SFBC and MTC Debut New SF Bike Mapper

Bike_mapper_screen_grab.jpgThe SF Bike Mapper with street gradient, Bike to Work Day Commuter Convoy location, and Hayes Valley businesses participating in the "I Bike SF" campaign.

Not to be outdone by Google Maps for bicycles or Ride the City, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, SF Environment and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) launched a new online bike map this week that they hope will be the most useful of the various mapping tools available to cyclists.

The SF Bike Mapper is built on a Google Maps platform, but combines many of the elements cyclists in San Francisco have come to expect from the Bicycle Map, including a very helpful layering feature that shows street grade by color. The SF Bike Mapper also allows users to add layers for transit and real-time traffic.

Marc Caswell of the SFBC said the real competitive advantage the SF Bike Mapper has over similar applications is the experience and familiarity of the SFBC’s membership, a portion of which served as the focus groups that planned the routing.

"Most mapping systems are based on car data," he said. "This is based on bicycle
riding," and the local knowledge of SFBC members.

The SFBC worked closely with the MTC’s 511 team to incorporate unique data that only regular cyclists would have, said Caswell. "We held focus groups
with regular, everyday bike riders to make sure the routing system had
local knowledge so it will recommend routes similar to if you asked a
friend who rides regularly," he added

The local knowledge already paid off on a street near my house that had initially been overlooked in Google Maps for Bicycles and Ride the City. Tiffany Street is a significant north-south cut-through that cyclists take to connect from Valencia Street to San Jose Avenue, a traffic-calmed, unofficial bike boulevard that isn’t marked on the official bike map. Caswell said regular riders in the focus groups had identified the route and that’s why it appeared on the Mapper.

Another benefit to the SFBC’s version of the tool comes in the form of updates, which staff have direct control over. When a bike route is under construction, for instance, the SFBC can de-prioritize the problem routes and recommend alternatives. That will also be significant when the bicycle injunction is lifted and the city starts striping new lanes.

Another benefit of the SFBC’s involvement in the management of the software will be evident in the case of special events.

For instance, the map currently shows the Bike to Work commuter convoy and energizer station locations, which cyclists will want to utilize this Thursday as they ride in to their jobs. The Mapper also shows the many businesses in Hayes Valley that are participating in the I Bike SF campaign, which gives shopping discounts to customers who display their bicycle helmets or the keys to their bicycle locks.

"The good thing about the bike mapper is that it will make it a lot easier to choose biking as an activity," said Caswell.

The SF Bike Mapper is still in beta format and the SFBC welcomes user feedback.

  • Nick

    I tried it and it didn’t map out the route (possibly “user error”).

    It would be cool if they could come up with a comprehensive map of the cuts or short-cuts throughout the city. I know quite a few. It could be a neat collaborative project for the future if anyone wants to spearhead it.

  • James

    What’s with Masonic Ave (north of the panhandle) being a recommended bike route? Distracted cars making wild turns and lane shifts around the panhandle, six lanes of high speed traffic with nary a calming measure, on-street parking, no bike lane, cars pulling in and out of gas stations, not particularly wide lanes, moderate uphill climbs… I’m no road warrior, but I’ve never had a problem riding down Market St and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near Masonic. How did it get put into the system as a recommend bike route? Am I missing something

  • James,

    I have to agree that I wouldn’t dream of riding Masonic on my bicycle. Masonic takes strong nerves even driving in a car, but since Divisadero is so wretched (untimed lights and drivers making left hand turns means cars crawl the entire length) it makes Masonic the only decent north/south driving option for the three miles between Franklin and Park Presidio. On my bike, I take Scott Street or the Arguello bike lanes. Less stress, less noise, less car fumes. I think it would be better to make Divisadero a transit/bike corridor (cut out two traffic lanes, put in bike lanes and left hand lane turn pockets, like Valencia Street) and leave Masonic to the cars. Plus, until you hit Pacific Heights, Divisadero is flatter.

  • So, I plugged in a route that I often use for testing bicycle trip planners in San Francisco. It runs from my old house at 1401 San Bruno Ave in the Mission, to 9th Ave & Clement Street in the Richmond. I put the route into this new 511/SFBC app, as well as into Google’s app.

    The 511 app got a bit confused about where the entrance to Golden Gate Park actually is, and did a bit of doubling-back, which added .3 miles to the trip. Still, it estimates the trip would be 6 miles long, and take 25 minutes — for an average speed of 14.4 mph. That’s cookin’, especially in the city with stop signs and stop lights… you pretty much would not be able to stop once to keep up that kind of pace. OK, so it’s do-able, but… realistic?

    Google estimates that the trip would be 5.7 miles long and take 35 minutes, for an average speed of 9.77mph. Much more realistic, IMHO.

    In terms of the actual routing, I think both bicycle trip planners got the route pretty much right, with the exception of 511 messing up the entrance to the park, and Google routing the rider down Fell street rather than on the Panhandle path, which is clearly a data issue — for some reason, the Google bike map shows some kind of facility on Fell parallel to the panhandle, so of course it would route you there.

    I think this round goes to Google, for providing a more accurate estimation of trip time, and for getting the entrance to the park right.

    I can’t wait for 511 to roll this out for the rest of the Bay Area, so I can test it on some of the idiosyncrasies of the East Bay (especially Oakland/Berkeley).


  • icarus12

    Taomom, I like your idea of leaving Masonic to mostly cars and buses but choosing another North-South Street to make more cyclist-friendly. I had never thought of using Divisadero for this purpose, but you may have a point there. It’s already a mess to drive a car on it — way too slow and unpredictable, way too many cars trying to park, turn right, turn left, etc. And for all those same reasons that it’s hard to drive Divis, it’s even harder to safely ride it on a bike. Your idea of eliminating a lane and making Divis more accommodating to bikes was insightful, I thought.

  • James

    taomom, thanks for thoughts. I like the idea of a better north/south alternative to Masonic, such as Divisadero. Even though I’m typically coming from Twin Peaks (right in line with Masonic), I’ll always ride the extra blocks over to Arguello (or Scott or Webster if coming from the east) rather than taking Masonic.

    My frustration isn’t so much with the lack of manageable alternatives to Masonic, but rather that the bike routes/maps keep directing riders down a far worse than typical street, hardly what someone asking for route advice needs! Seems like just removing it as a “recommended bike route” would be a significant improvement.


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