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Commuting priorities? Distance, scenery or safety?

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Commuting priorities? Distance, scenery or safety?

Old 04-18-17, 06:47 PM
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Commuting priorities? Distance, scenery or safety?

I started bike commuting a couple of months ago, and have started to consider different route choices and the factors that influence these.

Initially, I just looked for the shortest route, but made a couple of changes to avoid stretches of road that felt "uncomfortable" (i.e. a bit dangerous) to share with road traffic. I still have a couple of spots that require caution, and I always worry that a car might not see my hand signals - with obvious dire consequences if they don't!

So I've started to wonder whether I should err on the side of caution and choose quieter roads, even if this involves a longer distance.

Another consideration is scenery - quiet suburban roads are generally just prettier and have more parkland to cross than busy thoroughfares. Perhaps my commute should involve more agreeable surroundings?

What are your priorities when choosing a route?

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Old 04-18-17, 06:50 PM
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My priority are roads where I can safely and easily control the lane, while motorists can easily pass, which for me means low stress. I have 2 viable routes I can take to work, within 1 mile of each other in length. But the 1 mile longer route is far easier: less traffic, less hills, less stress. So I go that way. The shortest route (the way I drive) I do not consider viable because it involves several miles of 2-lane no shoulder 55 MPH state highway with very high traffic volume. So I don't even consider cycling that way.
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Old 04-18-17, 08:07 PM
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Choosing the safest route for me is important. Fortunately it only adds less than 5% to the total distance. I can live with that. Scenery is not a consideration at all. It's mostly residential and industrial areas.
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Old 04-18-17, 09:31 PM
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Safety first, then scenery, then elevation changes and hills (I'm in Colorado Springs) But also variety. I have four routes in to work (but only three back because of a dangerous section not present on morning ride). My commute in the car is 6 miles, but three of my routes are almost 9 miles. One is only 7 miles, but not as pleasant or safe and I can't take it home as one bridge going home is not safe due to traffic. Along those four routes I may swing one or two blocks over to vary the scenery. And then I have three bikes I can rotate, my #1 commuter, a Charge Plug which is kind of a semi-touring bike, my old commuter, a Nishiki Blazer Mountian bike with street tires, and a Nishiki International12-speed road bike. They are all different enough to keep things interesting.

When commuting and also when riding to other parts of town I often choose a sleepy residential street over a bike lane on a major street just because it's quieter and more scenic.

Here are some videos of my commutes and other rides:

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Old 04-19-17, 12:44 AM
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Hi John,

Sometimes we are lucky and these are not mutually exclusive. The only road path to my work site is very treacherous. That route would be 10 mi one way. Instead I ride limestone/gravel trails through forest preserves that is very scenic and has lots of wildlife (deer, coyote, hawks, etc.) and no cars. My shortest route is these trails plus some less treacherous roads for 12 mi one way. I often take that in the morning because I am rushed for time. I have a route that is 15 mi one way that involves only about a mile of road that I take in the morning when I have time, and home on the longer days. I often take a much longer route for fun and health so my commute is probably on average 30-32 mi round trip, up to 36 mi.

If you can make the time I would recommend safety first and scenery over speed. Those are my priorities and I get a lot of satisfaction commuting this way. Otherwise it would be very tedious (and dangerous) to me, and I wouldn't be motivated for very long.

Last edited by GeneO; 04-19-17 at 12:47 AM.
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Old 04-19-17, 01:53 AM
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Some great advice, and it look like you have a much more picturesque commute than mine going into inner-city Sydney, Australia (although I do cross three quite nice large (& often steep!) bridges over various bays on the way to the city.

But you have given me food for thought; I think safety has to be a priority otherwise bike commuting can become a source of stress, rather than a healthy and liberating option. I far prefer riding on quiet suburban roads to poor quality MUPs adjacent to busy mulli-lane highways packed with commuter traffic. Often a parallel road has 1/100th of the traffic and only requires a short detour.


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Old 04-19-17, 02:12 AM
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It'd depend on the amount of:
- time added
- risk reduced
- extra beauty

I've got about 65 minutes of riding as it is. And I'm not too keen to add much to that.
If it's dangerous enough to feel like "do or die", then I really haven't got an option.

Summer, I use the safest/fastest compromise route 9/10 rides. Will toss in one considerably longer and more beautiful ride(22 as opposed to 16 miles) long ride when weather is nice and time permits.
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Old 04-19-17, 02:42 AM
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Originally Posted by johngwheeler View Post
I still have a couple of spots that require caution, and I always worry that a car might not see my hand signals - with obvious dire consequences if they don't!
Signal, but also give cars time to react, and verify that they are yielding if possible. Don't depend on others keeping you safe.

