The Joy of Medium-length Trips by Bicycle

Photo credit: Curt Ailes

Anyone who knows me can tell you I’m not much of an exercise guru.  Don’t get me wrong, I love getting out on my bike, but I love it even more when there is a set destination and purpose for the trip.  With gas prices rising even faster than the spring temperatures, this is a good time to extoll the virtues of purposeful medium-length bicycle trips.

One of the great things about a city with a connected street grid is its side streets.  Often when I think about taking a trip to run an errand in a somewhat unfamiliar place, I look at Google Maps to see how the side streets connect.  This gives me a chance to explore an unfamiliar neighborhood, with little worry about speeding vehicles.  This is especially helpful at night, as I have yet to invest in lights (shame on me).  Bike lanes and bike trails are great and sorely needed throughout the city on major thoroughfares.  But they can’t be everywhere, so I just go where the traffic rarely goes.

Bicycling can extend the area one can visit without needing public transportation or a car.  I live 1.3 miles from Broad Ripple and 1 mile from 56th and Illinois.  These are decent and fun walks on nice days, but if I need something relatively quickly, the bike is the perfect option.  I even contend that I can get to 56th and Illinois almost as fast as a car, given all the 4-way stops in that direction.

Let’s make running errands fun, and save money to boot.  Take a bike!

Comments 24

  • I do the same thing Kevin. I try to keep the bike ready so that I can carry it out the door and make a run when I need to. The perception that it takes longer on a bike for short trips is often difficult to overcome, but if we track it, the times are comparable, plus saving gasoline and enrivonmental concerns coupled with a bit of cardio make it an easy sell for me.

  • I’m on board! My goal is (as soon as it gets just a little bit warmer) to bike to work – 7 miles from my home to work (all on trail). And I am not an exercise guru either. My speed will probably be between 8 and 9 mph, so 45-50 min ride. Bring on those $5 gas prices 🙂 I’ve been arguing that $5 gas prices if sustained for a long period of time will do more good for “our cause” than any other government action or non-profit initative combined. Plus it will get more of us in better shape.

  • As a regular bicycle commuter from May through October, I wouldn’t be caught dead on most of the bike lanes in this City. Most make communiting by bicycle more, not less dangerous.

    • Hmmm…Can you explain how? This is really beside the point of the post, but I’m curious as to how they make biking less safe. Are there any statistics on this?

      • The theory is that you’re specifically more likely to be hit by traffic when traveling in a bike lane as the traffic turns in front of you. This is often called a “right hook” and is incredibly dangerous (i.e., lethal). However, the same principal isn’t only confined to bike lanes, as it also applies to sidewalk riding (at greater than pedestrian speed) as well. Additionally, experienced riders fear getting “doored” where bike lanes run along rows of parked cars.

        All of the above situations are (generally) the result of bikes being where cars do not expect them to be. This is less a function of a bike lane or crosswalk and more a function of driver inattention and the speed of the bicycle. Basically, drivers don’t realize how quickly bikes actually travel and thus aren’t expecting them. For instance, if you see a child riding a bike down the sidewalk, the speed is comparable to a pedestrian; but when it’s an adult, the speed can easily be over 20 mph. The speed at which a distance is closed is much different between the two types of riders.

        Bike lanes are a mixed bag. They increase the feeling of safety for new cyclists, which some groups (Bike Portland specifically) have identified as the greatest barrier to getting more people to ride bikes for trips of the type described in this article. Paradoxically, as the number of cyclists increases, the number of collisions involving cyclists decreases. Basically, people become more familiar with bicycles and are more aware of their presence. However, as Mr. Ogden noted, experienced cyclists would often rather “take the lane” (which is usually legal) in a way to make themselves more visible to motorists (motorists are more likely to see things directly in their path).

        Let me know if you want specific statistics and I’ll see what I have in my research.

    • While Paul and Paul are entitled to their opinions, i’m not sure what cyclists they are referring to when they say “experienced” cyclists prefer not use bike lanes. There is an old school of thought preached by John Forester that states that we (cyclists) are better off when we act like cars. While that is partially true, we should ride predictably, signal our turns, ride on the correct side of the road, etc, but bike lanes and other on-road facilities help define our space and let drivers know where their space is as well. I can show you far more studies that support bike lanes than not. Besides, cities like Portland, NYC, and others have current data that shows as bike lanes and other on-road facilities are implemented, bicycle, pedestrian, and automobile accidents fall considerably. When you have some time, go to Google Scholar and search for bicycle lanes and safety and see what you find. I’ve lived all over the country and the cities with the greatest share of bike lanes (& other facilities) have far greater bicycle usage or mode split then the ones without. I don’t mean to be argumentative but stating that “Most (bicycle lanes) make communiting by bicycle more, not less dangerous.” is simply incorrect and irresponsible. By law you are not required to ride in a bicycle lane, so don’t; but please don’t tell other people incorrect information to support your beliefs. When you can support your argument with data, let me know.

