A few months ago Google Maps added bicycling to its methods of conveyance. When it first started, its recommendations seemed a bit old-ladyish to an experienced urban bicyclist. It would take you to a bike path in preference to any other way.
Bike paths are seldom the way to get anywhere in a hurry. If they are smooth and well-laid-out, they are crowded with pedestrians, dog walkers, and wildly weaving bicycling children as padded up as NFL linebackers. Otherwise, they are creased with roots and frost heaves, with gravel patches and potholes concealed by slick fallen leaves, and make sudden right angle turns before mysteriously vanishing in the middle of nowhere.
But the essence of Google is consistently getting better, and so it has. Today I went to have lunch with my old boss, Liz (catching up + looking for work) out in Burlington, a Boston suburb known almost entirely for its vast mall. Google maps found me a route that did, in fact, take in some bike paths. I almost rejected it, but than decided to try it. The other routes into Burlington are gigantic multilane monstrosities, way worse than any urban street.
The Minuteman Path, allegedly one of the most traveled rail trails in the entire country, was pretty well empty in the middle of a cold November day. And the previously unknown-to-me bike path from Lexington to Burlington was, in fact, fairly creased, but snaked along in quite an engaging secret way, behind houses and along a stream, spitting me out just a couple of blocks of traffic horror on the Middlesex Turnpike away from my destination.
I may not accept the advice, but it's nice to have a resource for finding secret ways to survive the suburbs.