As far as route choice,

I much prefer quiet, not so busy streets to the busy ones. But, it varies. Busy with a good bike lane is ok. Sometimes if I'm in a hurry, I'll try to pick the most direct route through town.

I frequently go through Springfield Oregon that is laid out more or less on a grid, so I try to make my morning and evening rides on different streets. So most of my rides look like a loop & tail.
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Old 04-19-17, 04:33 AM
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Scenery. My direct commute is 5 miles on safe streets. The route I usually take is 9 miles, with about 7 of it on MUPs and dirt paths.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:02 AM
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yeah, avoid the "kill zones" if you can

fyi I'm a fan of front & rear strobes (not blinkies) & hi-viz clothing
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Old 04-19-17, 07:12 AM
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I have about 4 routes as well. Anybody else choose a route based on wind? If it is howling against me I'll dive into the suburban streets, if it is with me I take the open route.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:17 AM
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I have several options, but in the morning my priority is not missing my train! When I leave, it's dark, so there is no scenery; and the roads are pretty empty, so safety is pretty much up to me; and I rarely leave early enough to have "extra" time, so I rarely think of taking a scenic detour.

In the afternoon/evening, I do try to change it around a bit, but I usually end up taking the same route every day anyway; things to do when I get home, no time to burn.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:36 AM
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I added a mile or two to my commute from home for better roads. The shorter route had a road (Moonachie Rd) that had really bad pavement after the Rt 17 bridge. So I stayed straight to go through Hackensack instead. Its tough to avoid traffic in more urban areas where I live. That road has since been repaved. So might try it again at some point.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:49 AM
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Safety was my highest priority while commuting, as my route was entirely on urban and suburban streets. The safest route was about 3-4 miles longer than the shortest route, which for me was a plus. I'm a bit of a mileage junky.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:49 AM
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years ago when i had a 15 mile one-way commute, i was much more focused on distance/time and would always take the most direct/fastest route.

since moving MUCH closer to work (and becoming a father at roughly the same time), i'm all about safety these days. i have a direct 4.5 mile route to work almost entirely along a busy commercial city street that alternates between token sharrows and no bike infrastructure at all, but by going just a little bit out of my way, i have a 5 mile route that's 90% along quiet, lightly-trafficked, tree-lined, residential side-streets.

i choose to commute along the quiet side-street route, even if it does add several minutes to my commute time. peaceful easy riding is MUCH more important to me these days than making every second count.

and since i'm in the thick of the city of chicago, scenery/hills are non-factors for me because those things don't exist here.

Last edited by Steely Dan; 04-19-17 at 07:55 AM.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:53 AM
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I most often go two miles further to take the Greenway, which is a sliver of forest running eight miles alongside a creek. The contrast with the manic traffic route a few hundred yards away is amazing, especially in the mornings when I'll encounter more deer than people. I only take two other routes, plus a rare third for greater distance and more hills and they all involve fast, heavy traffic. I think if there were ways through more quiet neighborhoods that would be my priority over the faster streets, just to be able to relax a bit more.
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Old 04-19-17, 08:02 AM
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All my route options are about the same in terms of safety, beauty and distance. So I can't really prioritize anything. I ride along a river on one side for the first third, either side for the middle third, and the other side for the last third. Almost all off-road on MUPs.
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Old 04-19-17, 08:18 AM
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My highest priority is variety. The commute is 6 miles each way. Doing the same route daily, week after week would make it a grind. So I mix it up with 3 basic routes going in, and will take any of a bunch of long routes home depending on the weather.

So going in I'm a commuter, and going home I'm a recreational cyclist enjoying a pleasant ride of up to 40 miles or so.
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Old 04-19-17, 08:18 AM
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I'd rather have scenery but not much on my commute. I have 4 main routes that I can vary each in 3-4 ways. Only one add's quite a bit of distance, southwest blvd all the way over to 18th street. Mostly try for shortest distance, with the wind and hills I'm pretty beat up by the end of the week. When the wind dies down I'll start adding miles this summer. Safety wise all of them have oh crap spots.
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Old 04-19-17, 09:05 AM
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Hi John,

I think as you can see in this thread (and elsewhere), two rules of thumb are that commuters are often eager to add a little distance to a commute to make it safer, but they are sometimes willing to add a big distance to make it more scenic (i.e. go for a nice long bike ride).

I'm probably in the minority in that my safest route is the shortest possible route. I do for about 1mi take a residential street instead of an artery, but (a) the artery is plenty safe: straight with wide bike lanes, and (b) it's just different ways around a rectangle, same distance.

