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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mapquest: Bike Edition

Here's an idea that makes a lot of sense to me. We have Google, Mapquest, and even the Microsoft thingie to give us directions on how to drive somewhere. And if you're going on mass transit, here in the Portland area, the Tri-Met website can't be beat -- it's really excellent at telling you how to get from Point A to Point B (and about how long it's going to take on the Tri-Met vehicles).

But what about biking?

The City of Portland (with Metro, I think) has done a great job of establishing and mapping the many routes in the Rose City that are (relatively) safe to ride a bicycle on. How much more would it take to create some software and provide the same kinds of directions that you can get for car, bus, or train rides?

Some of our more right-wing readers will balk at this suggestion, of course. But as somebody who gets out there on the two-wheeler once in a while, I think it's a fine idea.

Not that it's a new one. Rumor has it that Metro was working on something like this, and at one point about a year ago there was an announced breakthrough. But the beta version of the search engine they've produced isn't working for me. Maybe someone more knowledgeable can fill us in on how far they've gotten.

UPDATE, 5:53 p.m.: It appears that if you're more patient than I was at first, the beta trip planner I've linked to does indeed work. On a test search, I have some disagreement with some of its routing (see comments below), but it's got it pretty much right.

Comments (14)

I seem to remember that all the navigation systems and sites use the same routing software produced by one or maybe two companies. They offer options now, like "fastest," "shortest," "avoid freeways" and such. It seems as if it wouldn't be much of a stretch to offer a bicycle-friendly route -- at least if it's available. A new search engine seems like (forgive me) reinventing the wheel. And, car advocates, listen up here: it might be a good thing for you if more people cycled, and more of them took the back routes, staying out of your way!

Jack: It's a great idea, and fortunately someone smart already made it. It works well, too!

Oh, sorry, I now see you already linked to that. I don't know why it isn't working for you, but rest assured I use it all the time and it works well. Maybe it was just some momentary glitches? (I just tried it right now, and it seemed to work for me...?)

I've got it going now. It's got some odd behavior -- the map centers on a point pretty far off from where you asked it go. But if you scroll to where you asked it go, it's got it marked properly, and eventually it gets the job done.

Here's the suggested route from my neck of the woods to City Hall. It puts you on 15th to cross Broadway -- I guess the advantage of the traffic light outweighs the hellishness of that corner. I'd stay on 16th. I'd also get off Fremont as quickly as possible. No need to ride that busy street from 24th to 18th.

Other than that, I think the computer has it right. Good stuff.

i bike regularly. it's not a very useful tool.

the problem with this has always been: what does "bike friendly" mean? you'd assume it means "bike lanes", but in fact it rarely does.

i've ridden several of the "bike friendly" streets the bycycle.org recommends, and on at last two occasions almost got killed.

Omigod, that route is absolutely lame and insane. Perhaps it was put together to give the bicyclist an extremely safe or at least low stress route, but how safe can it be when you are looking at the directions every other minute to see which way to turn?

I lived in Irvington for several years and this is the quickest way to get downtown:
Down Fremont to 21st Ave.. turn left.
Down 21st Ave. to Sandy Blvd., turn right.
Down Sandy to Burnside, keep going on Burnside across the bridge to 3rd Ave., turn Left (yeah, you can't turn left legally on 3rd, so you cross to the west side of the street and wait for the light to change to go south on 3rd.
Down 3rd Ave. until you see City Hall across the little park blocks.

Alternately, if you want to avoid Sandy and Burnside because of construction or alleged safety concerns fomented by the supporters of the couplet, you can take a right on Broadway, which has a fine bike lane, go across the Broadway Bridge, continue onto Broadway through downtown (still with a good bike path) and cut over when you get to Salmon.

Either way would chop at least 15 minutes off the ride and be just as safe. Of course, if you want the scenic route and have plenty of time, follow those other directions.

I think its a great idea, just as long as they ride at the same pace of the cars, or in the bike lane. I get tired of being stuck behind some holier-than-thou bike rider that insists on doing 10mph in the middle of the lane. I had a guy do that a couple weekends back, then after following him for about ten minutes, he turned around with a smile and flipped me the bird. Nice guy.
Oh, and one more thing...the one thing that scares the crap outta me when driving near bike lanes: turning right. It isnt always easy to see bikes on your right.

They should use the BTA's routes, my only problem is with the people that are dressed like Lance Armstrong, commuting to work every day, that take Hawthorne or Burnside instead of the clearly marked routes just a few blocks away.

I mean, I expect the 40-year-old mouth breather on a BMX to hold up a lane at 4:45pm but why these otherwise smart, professional folks can't figure out where the bike routes are (hint: there are now road signs!) or think pedaling down a major thoroughfare is a political statement rather than an irritant, is beyond me.

Down Sandy to Burnside

Not in my worst nightmare.

NE Broadway is fine, but that's about as hair-raising as I want it to get. Downtown on Broadway? I've never tried it, but I hear it's pretty bad at the Benson and the Heathman.

On the computer's suggested route, the interaction with the buses at the Rose Quarter is also not my cup of tea. Many of the Tri-Met bus drivers are particularly rude right there, and they've killed at least one hapless pedestrian in recent years. I'd likely be on the sidewalk (even walking the bike, perhaps) trying to get from Multnomah to the Esplanade.

As I said, I ride only occasionally, and I'm not that brave.

Or that suicidal

Jack I have to disagree with you here. "the Tri-Met website can't be beat"
If you want to take a long lazy slow route, then your fine.

I said, "if you're going on mass transit."

" just as long as they ride at the same pace of the cars,"

Jon, as long as the bike is in front, taking the lane, that won't be a problem. Keep this in mind, though: you're entitled to pass (even if there's a double line), if you can do it safely. And the bike is entitled to the lane, under the law, if it is keeping up with the traffic or of passing would not be safe.

@Allan: Bike routing is much different from car routing. Companies have been collecting auto-centric data for years, but few cities/municipalities collect bike data and even when they do it's not necessarily very good. Even in Portland where we're lucky to have some of the best bike infrastructure and maps in the country, the available data is still nowhere near the level it is for vehicles.

Regarding reinventing the wheel, to some extent that's true for things like address lookup, but for the actual routing it's definitely not. I wish it wasn't necessary to reinvent the wheels we do reinvent, but unfortunately there isn't much alternative since the existing commercial software costs more than we can afford.

On that note, I'd like to point out that the byCycle trip planner has been built with less than $10,000 by one person* when projects of similar scale are generally built with tens to hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars by a team of people.

@ecohuman.com: Bike lanes are big hit or miss in my opinion. Some of them are much more dangerous than just riding in the street, and some of them are really nice. It's mainly a matter of whether the lane is next to parked cars or not and how wide it is. The problem here is that the data we have doesn't distinguish between these types--all streets with a bike lane are lumped together--and so it's not as simple as saying "given a choice, always choose a bike lane."

@Gene: If you're referring to the trip planner with "They should use the [Metro]'s routes...", we do use them. It's not always practical to direct people onto them, but we do take them into account. In fact, most of Gil's complaint seems to stem from this, because looking at Jack's route, most of it is on signed bike routes, bike lanes, paths, etc:


@To everyone who has some complaint or any other feedback about the trip planner: I would like to respectfully ask/beg you to also send your feedback to us (http://bycycle.org/contact). We can't do much about your complaints if we're not aware of them.

*Disclaimer: Yes, I am that person. Also, I'm not counting the work that goes into collecting and maintaining the street and bike data. Much thanks and appreciation goes to Metro for that.

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