When I first started riding with my kid, one of my biggest struggles was figuring out how to find the best bike routes to safely get us where I wanted to go. Then I discovered that Google Maps also has BIKING DIRECTIONS. That's right. If you tell Google that you're on a bike, they will give you a different route than if you are in a car. Even today, after I've taken pretty much all of the routes across the city between downtown and Santa Monica, I'll still check in just to see if they have any new tips. Here's how:
1. Open your Google Maps app (if you have an iPhone, like i do, simply download the app for free from the App Store first.)
2. Type in your destination in the white rectangular search bar at the top of the page (where it says, "Search Google Maps").
3. After you've typed in your destination, click on the "directions" icon (it's the blue circle with the white diamond and blue arrow in the middle of it on the bottom right of the screen capture below).
4. Google is now giving you directions as if you were traveling by car.
5. If you look in the rectangular blue part of the screen below the "from" and "to" you will see icons for car, train, walking, rideshare, or bike. Tap the bike icon and the directions will switch to bike routes:
6. You now have your bike route in blue along with a second option in gray that you could tap to choose instead. I would also like to point out that according to the Google driving and biking directions above, the difference between traveling from the La Brea Tar Pits to Silver Lake in a car vs. a bike was only fourteen minutes in the middle of the day. If it was rush hour you might even beat the car.
7. The easiest way to utilize these directions is to place ONE ear bud in your ear for turn by turn audio directions. Your phone will speak into your ear to tell you when to turn just like you were driving a car with a GPS navigation system. Just note that wearing one ear bud is legal, two ear buds is not.
For the most part, Google does a good job directing you to calm streets and bike lanes. When it steers me to a street on which I don't feel comfortable riding with my kid, I simply slow down and carefully hop onto the sidewalk until I reach the next turn. Worst case scenario: Get off and walk your bike for a bit.
You very quickly get the hang of the best streets on which to travel. Then you often cross the city faster than if you were in a car. But, instead of spending more unhealthy, sedentary time in traffic while your kid's brain checks out; you get some exercise, glide past the gridlock, sing songs with your kid, teach them phonics using traffic signs, count crosswalk signals backwards, show them to be self-sufficient through your example, and do your little part to save the world at the same time. Win/win/win/win/win/win/win.
Alternatives to Google:
The website cicle.org has crowd-sourced bike routes here and here. It's useful to read through these routes because you'll see the same streets mentioned again and again. I often cross-check the Google suggested route with routes on cicle.org.
labikepaths.com has a great interactive map of Los Angeles's (all too few) class one bike lanes. Class one lanes are completely separated from traffic, so they are a great way to get started family biking without the presence of any cars.
I'll be posting my own family friendly bike routes more and more as time permits.