Unlike FB (and others) I take the same route every day, 5.5mi each way. It doesn't become a grind for me because I'm always occupied by the pile of podcasts that I'm listening through.
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Old 04-19-17, 09:45 AM
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I travel from the city center out to the suburbs (10-11 miles each way) I'm lucky to be going the opposite way of traffic. I originally mapped a nice straight shot, I drove it, thought "hey, thats not bad" and then rode it. It was a mistake. Some bad traffic pinch points, LOTS of 18 wheelers, and a 1/2 mile long hill that really got me blocking traffic and making a parade of angry drivers.

So I looked around, found a detour that added 2 miles-ish, but it was bike lanes the whole way up to the last 1/2 mile. I'll take that trade off. It's not any better scenery (all industrial or commercial), but it's way safer and that's the decision I had to make on that portion of the ride.

In addition - I found a route that goes through a cemetery that avoids a bad on/off ramp situation, I'm often riding early enough it's not a big deal, but the way home can be hairy. On the way home I'll explore a bit more and find better roads, quieter streets, greenways. I'm not in as much of a hurry.

Edit - Also, it depends on the distance. I have a 10-11 mile trip in, adding too much distance will start to push that towards the "it's gonna take too long" to ride in part.
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Old 04-19-17, 09:53 AM
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Less traffic and more scenery, even with the distance, will be much more comfortable. Just budget more time, and if you're really in a rush, then you can relax some with the scenery and come into work late, but refreshed. It's much better to prioritize your mind and body rather than being on time to work- but it's best if you can do both. It's less stressful to be on time.
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Old 04-19-17, 09:54 AM
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I ride a bit over 6 miles each way, and could probably cut that to 4.5 or so by taking a direct route. However, I much prefer riding on a MUP (which I get to do for about 80% of my ride). Not only is it safer, I don't have to deal with things like traffic lights and stop signs, so it's much more pleasant.
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Old 04-19-17, 10:43 AM
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Commuting priorities? Distance, scenery or safety?
Originally Posted by johngwheeler View Post
I started bike commuting a couple of months ago, and have started to consider different route choices and the factors that influence these…

So I've started to wonder whether I should err on the side of caution and choose quieter roads, even if this involves a longer distance.

Another consideration is scenery - quiet suburban roads are generally justprettier and have more parkland to cross than busy thoroughfares. Perhaps mycommute should involve more agreeable surroundings?

What are your priorities when choosing a route?

I have described my commute on the thread “Describe Your Commute.
Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
Kenmore Square, Boston to Norwood over 30 years

Route: Reverse commute from downtown on four different routes of a minimal distance of 14 miles, each defined by a different hill; can expand to about 30 miles to train

Environment: In order of hill difficulty: Gritty (but safe) urban, pleasant suburban, pleasant urban, ritzy suburban

Hills: One moderate hill on each route, then smaller hills; estimate only about 1-2 miles flat

Frequency: Variable over the decades; currently about 50% in winter; 75% nice weather (work is an obstacle)…
My routes are about the safest non-MUP routes I think that I have read about…the reverse commuter direction on residential and light commercial roads, early in the AM, and after evening rush hour, well-tended in the Winter; and some MUP. Nonetheless, I was hit from behind on a wide, low-volume residential, suburban road.

My four major routes are all of a minimal distance of 14 miles. Since I ride for fitness, with the commute my only time to ride, I can extend them for up to 30 miles as time and energy permit,through some of the nicest cycling areas in Metro Boston. I even go into work on Saturdays for a short time at my convenience via extended long routes of over 40 miles.

Regarding scenery, I prefer interesting to pretty, well-satisfied on an urban commute. Most people assume that you see more on a bike than in a car, but I have posted:
Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
I'm very motivated by novelty, and stymied by boredom on a bike, but I do have the motivation of commuting to work. I have found that when I drive my frequent, decades-old routes I often notice things I had not seen before. I think it’s because I can look around at more than just the road surface when driving.

So when the commute [route] is getting too familiar, I just raise my head higher and look over a wider field of view….

Last edited by Jim from Boston; 04-19-17 at 11:04 AM.
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Old 04-19-17, 10:57 AM
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I have a 12 mile commute. I could shorten it by 2 miles if I wanted to, but it would mean traveling on busy roads, rather than bike paths and quiet residential streets for the majority of the ride.

Sometimes I make the tradeoff, on my way home, and I really feel like letting it loose and riding top speed the whole time. It's a straighter shot, with less lights/stops along the way. And I generally feel safer at higher cruising speeds as I'm nearly keeping up with traffic for most of the way.

Most often though, the tradeoff doesn't make sense. I'll trade the 2 miles for a significantly quieter, safer, more pleasant commute.
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