Monday, July 14, 2008

A new commuting route, and some impromptu witnessing

Route map is here

The goal for this ride was to try out a new commute route to work and run an errand while I was at it. The route, I think, will be a fine one--much better than the initial one I'd tried out--but the errand-running didn't go so well.

First, the latter: the gate at McConnell I usually use was closed today, and that caused me to have to ride around to the other side of the base to an office across the street that the college uses for advising and enrolling students. So, that added some roads to my ride that will not be part of my commute. But the actual distance I'll be riding will be perhaps a mile shorter in all than what I rode today. Another problem: at about mile 6 I suddenly felt very winded, though my legs felt fine, so I found a safe place to pull over and rest for a bit. From there till I reached the office (about mile 11), it was very rough going physically. But at the office I rested for a half hour and had plenty of water and some slices of a peach, and the return ride felt very easy. When I got home, I knew I'd had a workout, but my body didn't feel as though it was going to up and quit on me.

Now to the route itself. The route I'd take when I drove to work is fine for a car but risky for bike riders. The bike path along the west bank of the Arkansas covers about a third of the distance; the problem has been thinking about a street route that's more or less direct but that I'd stand a better chance of surviving each day. Pawnee to George Washington by car is fine, but Pawnee on a bicycle? It's heavily travelled, and there's a fairly steep hill just to the east of the intersection with Hillside that I did NOT look forward to trying to climb out of a dead stop. So, last night I looked a city map for a route that'd allow me to use as much of the bikepath as possible and use a street that runs parallel to Pawnee and also intersects George Washington.

Fellow Wichitans, allow me to sing the praises of Mt. Vernon Street as a bike route for the south central part of town: 4 blocks north of Pawnee, it's a through street (because of I-135 isn't elevated there, there aren't many of those in that part of town), but it runs through residential areas so speeds are slower and it has less traffic. It has a couple of rises to it (one of which is the overpass over I-135), but they aren't as steep as the one on Pawnee. I still need to work on my conditioning (see above) to climb them with ease, but that will come. Meanwhile, Greenway (which I took south from Harry to reach Mt. Vernon) is a very wide street that runs along the river's east bank--though there's no bike path on that side, Greenway's width makes one unnecessary.

So: I think I have found my commute route. My plan now is to ride it during morning rush hour to see if I'll be just as enamored of it when I have to ride it for real.

The witness: On the return trip, I was pulled up at the intersection of Harry and Greenway, waiting to turn left onto Harry. An man in his mid-late 50s or so in a pick-up pulled up to my right and asked, "How many miles to the gallon does that thing get?" I told him, "Lots." There's no light at that intersection, no one was behind us, and neither of us was in any hurry, so we chatted for about a minute. He said, "I've been thinking about getting me one," to which I said, "The more I think about it, the more reasons I find that this was a good decision to make." He expressed concern about cars; I told him that I hadn't had any trouble yet--which, apart from some bone-headed things I've done, has been the case. Anyway, a break in traffic appeared, and I thanked him for the chat; he said, "Be careful."

All in all, a good ride.

3 comments:

Russell Arben Fox said...

I don't think I've ever had a negative experience with a motorist in Wichita. Maybe I have and I'm just not recalling it now, but as a rule, drivers have appeared to me to have been at the very least tolerant, and often respectful, of my presence on the road. This is a far cry from the year we lived in Mississippi, which was the hardest commuting conditions I've ever had. Granted, there weren't really any good choices in regards to how to get from where we lived to the Mississippi State campus, but still, sometimes I ran into some truly unwarranted hostility.

John B. said...

Russell,

Granted, I've been at this for far less time than you have, but so far I've encountered only tolerance and respect here in town while out and about. More than a few times, drivers have even offered to defer to me when they clearly had the right-of-way.

That said, I have heard stories from the past that prepared me for, at best, indifference, if not the occasional re-enactment of the final scene from Easy Rider. So far, though, so good. I also wonder if the state of biker-motorist relations in town depends on where you live. In my immediate neighborhood--the edge of downtown/Riverside--those relations seem to be pretty good because there are lots of bikes out there and drivers do have to watch for them. South of Kellogg, though, I've not seen nearly as many cyclists. So, I've been cautious and careful. But so far (knock on wood), I've been very pleasantly surprised by my experience . . . though I'm still staying the heck away from Pawnee.

Pete P. said...

Glad I found this blog. I just moved to Wichita about a month ago from Upstate NY, and I heard some horror stories about vehicular cycling in Wichita. While the roads certainly aren't bike friendly, I've noticed the people (save for one or two small incidents) are tolerant. However, I haven't really noticed a strong cycling presence in town save for the few comfort bikes I see on the sidewalk, so maybe people just get confused when they see a cyclist on the road.

I'm heading down to Heartland Bikes this weekend to check that out (only been to Bicycle Pedaler so far), and to hopefully meet some more cyclists. Since I'm new to the town, state, and geographic region, I'm not too familiar with the local cycling clubs, and would definitely like to meet some more cyclists.

Good job on the blog and commuting. You've definitely attracted another reader.