Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tricks of the Trade: Hidden Paths

Earlier this week, Fritz posted a nod to a fascinating post on 5000 entitled "Bicycle Wayfinding in the Early 21st Century"

Interstitial spaces are those un-mapped, informal nooks, crannies, and shortcuts. Traveling off the grid. Cyclists who ride in urban areas are probably very familiar with these dark alleyways, parking garages, little paved paths or dirt alleys between urban homes and the like. If you don't, you should start keeping your eyes open for them.

I use interstitial paths almost every single day, and their ubiquity isn't limited to dense, urban streetscapes. Closer to home in suburbia, I cut through business parks...

... industrial complexes ...

... grassy public areas (even when it pisses Chris off)...

... and even church parking lots, parks, little paths between cul-de-sacs and the like. What do they have in common? You won't see any of them on any map. Even the paths that look like roads show up only on aerial view, but they're highly unofficial dead-ends on street maps.

Here in KC, Mark Thomas has shown me several really nifty shortcuts, including access paths under high-voltage suburban power lines, dried stream beds, aqueducts, drainage tunnels and a host of other un-seen infrastructure ready for use by people who don't feel the need to stay between the painted lines. That was two years ago, and he continues to show me more of them, but I quickly learned to look for them on my own.

Brian's post is long, but worth the read. It links to resources, makes statements and shows photos that I can't possibly rival here without flat-out plagiarizing the original work. I agree with almost all of it.

Knowing the ins and outs of these off-the-map routes is actually pretty important if you plan on getting around town efficiently without the use of a car. I'd argue it's just as important as knowing the "goldmine" lesser-traveled and safer through streets and maybe more important than understanding the transit infrastructure in your area.

Staying on the lookout for new paths you didn't know about is key. Dropping what you're doing for a few minutes and exploring a new potential shortcut is the best way to get started. Since bicycles blur the line between vehicle and pedestrian, use it to your advantage, within reason! That is to say tear-assing through granny's flower garden or bubba's back yard isn't recommended. As for the "Private Drive" stuff? I usually see people on their smoke breaks as I pass through. They're friendly and wave. After years of this, I've never caught any flack for it. The second I'm told to knock it off, I'll find a detour.

Brian got me thinking about cataloging some of these little byways. Maybe I will get around to that some day.


Sirrus Rider said...

Looks like you just made a good start just now.. :)

Scott Redd said...

Excellent post, and great advice. All the more reason to commute by bike.

I've always been a fan of the idea that the best way to get somewhere on a bike isn't always the shortest. You also should factor in scenery, safety, and perhaps grade rather than think, "how would I go by automobile?"

Brian J. McNely said...

Fantastic post, Noah!

Thank you so much for graciously mentioning and linking to my post on bicycle wayfinding. I'm glad it was of interest!

amidnightrider said...

Over time, much of my commute has turned into an "off the beaten path" ride.

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