Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Fairfax County Bike Map

At Bike to Work Day tomorrow, May 16, the new Fairfax County Bike Map will be released. There's a good article in today's Washington Post by Amy Gardner, The Road Best Traveled.

Wright and Strunk emphasized that the map is a beginning for Fairfax for identifying where bike lanes, signs and other facilities are needed.

“We really have very few,” Wright said. We need to make the ‘less preferred’ routes ‘preferred.’ Where there are missing links or dangerous links, we need to concentrate on those first.”

My first reaction is that I like what I see.

The vast majority of streets in the county aren't marked at all. In many cases they are quiet residential streets, and would be just fine, of course. It would have been far too much work to inventory every street in the county. And some others are busy roads where it would be near suicidal to try and cycle.

I used the map yesterday and tried some new roads that I had never been on before. The route that I took was marked as "preferred", but I found it to be surprisingly hilly, and it would be something that a novice cyclist would find exhausting and unnerving. Including a fairly steep descent with a hairpin turn at the bottom of the hill.

Thus I had one half-baked thought that I could toss out for a future version of the map. I don't know the degree to which it makes sense or not, but here goes. Right now we have the roads divided into two categories. Preferred and less preferred. Would it make sense to color code them instead, using a scheme like they use to rate ski slopes? Green, blue, red and black. Green and blue could be the preferred routes, where green would be the routes that are generally not as hilly and would be suitable for novice cyclists in not as good of a physical condition.

Red and black would be the less preferred routes, where some criteria would be used to decide which is which.

The problem with such a color scheme is that the map currently has sort of an aqua color used for trails (which IMO is a bit too close to the grey color used for major roads). I don't know if that aqua color would be confused with a green route. So perhaps it might make sense to leave the trails as a greenish color, and have blue be less hilly streets? Red would be hillier preferred routes, and black would be the less-preferred routes.

Food for thought, I guess.

Thanks for your comments. Most bike maps use a multi-color scheme for depicting various route classes. The solid and dashed red lines used for the county bike map were selected so that someone who is color blind would not be at a disadvantage. I don't totally agree that there would be a problem and would like to see some research. However, I think the dashed/solid symbols work well on the map.

Regarding showing hills. On the next version of the map there is a plan to use symbols to indicate hilly sections of a road. One system used in other maps is to have arrows (>) on steep segments pointing uphill. It's simple and effective.

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