      We at INDYCOG support the implementation of well designed bicycle lanes and other on-road infrastructure. Please feel free to visit our site at

  • Paul Jansen says it well. Though there are things I would add. The bike lanes at Michigan and New York Streets run right by parked cars, increasing the possibility for “dooring.” Riding next to parked cars is a big no-no, as drivers often fling their doors open without seeing the bicyclist, causing the biker to get hit by the door or to swerve into a traffic lane. Also on Allisonville Road, the bike lanes are next to high speed traffic.

    Bicyclist safety experts teach you to “ride wide” to ride off the edge of the road so that motorists can see you and then the biker can move over. Bicycle lanes turn that advice on its head by confining motorists to a narrow lane at the edge of the road.

    The notion that a painted line is going to somehow protect a bicyclist is wishful thinking and lulls bicyclists into a false sense of security.

    Most serious bicycle commuters that I know don’t like bicycle lanes because, quite frankly, rarely is there enough pavement for them to be constructed in such a manner as to be safe to the bicyclist.

    If you research the issue you’ll find that many bicyclists don’t think bike lanes make biking safer at all, and many times make it more hazardous. More recreational bikers are quick to praise city leaders throwing bikers a bone by creating bike lanes, when in fact the lanes are merely symbolic.

  • I mean confining “bicyclists” (not motorists”) to a narrow lane..”

  • The only lanes u will ride in are on Michigan downtown. I feel like they are “out there” more than any other lane in the city and as such cyclists are more likely to be seen. It IS a paradox that bike lanes are bad… But only when they resemble what we have in Indy. If we had truly separate lanes with a barrier or curb than it would be a lot safer. Even in Portland they have a double line which creates a lot more space but no physical barrier. As others have suggested I try to take less trafficed streets like Alabama, Washington blvd, etc when riding longer distances where I need to cover ground quicker. I’m sure the IndyCog guys would have a lot to say about these things.

  • Paul K. Ogden is right! (this feels a little like Blazing Saddles). One of the best ways to reduce the severity of collisions between cars and bikes is to decrease the difference in speed between the two. Exactly as Kevin Kastner mentions, low volume, low speed limit side streets are the best options for achieving this goal. For example, while there are bike lanes on Illinois St., riding at rush hour, when drivers are especially in a hurry (and speeding), is not the optimal choice for a cyclist.

    Since this is an Urban Planning specific site, I’ll mention the following urban planning concept from Idaho – the “stop-as-yield” law. CAVEAT: This is very controversial even within the cycling community, which tends to divide itself between treat bicycles exactly like cars and those who feel that the inherent differences of bicycles necessitates different treatment. It also addresses the single most common criticism of cyclists – that they NEVER stop at stop signs. Along with “were they wearing a helmet?!”, this is the biggest obstacle to overcome with drivers. Drivers tend to use this as a means of differentiating cyclists as not being law abiding and thus not entitled to share the road (or be treated as fellow human beings).

    In short, the Stop-As-Yield allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs if there is no other traffic. Cyclists are still required to make full stops for red lights. [For FULL details of the law, see the first link, at bottom of post from Velonews]. The rationale is that cyclists are most safe when they are able to maneuver, which requires forward motion. Practically and controversially, this creates parity with cars that regularly roll through stop signs (illegally) when there is no conflicting traffic. Stop-As-Yield has been a tremendous success in Idaho. While the state initially had allocated money to educating drivers on the law, the funding was withdrawn after only a few years. Further, collisions between cars and bicycles decreased immediately following the enactment.

    The interesting idea from an urban planning perspective is the ability to create “bike boulevards” or bike neighborhoods. The law creates the ability to create a form of traffic encouragement/discouragement. Through a low (and enforced) speed limit (say 25 or 30 mph for argument), with regular stop signs, bicycles can be encouraged to use certain streets in greater numbers while cars are similarly discouraged. Thus, cars can be routed to major arterial streets while residential neighborhoods benefit from the traffic calming, making streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and children in general.

    For some information on Stop-As-Yield, see: [explaining with more detail the exact requirements of the stop-as-yield]

  • Wow…I have an extremely well-informed ally on the bike lane issue. I’ve usually waded in these debates and found myself a lone wolf taking on a pack..

    I particularly like this line: “The rationale is that cyclists are most safe when they are able to maneuver…”

    Bingo. Confining someone to the side of the street/road where they might not be seen by an inattentive motorist does not make the bicyclist safer. That line is not going to protect you if the motorist is talking on the phone and drifts over into the bike lane, especially if you’re trapped by a raised curb.

    Disparity between the speed of the cars and bicyclist can also create a dangerous situation. Bike lanes should never have been installed in that stretch of Allisonville Road where traffic is heavy and cars routinely hit 50 mph. It would have been much better to put them on a street like Deans Road which has signficantly less traffic and lower speeds.

    Thank you Mr. Jansen fo giving the straight scoop about bike safety.

  • As a side note, I watched Indianapolis Mayor Ballard’s bike safety video in which he preached bicyclists (even when there is no bike lane) to bike as close to the edge of the road as you can get at all times. No, that is exactly the wrong advice – you “ride wide” so the driver will see you and then move over. The Mayor also was riding the wrong way on the Allisonville bike lane…riding against the traffic.

