Generic bike route signI recently bicycled from Seattle to Bellevue, Washington, across Lake Washington on the I-90 floating bridge. This trip is not complicated. Once you’re on the wide, well-shielded bike lane, you’d think that getting to Bellevue would be assured. You’d be wrong. First, you have to get across Mercer Island.

On the island, the bike route leaves the freeway and vanishes into a labyrinth of branching paths. They’re beautiful bikeways, no doubt: wide, separated from traffic, well-graded, gracefully curved for smooth cornering—a pleasure to ride. But they’re almost entirely unmarked. Where there are signs at all, they only say “Bike Route.” (All of them are bike routes. Duh!) Imagine traveling in a city without street signs—or with ones that only say “Car Route.” Next time you see a sign like the one above that says “Bike Route,” remember, it’s a symptom of Car-head.

Ending bicycle neglect—with all the benefits that would bring—means providing for two-wheeled navigation. Many Cascadian cities, including Portland, and Vancouver, BC (both the city and the metro area) now have reasonably good cycling maps. On Mercer Island, I was carrying this one. Portland also has an online bicycle trip planner, and Thurston County , Washington has a nice online biking map.

But maps aren’t much use without reference points on the ground, as I learned while wandering Mercer Island, looking for markers amid the atheletic fields and cul de sacs.

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  • Signs are small things, and far less expensive than separate bikeways with their own traffic signals and secure parking. So it’s surprising how much of Cascadia is as unsigned as Mercer Island.

    The opposite pole from Mercer Island is Portland, where I biked earlier this summer. The quietest streets themselves were branded with bicycle logos, right on the roadway, to indicate the best routes for two-wheelers. Along these boulevards, I came to navigation signs every few blocks. These signs—Portland has installed more than 400 of them—listed destinations, distances, directions, and even travel time.

    better bike route sign It was as if, well, bicycles were a means of transportation.

    First bike photo courtesy of Flickr user orangejack under a Creative Commons license.

    Second bike photo courtesy of Flickr user Richard Drdul under a Creative Commons license.