel one particular section of road with high volumes and high speeds with NOL. Not wanting to encourage unsafe passes, I take the full outside lane. Watching in my mirror, I see the havoc it is causing (not because I am doing anything illegally but because motorists are not willing to wait a few seconds). People are changing lanes at the last minute, cutting off other motorists, riding my tail, hitting the brakes, even some people who still try to squeeze by me with another car in the adjacent lane. I'm not sure how you could possibly consider this situation equally as safe as a quiet residential street with wide lanes and infrequent, slow moving traffic.

    Jalopy

  8. #8
    your nightmare gal chipcom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    But, whether the route planning is transportational or recreational, "safety" is never a consideration. What makes one route more "safe" than another? I don't consider that at all, because there is nothing to consider. Lane width? Nope. Traffic volumes? Nope. Number of intersections, okay, maybe, but if there is a way to reduce number of intersections without sacrificing time, I'll do it anyway, but to reduce intersection-induced delays (stop signs and red lights), not for safety considerations.
    Personally, I think the reality is far from what you write in here. You have positioned yourself to where you have no choice but to protect the steely-eyed, alpha-dog, professional cyclist persona that you aspire to and advocate, but I think most cyclists who have been riding the roadways for any amount of time see right through it. My concern is that the less-experienced cyclists will read this line and think they are doing something wrong or that their pecker isn't big enough and put themselves in situations that might get them hurt or worse, because they think it's what they are 'supposed' to do to be a real live 'serious' cyclist.

    So in a nutshell, IMO anyone who says that they don't consider safety factors at all when scoping out a route, is just plain fibbing.
    "Let us hope our weapons are never needed --but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government -- and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws" - Edward Abbey

  9. #9
    Senior Member rando's Avatar
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    I basically used Mapquest and found routes kind of parallel to the arterial I drive to work. through trial and error, I found a couple of different options. both are low-traffic and have wide outer lanes and low speed limits. part of one has bike lanes.it's efficient, pleasant, and I don't have to fight traffic much!
    "Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world". ~Grant Petersen

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  10. #10
    tired donnamb's Avatar
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    I utilize the bikeway maps my city and region publish that point out routes that are labelled by whether or not they have bike lanes and by the volume and speed of automobile traffic. Between that and my general knowledge of the area in question, I am able to plan trip routes that I am comfortable with taking.

  11. #11
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    I with chipcom on this one.

    Never considering safety when choosing routes is a dangerous way to decide where to ride a bike.

    For those of you new to cycling and looking to plan routes around your community, try and find out if there are local maps produced for cyclists.

    not just metropolitan areas have them, i've seen some from relatively rural counties.

    becuase some roads are more safe than others, these maps will help differentiate between well accomodated and less safe route choices.

    barring any maps for cyclists, a query to a local bicycling group on the internet will often produce an old salts' advice to the best route from A to B.

    and, using a well defined gazzateer will help you choose between different types of roads. a thin, county road line on a map is no guarantee of low traffic volumes, but it sometimes it is a good indicator.


    using a quality map while riding also allows you to pick an alternate route on the fly, if a road becomes not to your liking.

    sticking to a computer generated route map gives you no option but the declared one, and is much more suitable for driving while pretending you are riding a bike.
    Last edited by Bekologist; 02-22-07 at 08:39 AM.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  12. #12
    your nightmare gal chipcom's Avatar
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    Consider this scenario, which actually describes part of my commuting route: Your starting point and destination both lie on cross streets between two roads, but at opposite ends of those two roads, maybe 10 miles total.

    One road is a 4 lane, 60mph speed limit, divided highway with a fair, but inconsistent and debris laden shoulder. The road has one light controlled intersection with ROTL with the remaining cross street access being freeway-style on/off ramps. Bicycles are not barred by law from using this road. The road is fairly flat other than one overpass. Traffic volume is heavy and impatient. Cars using the shoulders to pass on either the left or right is not uncommon if overall volume causes backups, especially at the single lighted intersection. Some traffic exceeds 80mph and routinely jump from lane to lane to pass slower moving vehicles. The accident rate on this stretch of highway is probably at least 1 incident per day.

    The other road is a narrow, two-lane country road with no shoulder, rolling with a couple of steep climbs and a 45mph speed limit. This road has triple the number of intersections with only stop signs (4 and 2 way) to control ROW. Some of the cross streets have steady 55mph traffic. Traffic volume is not as heavy as the 4 lane, but regular.

    Which road do you choose and explain why safety ISN'T a factor in your decision, if that is the case.

    Edit: I ride the country road. I could ride faster, with less effort & stop/go on the highway, but getting tagged by some impatient or inattentive moron is a matter of when, not if.
    Last edited by chipcom; 02-22-07 at 09:09 AM.
    "Let us hope our weapons are never needed --but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government -- and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws" - Edward Abbey

  13. #13
    Dominatrikes sbhikes's Avatar
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    Route selection is the first thing that people have to learn when they start riding for transportation. Most people will hop on their bike and attempt to take the same route that they would if they drove, which isn't always the best choice for a number of reasons.

