Choosing Between Road Types
While the fastest route may be along the same road arteries you use driving your car, a much nicer ride is available by taking smaller roads. Although a side road is statistically more likely to send a rider to the hospital, it is very desirable to avoid the hustle and exhaust of rush-hour traffic. Sparsely-traveled side roads also allow you to choose your pace to avoid getting sweaty or if the arterial traffic of the moment seems too fast. Side streets provide a much more pleasant commuting experience, with less traffic noise and nicer scenery.
Roads offering a bicycling lane are also often worth the detour for the speed and pleasantness they afford. Bike lanes do have their dangers, however, which may make them less safe than roads without them for the incautious rider. Many bike lanes, for example, direct riders into the right turn lane at intersections, while one should choose the lane for through traffic to the left as a car would.
Bicycle paths offer a very pleasant ride, for those days when you don't feel like rushing. There are issues such as speed limits legislation in same areas and possibly safety in particularly crime-ridden cities, but in Ontario the paths are a pleasant, well paved and fast way to get around.
The safest route is always a wide (14 to 16 foot) paved road with as little traffic as possible. Sidewalks are cluttered with obstacles and people exiting buildings without expecting a high-speed object to be sharing their space. Bicycle paths dump riders in the wrong turn lanes, creating the main accident hazard that makes bike paths more dangerous than normal roads.
Multiple-use trails are even worse, with low-speed joggers and metre-wide roller bladers squeezing by on a narrow strip of asphalt. Paths with inline skaters, pedestrians, and even horses with bikes are more likely to send a rider to the hospital than a comparable street, according to recent study published in the Institute for Transportation Engineers journal. Pedestrians, pets and skaters are unpredictable and require more skill to pass safely, while side path intersections are very dangerous because motorists don't expect vehicular cross traffic.
The best strategy is to find several routes, but the more scenic ones will likely be your most-traveled favourite. There is, after all, something to be said for avoiding the rednecks in puppy-crushers who honk and yell and the pimply teenaged mouth-breathers in Cameros who try to graze you at 85 kph.
Planning Your Route
Cities and regions often publish maps which mark the bicycle paths, bike lanes, and more cyclist-friendly roads. Get a hold of such a map for your area, as they are great for finding the nicest routes to your destination.
Keep hills in mind for your route -- if you have to sweat your way up a steep hill every morning, try a parallel road, one which misses the hill completely, or merely a less busy one where you are free to slowly plod up the hill in a low gear.
Bridges are also a key point in planning your route. Choosing a bridge with the best bike path or most convenient shuttle service can significantly improve your commute.
In addition to getting you across bridges, the subways, buses and shuttles available can get you across town if a commute is long. Rather than riding all of the way to work, you need only ride to the nearest public transportation facility at each end. Alternately, driving part of the way gives you the leverage to avoid unexpected weather, long distances, hills, bridges and tunnels, while the bike can be used for the fastest transit through the crowded downtown and for the most convenient parking.
Finally, if your desired route to work needs improvements, voice your needs to your government officials, starting at the local level and working your way up the chain of command. It is true that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," and government officials will respond to bicyclists as well as any other citizens. If you need reinforcements, get your bike club or advocacy group involved. At the state and federal levels the League of American Bicyclists can assist you through an extensive network of volunteers who know how to get the government to grant your requests.