on bike maps

Or really, on a lack thereof.

I went to a talk today at UCLA – a really fascinating one, really – on continuing developments in the world of map-making. One of the things that the speaker mentioned was Google’s initial resistance to letting users modify their maps, until they realized that there was a tremendous potential in or for user-produced maps (just imagine a YouTube for maps).

Thinking about biking in Los Angeles, one of the biggest things holding the community back is the lack of well-publicized maps. True, the MTA has put together a map of bike lanes around the city (their Metro Bike Map), but one of the things I quickly learned about that map was just how far removed it is from the actual experience of riding the streets. It’s partly the MTA’s myopic bicycling policy, but partly to do with the fact that different roads ride very differently at diffferent times. I’ll ride Western after 9 pm, but I don’t think I’d be caught dead on the street during rush hour. Wilshire between Comstock and Beverly Hills is a crap shoot: Late at night, you don’t have to take the sidewalk, but I can’t bring myself to ride the street during daylight hours.

What I’m trying to get at is the way in which there’s no one place for LA cyclists to compile their maps. If all the cyclists in the city – and there are a lot of cyclists – put some time and effort into compiling their maps in a single place, it might make the process of riding in this city a lot less daunting. When I started riding here – only a really short time ago, really – I had a lot to learn. I’ve figured out some routes that work for me, but I still have a lot left to do.

With all that in mind, I want to point people to a very worth cause: Google Maps ‘Bike There’ is a website organized around the effort to convince Google to work in bike routes into their mapping software. Take a moment to sign their petition, and while you’re there, check out the post on Houston taking their place alongside Los Angeles as cities with severe smog problems. The post’s last words:

But it’s not time to give up. Places like Houston and Los Angeles, which are so car-dominated that its residents can barely breathe, need our help. Even if it’s an email or a phone call to the people most responsible for suffocating those cities.

As a last thought on this issue of mapping, what if we – imagining the larger community of Angeleno riders – put together our own mash-up? A kind of general map where everybody and anybody could visit and add routes and warnings – and there may well already be something of the kind, but that’d be news to me. So here’s a thought: If you are curious or have something to add, check out this map. Please let me know what you think.

UPDATE (31 oct 08): You’ll see in the comments that Gary from Gary Rides Bikes also got started with a similar idea. I’ve taken the liberty of merging his rather succesful project and mine. It’s very much a version in progress, but it’s kind of neat to see how certain routes are emerging from the city.

UPDATE (20 nov 08: Because sometimes looking at a map is more fun than looking at text:

19 responses to “on bike maps

  1. What we really need is some sort of wiki map system, where we could rate various streets and bike paths on a number of criteria, such as traffic, safety, hills, etc; then a user could enter their starting and end points, and generate a map based on his or her own criteria and tolerances. But I have absolutely no idea how to pull something like that off. This seems like a good way to start, though.

  2. Absolutely – if I knew how to set up some sort of wiki, it’d be great. But I don’t (at the moment) and though ibikeu seems like a great idea, there’s nothing on there in the way of maps. Let me know if you hear of anything!

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  4. What you are talking about has been done, unfortunately in other cities.

    Boston, for lack of money, asked bike riders to use google maps to bike out the routes they use most often. Voila, they had a map showing what routes had rider demand and should be focused on.

    Philadelphia used the same software but also asked riders to comment on the condition of the bike routes taken, thereby providing an idea of what the maintenance needs were.

    Of course, it takes a lot of effort to get a whole lot of cyclists to contribute.

  5. Quick edit, by unfortunately, I mean, unfortunately “only” in other cities.

  6. @disgruntled: I think Open Cycle Map looks like a great idea – but just looking at the map of Britain, it looks like there’s a much more established cycling infrastructure. That doesn’t exist in LA, and so I feel like we need something a bit more user-created (and not necessarily user-maintained).

    @Alan: Getting people to contribute seems to be one of the key issues – I’ve had a couple of other ideas related to this, but they all depend on other people putting their proverbial two cents in.

    Thanks to you both for the comments.

  7. I think Open Cycle Map is a British venture, which would explain the apparent concentration of infrastructure there. – Physically our biking infrastructure isn’t all that well developed and ‘cycle routes’ tend to be just quiet roads rather than dedicated separated bike routes – they may not even have a marked bike lane on them.

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  9. Have you checked out bikely.com
    They have user inputted maps from all over the world.

    There are a lot of routes listed already in Los Angeles area.

    http://www.bikely.com/listpaths/srchkey/Los+Angeles

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  11. I started one for L.A. with Google a while back and invited some people to help, but ultimately it was just me, and I didn’t have the time commitment to continue filling it out. It’s a pretty tricky task for a place as expansive as Los Angeles.

    Bike L.A. Map

  12. Thanks Timur, it took me a while, but I was able to find the original streetsblog article which links to the google map for Boston. This may help you define what you are looking for.
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/03/06/bike-network-20/

    I couldn’t find the original one for Philly, but here is a link to the originator of the site. Notice how the bike routes on the map are marked as to condition.
    http://bcgp.blogspot.com/2008/05/using-google-maps-to-improve-suburban.html

    Hope this helps.

    –Alan

  13. OK, for some reason my computer isn’t posting to this or LAStreetsblog. one more time, sorry for any duplication:

    Thanks Timur, it took me a while, but I was able to find the original streetsblog article which links to the google map for Boston. This may help you define what you are looking for.
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/03/06/bike-network-20/

    I couldn’t find the original one for Philly, but here is a link to the originator of the site. Notice how the bike routes on the map are marked as to condition.
    http://bcgp.blogspot.com/2008/05/using-google-maps-to-improve-suburban.html

    Hope this helps.

    –Alan (not Alex)

  14. First of all, thanks to everyone for some thoughtful comments.

    @disgruntled – Quiet roads… what are those like? But in all seriousness, your point is well taken. Again, questions of the “ground truth” of maps, and the ways in which they do or do not correspond to an actual experience of riding.

    @Alan – I had looked at bikely but conveniently forgot about it when I was writing this post. Thinking about it a little more, though, I’m not a huge fan of the interface. It’s hard for me to visualize routes through a text description, and then you only have a chance to see one route at a time.

    @Gary – Very cool map. The size of Los Angeles really is kind of prohibitive, but you did pretty well on that one. If I knew how to use .kml files better, it’d be great to mash-up the two efforts, or at least figure out some way to overlay the two. But thanks!

  15. Thanks Timur, it took me a while, but I was able to find the original streetsblog article which links to the google map for Boston. This may help you define what you are looking for.
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/03/06/bike-network-20/

    I couldn’t find the original one for Philly, but here is a link to the originator of the site. Notice how the bike routes on the map are marked as to condition.
    http://bcgp.blogspot.com/2008/05/using-google-maps-to-improve-suburban.html

    Hope this helps.

    –Alan (not Alex)

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