Friday Fun: Two Maps Use Data to Help Cyclists Navigate Cities

Data, technology and community engagement are coming together to help cyclists navigate cities. Photo by Francesco Crippa/Flickr

Cycling in cities, especially in areas you’re unfamiliar with, can be a stressful experience.

One of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of cycling is ambiguity; it can be difficult to tell what areas of the cities have designed bike lanes, where cyclists are forced to mingle with cars, or where cyclists simply aren’t allowed. Moreover, it can be nearly impossible to anticipate where a bike rack or space to park your bicycle might be—leaving some to either get creative with their locks, or leave their bikes unprotected. Not knowing cycling routes or where one can safely lock-up a bicycle is especially daunting, since cyclists are some of the most vulnerable users of the road.

Fortunately, that’s where data comes in. With the rise of mapping software and the advancement of real-time data, it has become increasingly easy for communities, application developers and even individual cyclists to post information online about cycling routes, bicycle racks and bicycling workshops. Below are two maps that use data and rely on community engagement to help cyclists navigate their cities:

The Portland Bike Map

Larger blue circles denote a high number of bike “parking spots,” while smaller circles mean only a few spots are available. Graphic from The Portland Bike Map.

This bike map provides an immense amount of information in a dense amount of space, providing users with data on:

  • Information on whether or not a street has a bike lane
  • If there is a bike lane, it denotes the kind (a path, lane, or boulevard)
  • Where “parking spots” for bikes are, and how many
  • Level of traffic on each street
  • Where light rail is, to encourage multi-modal travel

While providing unique data on cycling infrastructure and conditions, the map also provides users with “live traffic” levels. Through integration with other, real-time data, the map overlays each street with a color indicating the current level of traffic:

Red areas indicate high levels of traffic conditions, while green denote clearer areas. Graphic from The Portland Bike Map.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this map is its ability to be recreated for other areas. The map was created using online software with step-by-step instructions, primarily relying on existing resources. With time and a little know-how, cities across the world could create similar maps with similarly detailed information on cycling—all it takes is community engagement and integration with existing mapping software and data.


Bikemap is an online mapping tool that lets anyone—from any country across the globe—enter information on cycling routes. Say, for example, you’ve moved to New Delhi India and are looking for cycling paths to commute to work. There are currently more than 50 cycling routes that users have entered across the city; some are recommended for leisure, while others are suggested commute routes:

Each marker on the map represents a user-entered cycling route. Graphic from Bikemap.

Once you’ve grown accustomed to biking across the city and have found your own routes or unlisted ones, you could add your own information to the map. While Bikemap has “official routes” created by the site, the wide majority are entered by the cycling community—totaling to over 1.5 million routes worldwide.

While Bikemap is useful to the individual biker, the hundreds of thousands of cycling routes entered by users is also useful on a larger scale. Consider, for example, the “heat map,” which displays the concentration of cycling paths in any given area:

The numbers and colors indicate the concentration of cycling routes. Graphic from Bikemap.

Taken together, the Portland Bike Map and Bikemap are exciting examples of how data, technology and community engagement can come together to produce information that make cities more accessible. In many cities, cyclists no longer have to guess as to where they can find bicycle racks and bike lanes—this information is available for free online. And if that data isn’t available, they can start mapping their own cities and routes for others to follow.

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