Research Great Bike Maps

Our community needs a lot more than a bike map. We need a large dose of bike education. While the map itself would take up one side of the document, there is some freedom with what can go on the back of map.

I wanted this map content to be the best possible. First, I collected as many bike maps as I could. I contacted the Indiana Bicycle Coalition, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to find out which other cities in the state already had bike maps, and how I might get a hold of their maps. All of these organizations were helpful in supplying either consulting, maps or references for further contacts.

However, it was by luck that local cyclist Jane Holman gave the best map I’ve seen: from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our map design and content is based most closely on theirs. It includes several sections of information:

  • Local bicycle laws
  • Local bicycle photos
  • Local bicycle shops
  • How to get a bike on and off a bus rack
  • Biking to Work
  • Infographics, to illustrate key safety points
  • Considerations for Moms and Dad

The “local” portions were easy enough to take care of. (I copied the local bike laws off the city website), and local photographer Jane Holman contributed some photos.

That left three sections of the Albuquerque map that I wanted to model. I was able to get explicit permission in each case to re-use the content directly. The safety graphics were credited to Calgary, Canada and by contacting Ken Richardson there, I was given high quality source files of the same graphics to use for this project.

The “Moms and Dads” text was traced to Kalkomey Enterprises, and I successfully contacted Kurt Kalkomey and received permission to re-use this text as well. The “Biking to Work” text actually originated in Albuquerque, and James Arrowsmith there gave me permission to re-use that.

I really wanted to use the photos to show different ways of cycling– something besides mountain bikes, road bikes and spandex. One photo is of a recumbent bike. (Actually, it’s me…) I also really wanted a photo of a XtraCycle being used as a family bike. No one in town had one at the time, but I think they may be a great antidote to cargo and kid hauling in the face high gas prices, once people discover them. So I got permission to re-use a photo from of a mother riding a child to school in light snow.

Present the Bike Routes Concept to the City

Through a contact in the “Metropolitan Development Department” I got an audience with a “Transportation Committee” which was tasked to implementing the transportation related aspects of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The Plan among other things directs the city to complete a network for “motorized and non-motorized transportation”.

Given that, I pitched my project has helping the City to meet it’s own stated objectives.

I also understood that getting support from the City meant more than just showing off map and getting a thumbs up.

I spent most of my 10 minutes with the mic to brief the group on a vision of a bike-friendly community. I used a photo-heavy slideshow with background music to show off XtraCycles, Bakfiets, velomobiles and sensible european commuting bike fashion. I think this actually worked to get the group more exciting about bicycles. Having set the mood, I used the last few minutes to show of the draft of the map. I was invited to present a final draft to the Transportation Committee for their approval, who could in turn recommend the network for approval by the Mayor.

I also came prepared with a lot of bicycle safety statistics in my back pocket. Not wanting to frame the conversation around safety, I didn’t bring up the topic much, but I was well-prepared to discuss the reality of cycling safety if someone else brought it up.

Draft the initial bike route network

Google’s My Maps feature came out just about the time the project started, and I used a similar tool to prepare the first draft of recommend bike routes. At the time, there wasn’t the feature for multiple people to edit the same map, but they’ve since added that feature to Google MyMaps.¬† I recommend Google’s My Maps for collaboratively creating and sharing drafts of bike routes.

“My Maps” also offers the feature to add photos to the map. So, if someone has a question about a particular stretch of road, they can click on the photo and see an example of it, assuming I had taken a photo there and uploaded it. The need for using that feature has somewhat been eclipsed by Google StreetView where it is available.

After getting some feedback from other riders, I was prepared to initially present the idea to the City to get the city’s initial response to the concept. At this point, my question for the city would be: “If I worked with experienced cyclists to develop a final draft of recommended bike routes, would the City consider approving the network as an official network of recommended bike routes?”.¬† I was clear that the simply approving the network could be the first phase of the project. Working out funding for maps and signs could come later. By separating out the funding issues, our cash-strapped city would have an easier time approving the project.

Form a Bikes-as-Transportation Organization

A person representing a group is more likely to get the attention of the city than person speaking out of their own personal interest. That was one motivition to start “Bike Richmond”. I also wanted to provide a transportation focus to compliment an existing bike group in town which focused on recreational riding. Involving other experienced cyclists would also provide great feedback on a bike routes, and set the foundation for organizing events.

However, I didn’t want the overhead of setting up a real non-profit legal entity, having a board of directors or regular monthly meetings. Instead, I created a free Google Group and bought the domain and redirected it the google group. The domain costs about $15/year, and a Google Group takes just a few minutes to set up.

Since Google Groups provides a membership count for the group, we had an official group count that I could refer to, and I could generally then say that I now represented “Bike Richmond”. Many details were discussed on the list and we generally closed with a consensus about direction.

To further help make the lightweight organization “official”, I designed a simple business card for the organization (download the compressed PDF) using the free gLabels program Since it just mentioned the website address without a specific name on them, any group member was able to take some and distribute them if they’d like.

The simple promotion helped get the name out and grow the organization.

A guide to DIY bike route maps: Introduction

In 2008, Richmond, Indiana had maps printed for a network of recommended bike route map developed by experienced cyclists. The city government endorsed and supported  the project but was unable to fund it.

You can preview the front and back of the 17×22 map online.

Over the next several posts I’ll detail how I led that effort. I hope that by sharing may experience in this project it may guide other motivated citizens who would like official bike routes in their towns, but don’t want to wait until their cities have both the time and the money to produce them on their own.

If there’s a quick summary to process, it’s this: Anyone is welcome to design and print a map, and it is experienced cyclists, not city bureaucrats, who are most qualified to determine what recommended bike routes should be.