Wednesday, September 09, 2009

In Search of the Northwest Passage


I've been trying to find a good bike shortcut to Takoma Park and Silver Spring. Driving, we have a more-or-less straight shot up East-West Highway, but that isn't suitable for driving. And once I get close, the Sligo Creek Trail and various on-road bike routes make things easy. But it's tricky handling the distance between home and where the East-West Highway hits Sligo Creek Trail.

Fortunately, I collect lots of data about my rides, so I can make both an objective and a subjective comparison.

My first attempts (red path) were done by going south through Hyattsville and Magruder Park and taking the Northwest Branch Trail to the Sligo Creek Trail. It's somewhat roundabout, but it's all easy biking on either residential streets or a scenic set of trails. Time: 31 minutes. Distance: 4.6 miles.

From the first time I looked at the map, I had my eye on a route via residential streets to the west of home (green path). Christina and I explored the route via Wells Parkway and Wells Boulevard to a park we call "Stolen Mulch Park". (The first time we drove by, we saw some women helping themselves to some mulch that had been clearly placed for park use.) One day I decided to push through along the route marked on my bike map. Unfortunately, this route involves crossing Riggs Road, but not at a crosswalk. Riggs Road is fairly busy and doesn't feature many lights or crosswalks. It does have a median, so I did eventually get across, but it was not fun. The only thing this route has to recommend it is that it is the shortest-distance one I tried. Time: 25 minutes. Distance: 2.9 miles.

When I looked at the map again, I saw Queens Chapel Road marked as a bike route (blue path). I had been fairly skeptical, because I know Queens Chapel is fairly busy outside of University Park. When I rode down it, however, I realized it has a nice, wide shoulder. Except for a small segment where people park cars on weekends, it's fairly easy to avoid most traffic before picking up the Northwest Branch Trail. It's a bit hillier than other routes, and not as scenic as going via Magruder Park, but it's the fastest route, and it doesn't involve any scary intersections. If I'm trying to make it farther into Montgomery County, I'll definitely take this path; if I'm looking for a more leisurely ride, I'll probably go via Magruder Park. Time: 22 minutes. Distance: 3.6 miles.

This analysis may seem like overkill for differences of at most 9 minutes or 1.7 miles. But those differences are doubled for a round trip and definitely make a difference between a reasonable ride and one that leaves me feeling wiped out. So, until the county wises up and builds a better path, I think I have the information I need.

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