Damn it, I wish I didn't go this way!
Ever mumble that to yourself while riding around the city? There have certainly been times when I've found myself on some bike-lane-less, no-shoulder road with cars and trucks buzzing me and wished that I had thought more about my route before heading out. It is a dangerous situation for a bicyclist to find himself or herself. You get nervous, scared even, loosing focus on what you are doing. You start thinking too much about just extracting yourself from your poorly chosen route, and as a result you do something stupid. Maybe you run a light, swerve across the lane without looking or turn down a one way street going the wrong direction. These decisions made under stress can get you hurt or killed.
In my experience one of the wisest safety measures an urban cyclist can take is to put some thought into their planned route of travel ahead of time. This need not be a lengthy orienteering brainstorm. But take a few seconds to think about where the bike lanes are, what surface or secondary streets can get you where you are going in order to avoid gnarly traffic conditions that can place you in a scary situation. When your own knowledge of the city is taxed there are simple tools out there offering aid to the wandering biped. Google Maps has a bike route option. Ride The City is another smartphone app that I've used with success. Also, recently, Chicago urban planning expert and alternative transportation advocate Steven Vance has created an iPhone app that puts a map of the city's bike safe routes in your pocket. The beauty of this new travel app, Chicago Offline Bike Map, is that, unlike Google Maps and Ride The City, you do not need to be connected to the internet to use it. Instead, this application downloads the maps, organized by neighborhood and points of interest, right onto your phone, to be uploaded anytime, anywhere, even where mobile service is spotty. The app costs .99 cents and is available only (for the time being) for iPhone. Check it out here.