Cycling to and from the car dealership, I fretted that my route seemed so circuitous.
In these troubled times of rising gas prices, I'm lucky to live near enough to work that my morning bicycle commute takes about seven minutes, perhaps ten if there's a train.
But a few days ago I tried an experiment. What if I lived not a mile from my office on the Capitol Square, but ten miles? Is that a bicycle commute I would relish?
My pickup truck was due for some scheduled maintenance, so I drove it to Capitol Ford on Wayne Terrace, near Eastgate Cinemas. I declined the proffered ride in the Capitol Ford minivan, and instead clipped on my helmet, dragged my trusty Schwinn out of the back of the truck, and headed southwest for the center of town.
More accurately, I first headed almost due south, since for this experiment I followed the bike routes designated in green on the city's bike map. The route I chose that day runs south of East Washington Avenue and is a mix of surface streets, bike lanes, and bike-and-pedestrian paths.
As soon as I crossed over the interstate on High Crossing Boulevard, I turned left on East Springs Drive, which is a forlorn route for a cyclist. There was not much auto traffic, but the wide road mostly looked onto big-box stores. It was a slight improvement to turn onto Thompson Drive, which at least has a bike lane (one in need of a fresh coat of paint).
But it was a busy rush hour, and cars zoomed around me. I was freaked out by Thompson's traffic circles, which I find confusing enough behind the wheel of a car. I was glad to turn onto quiet Swanton Road, which, via Milwaukee Street and Portland Parkway, led to a much-appreciated but slightly terrifying bike-and-pedestrian bridge over the roaring traffic of Stoughton Road.
Now I found myself on a pleasant bike path in East Morland Park. I immediately took a wrong turn and found myself behind the Milwaukee Street Woodman's. Backtracking, I followed the bike route down Dawes Street, where I admired the attractive east-side bungalows. Then came a pleasant surprise, a short bike path through wetlands near Starkweather Creek. I saw waterfowl there.
Then I picked up the Atwood path, not far from where my commute normally begins. I had been cycling about an hour by the time I made it to work. The weather had been fine, and other than a mildly grimy face, I was ready for a day at the office.
When it came time to pick up my truck, that afternoon, I took the designated route north of East Washington. On Hoard Street, near Demetral Field, this meant more views of attractive east-side bungalows.
This route next took me to the day's biggest surprise, the magnificent Starkweather Creek path that runs near Bridges golf course. In eight years of Madison biking I had somehow never pedaled this jewel, which meanders amid woods and wetlands and offers peeks at the golf course's handsome fairways. Almost as delightful was the ride through nearby Reindahl Park, where families with strollers moved slowly down the path, and where, in the distance, I saw a gardener hard at work on his community plot.
But then, at Continental Lane, the route crossed East Washington, and I found myself in the snarl of East Towne Mall traffic. With their vast parking lots, malls like East Towne are made for cars, and I felt lonesome and vulnerable on my bike as I made my way back to High Crossing Boulevard and Capitol Ford. When I arrived at the dealership, I had once again spent about an hour on my bike.
Cycling to and from the car dealership, I fretted that my route seemed so circuitous, compared to driving straight down East Washington Ave. I fretted, that is, until I hit that stretch of the Starkweather Creek path.
That's when it hit me: Motorists generally want only to get where they're going, as quickly as possible. Cycling, on the other hand, is intrinsically fun. So weather permitting, regular bike commutes from the outskirts of town -- especially ones that avoided most motor traffic -- could be low-cost occasions for pleasure and reflection, as well as fitness.
Traveling by bike also is an occasion to see more of this fine-looking city close-up, and at a leisurely pace. I suspect that Madison's designated bike routes take cyclists past all kinds of attractive bungalows.