Riding on stroads gets a bad rap in the bicycling world, and with good reason. Planner and engineer Charles Marohn, who coined the term, describes stroads as a combination of a local street and a higher speed connector road, in which
engineering codes tend to emphasize speed and traffic flow rather than safety, so that stroads try to be “all things to all people” but end up failing in every way as a result.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stroad
All stroads feature at least two lanes in each direction. Unfortunately, my office is located near the local shopping mall, so stroads are an everyday part of my bike commute.
CyclingSavvy Stroad Strategies
Because this is a reality for many commuters, we spend a lot time in CyclingSavvy on strategies for riding on stroads. Can it actually be fun and relaxing? Granted, that is probably a stretch for most people, although some of us have been known to push that point occasionally. Yet I think Savvy Cyclists would agree that it actually takes less skill to ride on some stroads than on some local roads, once you’ve got the confidence, lane position, and communication. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be “strong and fearless”!
Many of our strategies minimize time spent on stroads through timing and placement of entry onto them. Gaps in stroad traffic, even at rush hour, often let you have the road all to yourself for a minute or more at a time!
Riding on Stroads to Staples
Recently, I needed to stop at the Staples office supply store on my way home. Staples is about a mile and a half away, along a 4-lane stroad called Western Avenue.
I’ve often cut through a lightly-used parking lot. That cuts my time on Western Avenue to about 1/3 of a mile, compared to 3/4 of a mile by the shortest all-road route. There’s an additional quarter mile on another stroad, Gorham Road, to get to Western Avenue. We also have a strategy for that segment…to be covered in an upcoming post.
So, no brainer, let’s take the parking lot cut-through, right? (Beware that busy parking lots can often be more dangerous than roads. Traffic is less orderly and sightlines can be bad. But this parking lot serves an office building with low occupancy, so it’s usually nearly deserted.)
That’s what I usually figure. But this time, I had a different idea. Before I left, I used Google Maps satellite view to review the intersection configurations.
Riding on stroads: better?
So which route will be the more relaxing? Sure, the nearly deserted parking lot will be more relaxing than the stroad anytime. But will avoiding one intersection and minimizing time riding on stroads necessarily make for a better experience? What exactly will be the difference in experience on Western Avenue? How would you know?
Hint: Look at the intersections. Specifically, look at how traffic turns onto Western Avenue (top left) in each case.
Check it out:
And the winner is…?
Using the “easier” parking lot route, I enter Western Avenue on a short green light. Motorists are very likely waiting in both through lanes to my right (red arrows). Soon after I turn, when they get their green light, I’ll almost certainly have traffic behind me in my lane. That traffic will not be able to pass me right away because there will still be traffic in the left lane too.
Compare this situation to turning onto Western earlier, at Gorham Road. There, traffic from any direction behind me enters in just a single lane, so the passing lane is guaranteed to be clear for a while after I turn. Motorists coming up behind me will have no problem changing lanes right away. Then, as I continue along Western, subsequent traffic from behind me also has plenty of time to see me and change lanes. Each passing driver clears the sightline for the person behind them, and so on.
Granted, I still have to go through the same Foden Road intersection. But even then, any motorist coming up behind me sees me ahead, and is likely to change to the left lane before the light, to avoid getting stuck behind me. When I take the parking lot route, turning left from Foden, drivers on Western have no idea that I am about to be ahead of them. They have no chance to avoid the delay. Then they are surprised, and sadly, in some cases, annoyed.
Counter-intuitively, the route that has me riding on stroads longer actually reduces motorists’ getting “stuck” behind me. It’s not my job to protect their emotions, but still, if I can set myself and everyone else up for an easier time, why wouldn’t I?
So, that day, I took the less intuitive route and spent more time on the stroad, and it was absolutely fine. I didn’t notice anyone needing to wait long, if at all, to change lanes to get around me. There was absolutely no incivility. Move along, nothing to see here. Just another day of ordinary bicycle transportation with CyclingSavvy.
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