Tuesday, June 28, 2016

5 Tips for Family Biking Route Planning

Taking a slight detour to visit the "Chicken Channel", our neighbourhood coop
In the ABCs of Family Biking workshops, there is just so much to talk about that we can't possibly cover every single topic in detail. So I've decided to do a series of blog posts delving into the nitty gritty of these family biking topics.

At the first of our workshops, something that many parents brought up was that they were worried about the safety of riding in traffic with their babies & toddlers. Though we have quite a few kilometres of fully separated bike lanes & paths like the seawall in Vancouver, you will encounter car traffic when you're riding in Vancouver. But mapping out your route can really make a big difference.

I have been biking with my children for more than five years now, but I still usually plan out my route when I'm going somewhere new. An example of when I didn't: I recently decided at the last minute to ride from kindergarten dropoff to Staples on Broadway at Birch. I decided to just wing it & ended up crossing Oak at an intersection with no lights, which required some assertive vehicular cycling. Then I had to zigzag through some streets after nearly getting sucked into the black hole of navigation that is Shaughnessy. It all worked out fine, but it just wasn't the usual smooth, relaxing ride.

For families who are new to biking with their tots, this little bit of preparation is even more important. Knowing where you're going & how exactly you're going to get there under your own steam can go a long way to making it a better experience.

So here are my top five tips for planning our your family ride:

  1. Google Maps Bike directions. I use this quite a lot when I'm planning my route to a new place. Both the mobile & the desktop version will give you suggested routes with estimated time it will take, plus details like the elevation gain of the route, so you can pick the least hilly path when you're hauling that extra 20, 30, or more pounds of children on your bike. A caveat: Google Maps isn't perfect so sometimes it's worth zooming in on the satellite images to double check if there are lights at any major arterial roads you'll be crossing.
  2. Let Google navigate. Mobile Google Maps has the GPS navigator option. Just turn on your location settings & input your start & end points & then click on the blue arrow to have Google tell you when & where you need to turn. Works best if you have a handlebar mount for your phone, but you can still listen if the phone is in your purse or pocket.
  3. Grab a map. The City of Vancouver's bike maps, as well as the Translink cycling maps for the municipalities of Metro Vancouver are handy too. You can download the PDFs & zoom in on your phone if you want access to a map without using data. The paper versions are very portable, folding up to business card sized--great if you don't use a smart phone.
  4. Follow the Bikeways. Plan your route to include traffic calmed bikeways, along roads with lower speed limits (like those around parks & schools), seeking out separated lanes where you can, &crossing arterial roads at intersections with bike buttons. Though your route might not be as direct as taking main road, it makes for a less stressful ride, generally, when you take, say, 10th Avenue rather than Broadway.
  5. Stop & smell the roses. Being able to pull up onto the sidewalk & take a look at something for a minute is one of the big benefits of cycling. If you have time, try to plan your route to allow for a quick stop for the kids. It could be to peruse the books at a little library in your neighbourhood, or to watch the goings on at a construction site along the way, or maybe past one of the spots where you know there will be interesting mushrooms or flowers growing. One of our favourites is to visit the chicken coop when we take an alternate route home from school.
Some day, there will be a lot more cycling infrastructure in this city & we'll be able to just jump on bikes & not really plan so much. But until we catch up to Holland (trust me, I'm working on it!), taking a few minutes to figure out the most comfortable route will make your rides more fun.

Have you got any other tips you'd like to share? I'd love to hear them in the comments below.

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