Spring forward, bike safely
March 12, 2017 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Mapzen (previously) has released a new map for cyclists, with roads and paths which have been categorized into four tiers based on safety. Map overlay technical details. (Note: The map is randomly international and some cities might only have a few road segments highlighted.)
posted by Room 641-A (30 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Different tiers of bikability is a really great feature. On Google maps, a one-foot-wide gutter lane at the edge of a 60mph highway looks exactly the same as a protected cycletrack or a completely separated MUP.
posted by bracems at 9:06 AM on March 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


The data on here seems to be several years old, as DC's missing quite a few bike lanes. (Also, I take minor issue with their definition of "safest" being an off-road path, as this implies that biking in streets is necessarily dangerous)
posted by schmod at 9:08 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Why am I not surprised that the default view is centered on San Francisco?

Regardless, this is a really cool resource. Their tiering system lines up pretty well with my experiences in Cambridge, so I assume it's pretty accurate for other areas as well.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:09 AM on March 12, 2017


Note: The map is randomly international and some cities might only have a few road segments highlighted.
[This map] is enabled by fantastic bike data in OpenStreetMap and Tangram’s shader magic. If you’ve ever edited cycleway tags in OpenStreetMap, this map is dedicated to you.
The great thing about OpenStreetMap is that anyone can update it.

Also, I take minor issue with their definition of "safest" being an off-road path, as this implies that biking in streets is necessarily dangerous

Also, if the off-road bike path is a grade-separated path, there are some folks who think this is more dangerous than on-road lanes, as drivers aren't necessarily expecting to encounter bikes, even when they turn on and off of the roadway.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:14 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]



schmod, the data is from OpenStreetmap, a crowd-sourced geospatial data set (think of google maps but with the licensing and ability for anyone to edit of wikipedia). Thus, the accuracy of the data varies and timeliness greatly across locations; some places locations of businesses and roads are extremely up to date with great detail, other places, roads that haven't existed in 5 years are still there. the accuracy and timeliness may vary even within the same city.

Very generally, the level of detail and accuracy in Europe (esp. in the UK, Russia, France, and Germany) is greater than the USA.


*license is much more convoluted and nuanced than that, but I'd rather not bikeshed that here and derail Mapzen's work.
posted by fizzix at 9:16 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


What I like best about this new map is the cartographic design. It's really beautiful. The sausage casing streets look great. As the tech note mentions, they do something special here for when two sides of the road have different bikeability. The elevation shading is just the right level of subtlety; hills are important info for bicyclists, but you don't want it to overwhelm.

Sure the data's not complete: AFAIK no one has a real global bike map. Google's data has limitations too. The editability of OpenStreetMap really matters here, it is entirely a realistic project for one person to add bike lane info for their own city in the span of a few afternoons. It goes a lot faster if you're just trying to mark existing roads and paths as also having bike amenities, you just need to add tags. Lots of low hanging fruit as often cities have no paths at all marked for bikes. Here's the beginner's guide to OSM. With the newish iD editor in the browser it's gotten really easy.

Also if you ever want to make your own browser maps, Mapzen's tech stack makes it very easy to build up a custom map with your own data layers. Adding the new bike map is just a matter of turning on a couple of layer flags, with options for more fine control.
posted by Nelson at 9:26 AM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


It's interesting, although it's limited by the artificiality of their criteria. Looking at my own city, there are roads flagged as "OK" that I wouldn't ride on for love or money, and "least safe" roads that are actually pretty great.
posted by adamrice at 9:29 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Green is safest"

Hahahahahaha. No.

The paths marked “green” near where I live are some of the least safe, due to a never ending stream of side roads you have to cross where you come into direct conflict with traffic turning in and out. The stack of injury reports mapped along the road in question bears testament to that fact.

