Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bicycling with the Devil: McKnight Rd and Wexford Flats (August 15, 2008)

Current mood:accomplished

Had to run two errands yesterday. My daughter was up at the high school and needed a small package delivered, followed by picking up some paperwork for my wife at her business's office. The high school is about six miles north of me. The office is about four miles south of me. So, I crunched the numbers: 6x2 + 4x2 = 20, my car gets 20 mpg, and what with gas being essentially $4/gallon, that's $4 I did not care to spend in order to transport a total of a pound and a half of material in a plastic bag. OK, bicycle, we're going for a ride.

The problem is that the high school is up on Wexford Flats, the level part of US19. First of all, it's up a long hill. Second of all, it's an insanely busy four-lane road, lacking shoulder, sidewalks and a median. Car dealers, strip malls and fast food joints line both sides. It's posted 35, and while cars tend to stay fairly close to that, it's only because there are so many of them they're scared of one another and so slow down to that out of necessity. As far as bicycles go, it's simple insanity. Nobody in their right mind would bicycle along Wexford Flats.

Well, I'm right handed, which means my left mind predominates, so off I went with bag in hand. Rather than climbing the big hill on Perry Highway, which features one of those Someone Died Here memorials, I ducked over to Old Perry Highway, which is fairly traffic free. At the top where it merges with the main road, I simply duked it out with the traffic.

Here's how I handled Wexford Flats: I stayed about 30 inches off the curb, the better to avoid the majority of the gravel, glass and dead animals, but the traffic lane is wide enough to accommodate passing cars, too. There's a back entrance to the high school for southbound traffic, with a No Left Turn sign for northbound traffic. Well, too bad. Self-preservation trumps legality, so when I got a break in the traffic, I made the left.

Ten minutes later, item delivered, I tackled Part II: A quick shopping trip. This involved going farther north on Perry, only a hundred yards, but then it involved making a left turn. At the exit lane for the high school, I had the red light, but hopped off to press the pedestrian crossing button. This had the effect of holding Perry traffic an extra 15 seconds or so. As soon as Perry went red, I took off northbound, in the left lane. I just got to the entrance to the strip mall as the light behind me went green. Fortunately there was a hole in southbound traffic, so I grabbed it and ducked across.

That accomplished, I set out for my wife's office. Southbound Perry was busy, as ever, but with my blinky taillight and blaze orange vest, everyone managed to not kill me. I decided to try the big downhill off the Flats, and really it wasn't too bad. There's a nice wide shoulder going downhill -- entirely absent going uphill (had there been one, that guy wouldn't have gotten killed) -- and since I decided to try McKnight Road, I did not have to make a mid-hill lane change. Downhill car speeds routinely hit 60.

McKnight Road starts at this split, but the highly built up commercial district does not start until the Ross Township line about three miles south of that. What I was interested in was how difficult it was to cycle the McCandless Township part of McKnight, now that I have some serious cycling experience. When I tried it a few years ago, I was scared silly. Yesterday, though, I just rode merrily along. There's a pretty wide, paved shoulder for most of it, wide enough to ride on, at least, only a couple of very brief pinch points. It starts out as four lanes, then expands to six at Cumberland Road. I stayed on it until the northern Babcock Boulevard peel-off, just south of Perrymont, as I was going down Babcock anyway. All in all, McKnight was not that terrifying, but I would not want to do it in bad weather, at night, or both.

From office to home, it was routine. Babcock back up to Three Degree, then to Perry and Perrymont, to home, a ride I do a couple times a week.

Times: It took 22 minutes to cycle to NASH (about six miles), 25 from the strip mall to the office (close to 10), and another 15 to get home (about four). The ground slopes generally from north to south, so except for one rise on McKnight south of Cumberland, it's mainly downhill going south. The entire trip was about 90 minutes, including inside time in all three places.

It's a lot of work, I guess, to replace an automobile with a bicycle, but the problem is really the spread-out-ness of our society. Nothing is close to anything else, and rarely do we take a car out of the driveway and not put 20 miles on it. But the very fact that I can do this shows that it can be done. It's just a matter of facing up to having to do it this way. Nobody is going to want to, but it can be done. And here's the bad word: It should.

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