    The thing is, as cyclists we can't use the freeways so we're stuck with surface streets to go anywhere. If your city has any congestion, the surface streets can be a pain in the you-know-what. You have to stop all the time. The lights take a long time. There are lots of driveways for the strip malls. Etc. This is not always the safest, the fastest or the most fun.

    If you were in a car and you opted for a route that used residential streets instead, you might not find a lot of advantage because there are a lot of cross streets and the speed limit is low. But on a bicycle speed limit doesn't matter, and with the low volume of traffic, the intersections don't have signals and can be gotten through quickly.

    The trick is finding these back routes, which can be done if you a) have a map, b) have a map produced by local bicyclists, c) go for rides with or talk to local bicyclists who know the secret routes. The last one is how I learned a lot of my routes.

    For example, coming from a car-only perspective, you may never have noticed all the little bridges across creeks that connect various residential developments. These allow you to ride directly through on your bike, but in a car you can't do that, making each residential development kind of like an island. You might never know you can go straight through if somebody doesn't tell you about it.

    Some people with an obsession for making you think they have large peckers will try to make you think you are doing something wimpy or phobic to avoid the busy surface streets. But if I'm out riding for transportation, I choose the quickest, smoothest way, and if that involves a residential back route, a bikeway, or whatever that's what I pick. If not, then I takes what I can gets.
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  14. #14
    Dominatrikes sbhikes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chipcom
    Consider this scenario, which actually describes part of my commuting route: Your starting point and destination both lie on cross streets between two roads, but at opposite ends of those two roads, maybe 10 miles total.

    One road is a 4 lane, 60mph speed limit, divided highway with a fair, but inconsistent and debris laden shoulder. The road has one light controlled intersection with ROTL with the remaining cross street access being freeway-style on/off ramps. Bicycles are not barred by law from using this road. The road is fairly flat other than one overpass.

    The other road is a narrow, two-lane country road with no shoulder, rolling with a couple of steep climbs and a 45mph speed limit. This road has triple the number of intersections with only stop signs (4 and 2 way) to control ROW. Some of the cross streets have heavy 55mph traffic. Traffic volume is not as heavy as the 4 lane, but regular.

    Which road do you choose and explain why safety ISN'T a factor in your decision, if that is the case.
    I think I would pick the 4 lane 60mph divided highway. It sounds flatter, and the big shoulder would mean I could focus on going as fast as I can between intersections. I'm not a big fan of the ramp-style right lanes, but I think I could manage because I could keep my speed up and time myself between cars pretty well.

    The 2-land country road has too many hills which would slow me down and make me a pain in the neck to the drivers. I think I would suffer a lot of flak from drivers who would prefer to go 45 than slow down to 8, which is what I'd probably be doing on the hills. Sometimes even 4mph if it's steep enough. As people know, I dealt with something like that every day for several years and I'm tired of it.

    However, I would probably try both and then make my decision, and likely I would probably choose one or the other based on how I felt each day. They both have drawbacks and benefits.
    ~Diane
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    8.5 mile commute. I like bike lanes.

  15. #15
    your nightmare gal chipcom's Avatar
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    Sorry Diane, I made some edits to better describe the roads, as well as my choice, that I think you missed when you were writing this. My bad for not providing a more accurate description before hitting the button, and having to go back and edit.
    "Let us hope our weapons are never needed --but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government -- and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws" - Edward Abbey

  16. #16
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    with commuting I am kind of limited on the route I choose. I picked what I think is the safest possible one. Along parts of the route there is no choice as to what the route is. Along others there is.

    I have choosen the best possible safe route for my fun rides. I did this early on when I started riding in this community. I used maps, info. & advice from the LBS & I talked with members of the local bike club as well.

    Just because it is legal to ride on any roadway in this community that does not have a mimimum posted limit does not mean I will ride on it. Just because it is legal & just because I can, why do it, when there are really great alternative routes not to far off of the arterial roadways that has far less traffic thus making it safer. I know this may go against what HH believes in with his VC doctrine but it is what works best for me & who is to judge that? If riding on arterial roadways is what works best for HH, more power to him. Maybe in San Diego there are not alternative roadways that parrallel the major arterials, don't know, never been there.

  17. #17
    Dominatrikes sbhikes's Avatar
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    Oh, well then if the traffic on that highway is so awful and lawless then yeah, I guess I'd have to put up with the narrow road with all the hills. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
    ~Diane
    Recumbents: Lightning Thunderbolt, '06 Catrike Pocket. Upright: Trek Mountain Bike.
    8.5 mile commute. I like bike lanes.

  18. #18
    your nightmare gal chipcom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes
    Oh, well then if the traffic on that highway is so awful and lawless then yeah, I guess I'd have to put up with the narrow road with all the hills. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
    Welcome to my world! Now you see why in the winter, when the roads get nasty, I split my commute by driving part way, avoiding both the rock and the hard place.
    "Let us hope our weapons are never needed --but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government -- and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws" - Edward Abbey

  19. #19
    Senior Member Brian Ratliff's Avatar
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    I'm never very good at this. I kind of take a stab based on what I've seen while driving and/or biking combined with a map. Then, if there are any difficult spots, I'll look around for alternatives. I can bike anywhere, so that is not my initial concern, but if there is a tricky spot on the route, I'll look for alternatives to minimize my exposure.

