Navigating the urban jungle

I was talking to a friend who’s returning to bicycling after a long break, and she said one of the biggest challenges she faces as a new urban cyclist has to do with finding safe, navigable routes to get where she wants to go. She's lived in Seattle for years, but navigating the city by bike has her feeling a bit daunted. 

It's a totally understandable feeling. The best routes for drivers are not always the best routes for cyclists going the same place. As cyclists, we sometimes favor streets with bike lanes or less car traffic. We’ll take a detour to avoid an imposing hill. Or maybe we can take a more direct route, through a park for example, not available to cars. 

Here are a few tips for route-finding in the urban jungle:

Online mapping tools

Google maps cycling directions
Google maps isn’t just a great tool for planning a road trip with friends. You can also get maps and turn-by-turn directions for bicycling. Just plug in your start point and destination, and click on the cyclist above the menu bar. You can even view bike paths on the map.  

Map My Ride

Looking to find routes already tested by other cyclists? Map My Ride allows users to record route data using GPS and post it to the Map My Ride site. The app and website also relay information about your speed, elevation gain, calories burned and more. This tool may be better for weekend pleasure rides than day-to-day utility, but it’s useful for riders of all experience levels. 

Bike maps

Local and state departments of transportation often produce bike maps highlighting bike lanes, sharrows and other infrastructure to help cyclists navigate the city. The Seattle DOT has an interactive bike map, or you can order a paper copy to keep in your bag. Here’s a big list of bike maps for cities across the Puget Sound Region, including Bellevue, Redmond and more. 

If you live outside the region, check with your local or state department of transportation for bike maps and other resources. 

Local transit or cycling organizations

Take a Cascade free group ride

Want to ride around new territory with experienced riders? Cascade offers free group rides every day of the year for riders of various ages, abilities and locations. Our certified ride leaders can answer questions and will lead the group. 

As with DOTs, local non-profits may also offer resources to help in route-finding and trip planning. Ride Your Way Bellevue will even help you plan your commute

Ask a friend or co-worker to show you around

There’s no better way to learn a new route or neighborhood than by riding with a friend who knows the area. No fumbling with your smartphone or ad-hoc cue sheets necessary. Plus your pal can point out the best coffee spots, bike shops and parks along the way.   

Know of any other great resources? Post them in the comments below to help fellow cyclists discover fun, safe and accessible routes.