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.