  • I think stop-as-yield makes good sense. Bicycles are neither exactly like pedestrians nor exactly like motor vehicles, and so it makes sense to find middle ground. Stop-as-yield is good for bikes without adding any inconvenience to motorists, so it is a win-win.

    As for the bike lanes, I have commuted on Michigan and New York both pre and post bike lane, and I prefer it with the bike lanes. I don’t operate under any illusion that the solid white line is a magical force field. I’m always on the alert for side street traffic and people getting in and out of cars. My personal subjective experience is that I am more comfortable riding in my own space than impeding motorized traffic, and my incidents with aggressive drivers have gone from rare to nonexistent.

    Every setup has its risks and benefits. It is impossible to ride on the street, either with or without bike lanes, without assuming some risk of a collision. Sure, a nice network of Monon-type trails would be nice (although I always find it amusing to see Mr. Small Government, Paul Ogden, promoting such a public works project). Of course, collisions aren’t the only sort of risk. The fact that I am riding next to rush hour traffic provides some risk, but the fact that there are always people around significantly diminishes the risk of getting mugged, which has been an occasional problem on the Monon.

    My understanding always has been that the major risk to cyclists is at intersections, not when riding down the road.

    • I would agree with John that I personally feel that the bike lanes on New York and Michigan provide a better defined space for cyclists and decrease potential incidents with drivers. One good thing about riding downtown is that we have wide streets with multiple lanes for vehicles. The Allisonville bike lanes are horrible. I have cringed when driving out there, passing a dad with 2 small girls riding the wrong way in the bike lane. I guess we have Ballard’s video to blame for that!

      As a bike racer who has trained extensively on country roads in IN and NC, I would have to say that overall, city riding here in Indy is WAY safer. Drivers often reach speeds of 50-60 mph on back roads and are not paying attention. We need to remember that, wherever we ride, we need to ride defensively and always assume that drivers don’t see us. This is the same principle that motorcycle safety experts advocate.

  • I agree with John M. My experience has been fairly positive with the bike lanes, especially compared to riding amongst traffic. I too am alert that no physical barrier exists between me and cars, but the sense of devotion of that lane provides me comfort. As for making trips by bike, I started seriously riding about a year and a half ago and wouldn’t have it anyother way. I commute by bike to work which is roughly 22 miles total. I logged my distance and savings purely in gas. I saved around $200 in just gas from May to December of 2010 and since I started in January this year, my savings are already nearing $50. This is just gas savings, not factored in are matenance costs. My health has improved dramatically and I am more alert and actually happier at work now. I also make the short trips by bike. I believe a large number of trips in this country are under 2 miles, but most are driven. What a difference this change in mindset could make.

  • The sort of belly-aching I see above griping about our bike lanes is just the sort of thing that gives cyclists a bad name. Drivers already see all of us as a burden, etc. Then to turn around and say that our bike lanes are terrible (they are always better somewhere else, Portland, Seattle, yadayada). Anyway, we need bike lanes with all there imperfections because drivers HATE US. They want to run us over, they want to throw things at us, they want to cream us and yell at us. With bike lanes we at least have our position, they can at least know where they are supposed to be and where we are. No mistake that if you get hit in the lane, no question of who was doing what incorrectly. Please, for the love of Major Taylor, just help keep building momentum and stop griping.

  • I take the bike lanes on New York and Michigan just to see what kind of crazy stuff drivers will do. Basically riding them for my own amusement. Otherwise I stick to the other roads where I can control the lane.

  • Kevin,

    Great post! I couldn’t agree with you more about the effects of the price of gas, fortunately or unfortunately, economics drives most of our decisions.

  • Why is it that bike lanes are placed on the same grade as the motorcar lanes? They are simply lines painted on the same asphalt that the cars drive on. Raise the bike lanes to the same level as the pedestrian lanes and put a curb there and cars will never go there, moving or parked.

    • ….not sure there is budget for that type of effort.

    • Sorry, b, I couldn’t disagree with you more. I would much rather have slower more dispersed vehicle traffic that is used to watching out for bikes and pedestrians. The hard separation of lanes leads to a segregation of an area – not a more walkable, bikeable friendly environment.Think about Monument Circle – arguably our most pedestrian (and bike) friendly space in the City. From building face to stairs of the monument are generally curb-free and at the same grade. There are delineators (bollards, landscape islands) but the environment is created by the lack of grade separation – and cars know to go slower and keep an eye out. This should be the model for a walkable & bike-able space. Now, a collector that only serves as a commuter road may be a different story, but in my mind that’s a waste of infrastructure anyway 🙂

  • I agree with Kevin W. Most cities with robust bike lanes still have guys with mustaches swerving wherever they want. However, they also have a larger percentage of the general public cycling to work. They may not be “experienced”, but they’re also not belching smog and flinging to sprawl.

  • It’s true Monument Circle is a bike friendly space. Not so much because the grade though. Cars there don’t “know” to go slower. They go slower because they have to. They don’t go far before they’re stopped behind another car or make a tight turn. If you’re going to include motor vehicles that go faster than a golf cart, the Circle can’t be a model for walkable space. But I would be OK with making the Mile Square a motor vehicles are golf-carts only zone.

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