The future of cycling maps?

With more people getting on bikes now, more cities are accelerating their scheduled projects or creating new, temporary safe cycling spaces.

And because a lot of new cyclists are part of the 60% of “interested but concerned” group, who might bike if there are safe and stress-free places to get from point A to point B, it’s more important than ever to re-think cycling maps.

Most maps show similar types of infrastructure:

  • on-road facilities (such as painted bike lanes or sharrows)
  • separated/protected on-road lanes (separated by roll curbs or physical barriers such as flexible bollards or parking lanes, or even planters)
  • or completely off-road multi-use paths and trails
Guelph bike network legend
Mississauga bike network legend

And while this information is very important to people who bike, some cities and organizations are adding an additional level of information to their online maps by categorizing existing networks according to Level of Traffic Stress:

  • Levels 1 and 2 are for all-ages and abilities, and are off-road or on-road but separated and physically protected from cars
  • Levels 3 and 4 are on-road routes with no physical separation or protection

If you wonder why some bike lanes look empty, it might be that they aren’t safe to use, or that drivers routinely drive or park in these routes.

As someone who cycles primarily for transportation, I have used sharrows and bike lanes but find them at times terrifying. I wear bright yellow and have even had to wave my arms to get the attention of drivers veering into the painted lanes, because the drivers have no idea that they are for the exclusive use of bikes.

So this is where LTS (level of traffic stress) data comes in handy. The City of Ottawa has a great LTS map. It makes it possible for people to calculate a safe and stress-free route, and also helps the City determine where there are gaps in safe infrastructure.

I’ve tried to categorize Region of Waterloo datasets using some basic criteria such as road width, speed limit, traffic volume, lane blockages, etc., but it’s a huge undertaking and rather slow-going.

While working on the City of Burlington’s pending map update I attempted to show LTS data for levels 1 and 2 to the map – it’s the pale green behind the bike routes on the left side of the map detail below – but it made the map more difficult to read. So we’re not including it in this iteration of the map. I have been thinking a lot about the best way to include LTS data on print maps, but it’s still a puzzle to me.

LTS data on Burlington cycling map draft

Perhaps once cities have more level 1 and 2 (stress-free) routes, future cycling maps might concentrate on only the level of traffic stress and not the type of infrastructure.

Personally, it doesn’t matter much to me if there’s a painted bike lane or sharrow – I find it stressful. In the same way, it doesn’t matter to me whether there’s a paved multi-use path adjacent to the road or a separated and fully-protected and buffered on-road bike lane. If we can get to a situation where there is a complete grid of safe routes, then cycling maps might just show safe vs unsafe routes. 

And it’s also important to include comfort stops along these routes, whether they are benches, parks, drinking water, public toilets, as well as bike parking and repair locations – and especially winter-maintained routes.

Brampton bike facilities legend
Burlington bike facilities legend
Guelph bike facilities legend

For Burlington I used OpenStreetMap data for drinking water, public toilet, and some bike parking locations, so they will be included in the next version of the Burlington cycling map.

Burlington facilities legend
detail of Burlington cycling map

The images in this post are from map legends from some recent cycling map projects I’ve worked on with municipalities.

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