Saturday, October 6, 2012

Google's Bike Navigator---Does It Work?

Good Evening, my name is Flash and I love to ride my bike in San Francisco.  SF is a world class city with world class beauty and attractions.  I was recently on a tour in France, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, and I have to say I saw nothing like San Francisco in my travels.  Great things and places yes, but nothing like our city by the bay.  I've lived in the Bay Area all my life, but it wasn't until just a few years ago that I Got It about the city.  The thing I like best about it is that the bike becomes such a superior way to get around the city---I can avoid long lines of stopped traffic, just zip along in the bike lanes.  I love the feeling of superiority, that I made a clever transportation choice, that in a sense I am doing battle amongst the motorized Trojan Horses---motorists, taxies and buses.  And emerging victorious.  It gives me a great feeling of living fully.

I look for excuses to BART my bike over to downtown, where adventures begin.  Yesterday I scheduled a day off to go see the Fleet Week Air Show at Marina Green.  This outing took some planning as it was Friday, which has limited bike on BART hours, and other huge events like the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival was happening nearby with maybe 100,000 music fans, many competing for a BART seat in the evening.  So accordingly, I planned to stay late, so packed plenty of sustenance and layers, lights and locks.

I passed throngs of stopped cars along the Embarcadero.  For some reason, the brains at city planning decided to choose this time to re-paint the stripes in the road, so traffic was funneled into one lane down where they are building the new Exploratorium.  It felt SO GOOD to non-nonchalantly roll by this motorist's nightmare.  At Fisherman's Wharf I spied a Peet's hidden inside the Boudin Bakery, so braked for a Java upgrade with scone.  Ah, sitting on a bench at the wharf watching the world go by.  Pretty damned nice.

Back to The Plan:  the air show ran until about 4:30, then the America's Cup trials were running just offshore until---it came time to ride over to Golden Gate Park from Ghirardelli Square to catch the last act at the Hardly Strictly Arrow Stage named Reignwolf at 6:15.  The only way I've ridden to the park previously is through the Presidio beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, which is a nice way to go, but indeed hilly.  So I decided to give Google route planning a try and see what bike route it advised.  What you do is go to Google Maps, ask for directions from point A to point B, and it gives you the auto route that it thinks is best.  Simply push the bike icon above the directions window and the route changes to accommodate the cyclist.  I did that , and here is what it gave me. (this is the enhanced Flashblog version using Google Earth.  It looks better than maps and allows you to see terrain changes given a very low view)

The purple route is the bike route, yellow streets are major arteries drivers use.
click pics for larger view

So after a thrilling and totally worth it 3 hours of air show and America's Cup yacht watching, I unlocked the bike, helmeted up, and set off to see how good this route was.  I wrote the directions on a scrap of paper which I repeatedly pulled out of my pocket for reference.  

The first street was Polk st, 8 blocks south.  I realized quickly that I was starting at sea level and going up fast, these 8 blocks were all uphill and I found myself standing on the pedals at least half the time.  I was on the Miyata, which does not furnish the lowest gears--- the lowest being 36x26 which is almost a medium gear on this terrain.   I was also carrying 5lbs of locks and chains, two large water bottles, and  a 20 lb backpack.  But my legs were fresh, and I took it slow (please read the preceding Flashblog) not to blow out any tendons, so it was actually fun and challenging.

Here's the route up Polk St., followed by the right on Broadway

I took a right on Broadway.  Broadway!  I think of this as almost a highway, but damned if the traffic wasn't the lightest I've ever seen it, and thanks to double parked cars in the right lane I pretty much had that lane to myself.  Broadway was a climb as well, and I recall looking up Gough, the steepest street in SF and thinking that Google better not direct me up a wall like that!  As well, I was riding into the late afternoon sun and it was rather blinding.   But beautifully blinding as the sun was blazing amid or through a towering wall of gray fog off the coast, which had a silverish lining at its top.  It was as if I were on a Knight on a Quest in a strange kingdom.   That is the feeling I had, atop my trusty steed.

Left turn at Webster presented even more uphill climbing, but thankfully nothing like Gough.  So Google got it right and directed my around the flank of the hill, more or less.  Only four blocks and I had summitted in delightful neighborhood of nicely kept Victorians, then a quick right on Clay.

Gough is the yellow street on the left, Octavia is in the center, my route in purple cutting across.  This almost gives you a sense of how steep it is.  Its steeper!!

Clay descended, then ascended and I was reminded of the training rides in Oakland that I have been taking Flashette on.  Not too different, really.  But the joy in this ride came from the newness, the not knowing of the way or even if the way were good or not.  After a long 15 blocks or so of Clay, almost every street a four way stop or light, I came to Arguello, which skirts the east end of Golden Gate Park.  

I crossed Geary and some other major streets, avoided a Muni bus that wanted to stay in front of me, then turned right on Cabrillo.  Arguello should be called 2nd Ave. as every street west of it is a number, all the way to 48th, which is one block from the Pacific Ocean.  My destination was 30th Ave.  27 blocks of four way stops, rolling up and down hillettes, and blinding sun in my eyes.  Finally I came to 30th, made a left and rolled into the park, which was of course closed to cars due to the concert.  

I found a no-parking sign and locked my bike to the pole.  Every pole in the park had a least 2 bikes locked to it.  I got lucky and found one that had 3 bikes locked to it, but on one side only.  So I took the other side and positioned my bike to get the U lock around the pole and through the frame and back wheel.  I then took my custom cut 12" super heavy duty chain and put it through the frame and front wheel and locked those together.  I also locked my helm and removed the front light and pump. 

I found I had overshot the stage by about 2 blocks, which required a walk.  I had already walked a couple miles earlier from the Maritime Museum over the hill to Fort Mason, and on to Marina Green, and back.  After the ride to the park, I was starting to get a tad tired.  I found the stage and listened to performer who goes by Reignwolf, an amped up young guy who has flashes of Hendrix in his playing. He's rough but plays his axe in a unique way, the sound is primal but conjures up sounds of British rock in the 60's as well as blues and grunge.  Maybe Soundgarden was a big influence for him.  Really enjoyed the show.

I met Flashette and Sweeps McNulty there, we all crowded on a jam packed Muni bus, my purple bike proudly hanging on the front of the bus just daring a taxi to get in its way!  At Civic Center we boarded BART and arrived at Fruitvale 10 hours after I had started my SF adventure.

So... Google bike directions....does it work? I say Yes it does.  It made no major errors in route design, did not direct me up any ridiculous hills or dangerous streets (19th Ave anyone?) and kept me in bike lanes or four lane streets for the most part.  I thought it was a good route and I would take it again.  I mean I will take it again, for sure.

Never stop pedaling!

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