The best way to get around town on a bike is probably not the same way you'd go by car. A route that's convenient by car may be very stressful on a bike. Fortunately, there are bike maps that show you which faster-traffic streets have bike lanes, show you which roads to avoid, and clearly mark the kid-friendly, off-road bike trails. Bike maps are often available on paper so you can take them along on your ride.
Another option is using the bike directions setting on Google Maps, which can give you point-to-point directions and offers Street View which lets you visually check out the route. But sometimes Google gives you bike routes that aren't exactly what you'd choose. Like the time it recommended I take Central Expressway to get to my job near San Jose Airport. Not my idea of a pleasant ride to work, even though my friend Jack did it for years.
But both kinds of bike maps can be misleading. Some of the best routes are low-traffic, slower-speed neighborhood streets that don't get marked on the map because they don't have bike lanes and they're not bike trails. The secret is to look for the quieter streets (often marked in white or gray on the map) and to learn the secret bike passages.
Secret passages are unexpected connections just for people on bikes and on foot. You won't find them behind a bookcase or under a staircase, but they're really common in neighborhoods built after 1950 where streets were designed to limit cut-through car traffic. Which is exactly where you need them the most. Here are some of our favorites:
Sneaking into Sunnyvale: Dana St to Sylvan Park
Getting from Downtown Mountain View to Sunnyvale is a lot calmer with this little connection that starts where Dana St ends at Moorpark. At the end of the crosswalk you'll see three posts guarding a short path to Foxborough St and into the Sylvan Park neighborhood. Another secret passage at the end of East Dana leads you to Washington St in Sunnyvale.
Connecting Downtowns: Castro Street to Los Altos
This short bike-only path fills a gap on Marilyn Drive for a route that can take you from the southern end of Castro Street to downtown Los Altos. When Dick meets me on a Friday night at the Caltrain station for a dinner date in downtown Los Altos, the Marilyn Drive connector helps us get to the restaurant in time for our reservation, even when there's a headwind.
Hugging El Camino on the South Side: Marich Way
Need to get somewhere on El Camino Real and want to avoid traffic? If you're south of El Camino, look to Marich Way. A secret bike connector on Marich Way will let you ride from El Monte Ave to San Antonio Rd on the south side of El Camino. The trick to getting to that store or coffee shop on El Camino is knowing which cross street to turn on. Guess wrong and you could be walking your bike on the sidewalk a long way.
Crossing San Antonio Road: Monta Loma to South Palo Alto
Crossing San Antonio Road can be challenging since most traffic signals are on busier streets, but there's a traffic signal at the old Mayfield Mall site just North of Central Expressway that lets you cross on quieter streets. It's been recently improved on the Palo Alto side with a larger waiting spot, but heading out of town you'll have to use an awkward crosswalk on the Mountain View side. Still, it's a rare easy crossing that takes you into Palo Alto.
These four are just a start. In the resources section below there's a link to a custom Google Map I created with many more. Just zoom into the area you'll be traveling, click on a marker and you may just find the secret bike passage you need.
How do you plan your bike routes? Do you use any bike-only passages as part of your trips? How did you find them?
Bike Fun's Secret Passages Map: Web Link
Mountain View Bike Map: Web Link
Santa Clara County Bike Map: Web Link