(The actual injury rate probably isn’t *terrible* as we’re talking about an arterial road with a lot of cycle traffic.)
posted by pharm at 9:29 AM on March 12, 2017


Or, as adamrice points out, the presence or absence of cycle infrastructure is not a good guide to how safe a road is to cycle on.
posted by pharm at 9:31 AM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Also, thanks for this - this is something that we could pull into the New Mexico Roadway Bicycle Guideline Map (ArcGIS Online), with significant caveats. This was developed with the idea that for long-distance bicyclists, shoulders are what you'll have to use, so the width (minus rumble strips and guard rail buffer) is the guide for suitability, plus notes for steep grades.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:36 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ah, so there's probably that one cyclist in Bathurst, Australia, who decided to mark a section of Sydney Road as unsafe.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:41 AM on March 12, 2017


Saw a green line along a no shoulder race track into an intersection of the Fresh Pond "rotary" that intersecta with a freeway (rt 2). Zooming in shows it to be the dirt path alongside. Granularity is tricky.
posted by sammyo at 9:46 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


No I'm sleepy, that is into a death for bikes rotary, that's a sidewalk not bike lane.
posted by sammyo at 9:49 AM on March 12, 2017


Different tiers of bikability is a really great feature. On Google maps, a one-foot-wide gutter lane at the edge of a 60mph highway looks exactly the same as a protected cycletrack or a completely separated MUP.

FWIW, Google Maps shows me a legend with 4 different markers: trails, dedicated bike lanes, bicycle-friendly roads, and dirt/unpaved trails.
posted by entropone at 10:00 AM on March 12, 2017


I was interested, but after taking a look around, I think this is a downgrade from OpenCycleMap's visualization of the same data (which, incidentally, has been around for over a decade now).

The biggest problem is that it doesn't show you named, continuous designated cycle routes, which in Europe are often the best bike path through a city. In Berlin, for example, OCM shows clearly where the RR1, RR12, Mauerweg, RR7/8, and all the other important routes through the city are. Notably, the lion's share of those routes are on roads that are designated cycleways. These are low-traffic streets that have been earmarked as bike highways of a sort: there is no separated bike path, and cars are permitted on the street, but the speed limits are greatly reduced and cyclists take precedence. Drivers know (and are reminded by posted signs every block) that they are second-class citizens. These "bike streets" are, I would say, the safest bike routes to take (not that anything is "dangerous" in Berlin), but they're marked on this MapZen visualization as being "least safe".
posted by tkfu at 10:07 AM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


These are low-traffic streets that have been earmarked as bike highways of a sort: there is no separated bike path, and cars are permitted on the street, but the speed limits are greatly reduced and cyclists take precedence. Drivers know (and are reminded by posted signs every block) that they are second-class citizens. These "bike streets" are, I would say, the safest bike routes to take (not that anything is "dangerous" in Berlin), but they're marked on this MapZen visualization as being "least safe".

Yeah, similarly, there's a national battlefield near me with paved paths through it that is great for riding or walking (it's technically accessible to motor vehicles but impractical for anything other than touring what are mostly empty fields and forest), but it's not even marked with one of the route classifications and likely wouldn't fit any of them.
posted by indubitable at 10:14 AM on March 12, 2017


Outlining roads in yellow even when they are blue (least safe) makes them look green when you zoom out. So be careful with these maps and zoom all the way in, or you'll *easily* think something is safe when it isn't.
posted by Catblack at 10:40 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


In my city, the road that winds through the beach-side rich-people area is listed as "least safe" because there are no painted lanes, even though they're wide and leisurely. The terrifying, legitimately dangerous redneck shitshow roads aren't marked at all. For a new cyclist in my area, this map is pretty useless. I gather that's due to a lack of data, but the data they have is misinterpreted.

Shout out to the University of Victora SPAR Lab's bikemaps.org (which is not attempting to do the same thing, but is awesome nonetheless, and has had an actual impact in terms of addressing safety on the roads.)
posted by klanawa at 11:03 AM on March 12, 2017


Very annoying color coding. Blue is worst and Green is best? Color-blind folks are really gonna love that. But just in general.... who comes up with a color-grading system where Red isn't bad? Red means different things in different cultures but it's pretty much been adopted universally that red means "stop", "warning", etc. Come on. Blue?
posted by engelgrafik at 11:25 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Oops, I misunderstood the markings. Roads with no facilities are marked with grey, which makes it look as though there's no data, while roads marked "least safe," are distinguished, if they merely have route signage. It creates a visual distinction where there's no practical difference.
posted by klanawa at 11:26 AM on March 12, 2017


