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August 14, 2013

Cycling? There's a (M)ap for That

BikecommuteBiking is on the rise in major cities across the country, and not surprisingly, technology is keeping pace. Years ago, we saw Google Maps include bike directions in many cities, and this year has brought a few new innovations in the way of bike maps. San Francisco's BikeMapper and the New York Times' Bike Wisdom are two new examples -- with these interactive tools, people can plan their bike trips to work, errands and groceries better than ever before.

Among other functions, San Francisco's BikeMapper lets cyclists plan routes that avoid (or take on!) San Francisco's gnarly hills while simultaneously checking out the street view for any point along the route.  BikeMapper lets you choose your routes for errands, business or leisure, with an option to avoid busy streets, and choose the fastest or most bike friendly route. The route breaks down total distance traveled, the time duration, pounds of CO2 saved, and calories burned. Green bike lines illuminate the map to mark your way to your destination.

Bike Wisdom, on the other hand, is a map with "wisdom" dots from fellow bikers that lets cyclists crowd source information about great rides, problem areas, and other tips and tricks about biking around cities across the country. These "wisdom dots" sprinkle large U.S. and Canadian cities, including New York, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Atlanta, St. Louis, Miami, Chicago, Minneapolis, Toronto, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

As more people are (or want to be) pushing the pedals for work, life, and play, our infrastructure and policies will need to keep pace. Young people are driving less, and research shows that across the demographic spectrum, but especially among young people and people of color (pdf), people are biking more. The benefits of more people biking are clear for everyone -- not only are cyclists keeping the air cleaner and improving public health, but research shows that more bicyclists on the road improves the safety for all -- cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians alike.

Bike Wisdom's "wisdom points" can serve as a key feedback tool for planners and decision-makers. These dots and routes point out effective city street design and where improvements are needed. Likewise for San Francisco's Bike Mapper: if there isn't a route available allowing a user to "avoid busy streets," that should be a red flag for city planners.

These new tech-powered bike maps are more than just guides for cyclists; they're evidence of a larger culture change taking place across the country. Technology is responding to the needs of its users; our cities should continue to follow suit in making our streets welcoming for everyone on a bike and off.

-- Rachel Butler and Annie Szotkowski, Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign

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