    For instance, on my half-commute (drive half, bike the rest) I used to ride along a route that followed an arterial east, then went south along a smaller road that I was familiar with. Coming back to the car though, I had to make a left across two lanes of heavy and relatively fast traffic at night, and it was uphill. I didn't like it, so after doing it a for a few weeks, I found a different route that cut across kind of diagonally and was much easier to negotiate, was shorter, but with more hills.
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    You need a new bike supcom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bragi
    ...a deal breaker for me is any road where the cars are going faster than 45mph, unless the shoulder is huge; at that speed or above, I don't feel that drivers expect to see a guy on a bike, nor can they react in enough time if necessary. In addition, at these speed differences (45 mph vs. 15 mph), let alone the mass difference, I don't think a styrofoam bike helmet will do much to help me in the event of a mishap.
    That criteria would eliminate 90% of long distance cycling, which is 90% of my cycling. Your criteria reduces cycling to little more than running little errands to the grocery store.

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    I hate to admit this, but I tend to place speed and avoidance of delays above avoiding high-volume NOL roads as well. I *try* to route myself on wider, lower-speed routes, but I'm just to impatient to be at the sidestreet ends of all the 4-minute red light cycles. Before I know it I end up back on a 70-80kph NOL arterial.

  22. #22
    Calamari to go cc_rider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrCjolsen
    I basically have 3 criteria for a particular road - outside lane width, volume of traffic, and speed of traffic.
    I would add road condition to that, especially when riding in the city. Potholes and construction patches can be deadly.

    Traffic, hills, scenery and destination are my other considerations.

    If it's not a route I've biked or driven before, I look at maps and look for cue sheets by other cyclists (one of the local clubs has a good on-line library.) In the city and suburbs I sometimes just wing it and take a street that is going in the right direction.

  23. #23
    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Oh, maps!

    My wife brought me a comprehensive map of the Atlanta metro region and surrounding areas form her job years ago. It's a large, fat book, man. Now, it's a bit outdated (lots of roadwork over the years,) but it's literally covered with yellow highlighter markings showing my earlier attempts at finding the safest routes to/from work, or other destinations. I explored a lot of out-of-the-way places as the spirit of exploration began to take over me.

    As time went by, I ventured more and more on to major roads and abandoned most of my back-route alternatives, for time's sake. But boy, do I have some neat memories of those commutes, and I know my way around better than ever after exploring so many avenues. And now, I have plenty of choices if I get bored with the same-o-same-o, or if traffic is backed up.

    Where I live, there is almost always a way to get where you want to go, even if you don't want to use main arteries. And there tends to be less glass on those back streets, too, and with less traffic, can be more pleasant, if you don't mind winding around a bit. It can be lots of fun to cut through a college campus, or wind through a little neighborhood where the kids are playing ball in the street (watch for dogs! )

    Now that I think of it, some of my most pleasant memories are not of my "convenient" time-saving trips on main arteries, but of wheeling silently though quiet, shady neighborhoods, avoiding the hustle and bustle.

    No worries

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    Quote Originally Posted by ghettocruiser
    I hate to admit this, but I tend to place speed and avoidance of delays above avoiding high-volume NOL roads as well. I *try* to route myself on wider, lower-speed routes, but I'm just to impatient to be at the sidestreet ends of all the 4-minute red light cycles. Before I know it I end up back on a 70-80kph NOL arterial.
    Unless I'm looking to spend more time on the bike, I generally pick the most direct route and just ride. (note that this does not mean that I don't enjoy cycling but I enjoy a lot of other things in life and don't want to spend 30 minutes on a trip to the store when it could take 15) As much as some people want to believe that all, or the majority, of drivers are crazy cyclist-hating lunatics, the exact opposite is true, and becomes very apparent to me on higher speed, multilane roads, where the treatment I get from motorists in terms of patience and space, is far superior than on single lane, lower speed roads (in the same general area, used at the same time of day).

    Traffic is something that should be eased into so new riders should consider traffic when planning routes. Aside from that, roads are meant for cycling so use them.

  25. #25
    tired donnamb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Ratliff
    I'm never very good at this. I kind of take a stab based on what I've seen while driving and/or biking combined with a map. Then, if there are any difficult spots, I'll look around for alternatives. I can bike anywhere, so that is not my initial concern, but if there is a tricky spot on the route, I'll look for alternatives to minimize my exposure.

    For instance, on my half-commute (drive half, bike the rest) I used to ride along a route that followed an arterial east, then went south along a smaller road that I was familiar with. Coming back to the car though, I had to make a left across two lanes of heavy and relatively fast traffic at night, and it was uphill. I didn't like it, so after doing it a for a few weeks, I found a different route that cut across kind of diagonally and was much easier to negotiate, was shorter, but with more hills.
    Do you find that Washington County "Country Cycling" map helpful at all?

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