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byCycle - Online Bike Maps
Alex Steffen, 12 Aug 06

We're pro-bike here, but we do recognize that there are a myriad of challenges bikers face getting around their cities. One of those challenges is just figuring out the most bike-friendly route between where you are and where you want to be. As every biker knows, the difference between riding on street with bike lanes, sensible traffic calming and good safety measures and a sidewalk-less arterial full of speeding cars and road-raging drivers can be the difference between arriving relaxed and on time, or perhaps not arriving at all.

ByCycle is working to create interactive biking maps for North American cities.

Autocentric resources like MapQuest default to the quickest route for cars. “The first thing MapQuest does is it tries to put you on the freeway,” Bosworth says, which is not an option for cyclists. The byCycle trip planner offers “normal” (faster) and “safe” modes when plotting routes.
By plotting bike-sensitive routes, the trip planner is “very commuter-oriented,” encourages people to leave the car at home and helps keep cyclists safe.
“It’s a great tool,” bicycle commuter Adam Marx says. “I’m impressed with it. I use it a lot. I appreciate all the work (they) put in on it.”

They currently only have the system running for Portland, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, and it frankly seems a bit clunky, but at very least it shows that the thing can be done.

It's also another example of why better access to information is critical to building bright green cities. Whether we're talking about walkshed technologies that help us get things done locally, product service systems that help us live better with less stuff, or service maps for things like transit, knowing where something is and the easiest way to bring it into your life trumps driving around to find it. Access by proximity and access to information can combine to improve our lives and make them lighter on the planet.

(image: BikePortland, cc. While you're at it, check out BikePortland's blog -- every city should have a local bike blog this good.)

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See also "bikemetro" for a few southern California counties. Works well for me:

Posted by: odograph on 12 Aug 06

see also that lets cyclists share and contribute bicycle routes.

Posted by: iant on 13 Aug 06

This is fairly depressing, none of these are very useful or usable.

There are also technical barriers.

The one you mention uses shapefiles to get the city street geometry. The information contained in those is usually car-centric. I used to be able to shave 20 minutes off my commute because of a pedestrian path between a cul-de-sac and a large artery. These shortcuts aren't published by governments. Maybe collective mapping as openstreetmap does it will help in this regard.

We also need 'digital elevation models', as a longer road may have less hills. Fewer stops also help: stop and go really increases biking time. (Worse is straight uphill, with stop signs and intersections on the way down!).

Maybe one day we'll fit cyclists with galvanic skin response and GPS data loggers, and manage to get a route planner that lets you avoid the scariest bike routes according to your risk tolerance. Ok, maybe GSR is a bit much, but GPS would at least give us those shortcuts and elevation, and those of us whose governments aren't handing over the data could start something useful.

Posted by: Daniel Haran on 13 Aug 06

I almost blogged ByCycle, but when I tested it, it performed very poorly. Guess I should've mentioned something.

I tried mapping a route in Portland: from 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd (Reed College) to 1005 W Burnside (Powells). First it didn't understand the starting address (even though it was well-formed and Google maps finds it fine). Then when I gave it the intersection of Woodstock and SE Moreland, it understood that; however, the route it gave to bike from there to Powells was horrible--it took you about fifteen block out of your way (30 blocks total), and those blocks are up a significant hill, so you'd want to avoid them even if they were on your way.

So I put it in the "not ready for prime time" category. Excellent idea, though, something that really needs to be done. As Daniel Haran said above, perhaps it would be best done in some sort of wiki fashion, becuse otherwise it requires a huge amount of information gathering (topo maps and traffic maps, maybe also maps of where bike-car accidents have happened like the Ghost Cycle project).

Posted by: Jeremy Faludi on 13 Aug 06

I agree about needing an interactive, open source, user created map that is based on actual bike usage, not just street maps. Think of the walking paths that get created between bus stops and gas stations - but for bikes. While I like that there is an effort by Metro, the greater portland regional government, to partner with google earth to create traffic and bike route maps (get the google earth layer here:,
I fear that this is not user based enough. Know what I want? A map that is seasonal: I want to get from one side of town to the other and hit as many seasonal fruit trees overhanging onto the road as possible.

Posted by: Daniel Etra on 15 Aug 06

Hi. Wyatt from byCycle here. This will probably end up sounding a bit defensive, but it's not meant to.

There are a few comments pointing out problems with the trip planner. I would like to request that these kinds of comments be sent to us so that we know what problems people are having and can make an effort to fix them.

The data we use contains data for bike routes, trails, and pedestrian paths, not just roads. We have one person who rides with a GPS unit and adds every useful connection he finds to our network. If people write to us and let us know about similar connections, we will make an effort to add them.

We have incorporated elevation data. As someone pointed out, this elevation data and the way it is matched to our network isn't perfect, but it often works quite well. Again, if people let us know where the issues are, we can try to fix them.

We also plan to add additional data in the future. We have stop sign and signal locations for the region, it's just a matter of finding time to incorporate that into the route planning.

Jeremy, I'm curious when you had trouble with "3203 SE Woodstock Blvd". I entered that into the trip planner just now, and it was found. Also, I'm probably a little biased, but that route[1] doesn't look "horrible" to me, although I will agree that it does start out going the wrong way for some reason (I'll look into it).

Of course what's good or horrible is a matter of opinion, and we are interested in opinions and figuring out how exactly we can take them into account.

Finally, I would like to point out that this project has to date been essentially unfunded. It is unlikely that it will improve very quickly without contributions from the community, whether time, funding, effort, and/or feedback.


Posted by: Wyatt Baldwin on 16 Aug 06



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