When we cyclists leave it to urban planners to determine where in the city we should and shouldn’t ride our bikes we tend to find ourselves mingling uncomfortably with SUVs, pedestrians, not-so-efficient-routes, and dead-ends. How often, here in Edmonton for example, has the “bike lane” I’ve so naively pursued stopped short, sending me headlong into the traffic maelstrom?
The responsibility, then, falls to we cyclists to take matters (and maps) into our own hands. Nicole Freedman, Boston’s first bike czar, has done that with the help of the cycling community and Google Maps.
Well, you know what they say about necessity. Freedman invented a rather ingenious method of planning a bike network. Her team created a modified Google Map that enables cyclists to log on and trace the routes they ride every day. Watch the data pile up, and voila — sensible bike routes. “We found out where the actual desire lines are,” she said. “Using existing technology was great.”
In addition to figuring out where to stripe lanes, Freedman is using Google Maps to rate streets on bike-friendliness. “Anyone can go onto Google and rate a road,” she said. “Is it good for beginners or just for experts?” The results will be reflected in Boston’s first official bike map, which Freedman touted as an example of the city’s strategy to personalize bike education and training. (Did I mention they’re starting from scratch?)
Other worthy sources of urban-biking goodness include Bikely: “Put very simply, Bikely helps cyclists share knowledge of good bicycle routes”; and for those walkers amongst us there is the handy Gmaps Pedometer where walking distances and calories burned can be tracked and plotted.
Alternatively, cyclists can just forget about all bike-pathway fantasies and make like NYC bike messengers who throw caution to the wind as they engage in urban assualt.
FWIW, laudably bike-friendly urban planning is on view here and there. Copenhagen, for instance…. A land that seems, from my perch in Edmonton at least, in a galaxy far, far away.