I would like to see a map of actual bike rides traveled (heat maps?) combined with actual accident locations (police reports involving bicycles) weighted for the number of bikes over that part of the road.
posted by pracowity at 12:15 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, looking around my area, narrow painted lanes along busy six-lane roads full of trucks with many intersections are considered "OK", while really quiet residential streets that are designated cycle routes with priority at most intersections are considered "least safe." They're doing what they can with the data they have, but it's not as useful as I'd like. Nevertheless, it's another view of the data that, along with OpenCycleMaps and Google Maps, can help get a better idea.
posted by borsboom at 12:27 PM on March 12, 2017


Oh god they need to explain the yellow highlights on the map itself not on the separate blog. and also make the yellow (which marks a "bike network": a route designated by a government or people in a city as a good bike route) on maybe ONE SIDE of the road, so it doesn't interfere with the colors as Catblack mentioned.

Naming the colors "safe" to "not safe" was a terrible choice, because the concept of "safe" is not always shared between bikers. They should have chosen colors and described what the color represents (paved separate path; ride alongside cars in painted lane; dirt path; sidewalk; etc.), and allow riders to decide for themselves that "i feel safe on orange and yellow paths, and my bike tires can't go on dirt, so blue paths are out for me."
posted by holyrood at 2:39 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Clearly I need to spend some time editing OpenStreetMap in the Denver metro area. There's almost no data other than the off-street paths, and no info about how to get on and off those safely and usefully (which is one of the hard parts about route planning that tends not to be acknowledged.)

Also apparently we need a category for the shitshow that is Denver's combination bike and parking lanes. They're not so much "ride your bike next to cars" as "ride your bike next to cars, except sometimes you have to stop because there's a parked car and merge into fast-moving traffic, and sometimes the drivers will threaten to kill you for leaving the 'bike lane' because it was blocked by those parked cars." Never mind that there's nothing illegal about doing that in Colorado, and even if there were, the penalty wouldn't be death, enforceable on the spot by random drivers.

So, yeah. There's definitely a fair bit of blue "least-safe" bike routing here that is much safer than the orange and green segments. I'll put some time into helping to tag this stuff soon.
posted by asperity at 2:45 PM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Results for Seattle are terribly misleading. Low-traffic greenways are marked as "least safe", while arterials with heavy and fast car traffic are marked "ok". Info like this does more harm than good.
posted by splitpeasoup at 3:06 PM on March 12, 2017


Consider my neck of the woods, in Ealing. The filters on Oaklands Road and Regina Road are utterly ignored by this taxonomy, and they're essential for turning that link into a pleasant cycling route. Colouring that the same as part of the Uxbridge Road shows just how naïve the approach is.

What's needed is more than just an OSM style layer, but somethig that takes a structural approach, such as these green maps which you can see explained with full context, here.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:29 PM on March 12, 2017


While I'm griping about this, I'll note that it got which side of the road we ride on wrong, as well. A southbound cycle track was marked orange on the left, but that only works if you drive on the right-hand side!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:32 PM on March 12, 2017


Oh, after zooming in I see the previously-invisible green was meant to indicate the path. How confusing!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:35 PM on March 12, 2017


Results for Seattle are terribly misleading. Low-traffic greenways are marked as "least safe", while arterials with heavy and fast car traffic are marked "ok". Info like this does more harm than good.

I wonder if this is an issue in planning sessions too: "we have all these accessible roadways!" Like splitpeasoup the map serves to illustrate how laughable some of the routes are around here, like a pittiance to say it could be done if only you had the stones for it as opposed to before when it was Clearly Suicidal.

I'd been hoping for some sekrit routez -- we have signed bike routes which don't buy you anything but the extra signage seems to make the interaction friendlier. I can kind of find them using this map if I ignore the biased view that infrastructure makes the environment.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:51 PM on March 13, 2017


we have signed bike routes which don't buy you anything but the extra signage seems to make the interaction friendlier

Making biking safe gets more people to bike, which makes biking safer - it's a positive loop. In that sense, even if all that signing achieves is get people to bike more, that results in real safety. (Similarly, and paradoxically, relaxing helmet laws improves cyclist safety rather than hurting it.)

Neighborhood greenways, if planned carefully and executed well, are a very powerful approach.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:12 AM on March 14, 2017


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