Monday, May 5, 2014

only the locals know

Get a bicycle. You will certainly not regret it, if you live. 
~ Mark Twain 
 Taming the Bicycle. 1884

I'm back in my city of San Francisco and I'm hitting the road again. In true San Franciscan style, I'll be cruising the Avenues on my bicycle. San Francisco weather makes bike riding a fun, yet chilly, activity. I always have to layer up, especially if I plan to bike home after sun down.

This winter/spring has been brutal for California farming, if not perfect for bike commuters such as my beau. It has rained once during the past three months. We Californians are in a drought. A serious, serious drought. So much so that I ask the skies for rain on a daily basis. But every morning, when I look out the window and see the shining sun, I can't help but think, "another sunny day? Oh well, I may as well take advantage of the weather."

So I hop on my bike. But before I can actually go anywhere new, I check the internet. For some suggested bike route options. I typically grab my handy smartphone, open Google Maps, and enter in where I want to go (this activity is reserved for distant locations outside my typical biking comfort zone). I hit bike route and voilĂ , I am given the suggested route. So, I head off. I love bike rides across town.

Except that I almost never follow the suggested bike route. I find that it is never the best/easiest/quickest/safest/flattest route. So why even look it up at all, if I'm going to learn to navigate the streets myself? Force of habit, I suppose. I do rely heavily on Google Maps for driving directions. But whatever bike route Google Maps does tell me to take is not the one I end up taking. 

When it comes to navigating the streets of San Francisco, regular bike riders know best. I can honestly say I know the best routes. I knew the wiggle long before I even had a smartphone. I am glad the city has taken to painting in green bike lanes and arrows to help novices learn the flat routes throughout the city, but even they don't always get it right.

Almost every time I ride my bike through San Francisco I notice the sharrows. Sharrows are exactly what they sound like; they are "share arrows" meant to let cars know that they must share the lane with bicycles. Sharrows also alert bikers that they can and should use this street (as opposed to the major thorough-way one block to the left or right of each particularly painted street). I feel safer on sharrow or bike lane marked streets. But more often than not, I don't choose to take these streets.

Cars are notified to share the road with bicyclists

Because sharrowed streets are not necessarily flat streets. Or through streets. There is simply always a better route or street to take. Thank you City of San Francisco for painting arrows on blacktop, but your arrows are useless. Or at least should and will be ignored by us locals. I rely on what I know about the city and its streets to get me from start to finish, every single time. I go where the locals know to go, and I choose every street I take based on experience on these streets; not by any map, painted arrows, or bike lane. I know where to go because I have been there before. 

Some day I hope our friends at Google think to ask us, "what is the bike route you'd take from ocean beach to the ballpark. Or from Pacific Heights to the Embarcadero" and then edit their mapping software to reflect these best routes. Until then, we bike riders already know the best way to go. So we hop on our bikes and head across town.


  1. Hey, Karen! Is that an old photo of me per chance? ;-) -Sheryl

  2. Didn't you have a friend who worked for Google Maps? Direct this entry his way.