Tomorrow I’m heading to London for the Knog party at Look Mum No Hands, the new bike shop cum espresso emporium that seems to get more than its fair share of launch parties (so must be doing something right).
I know where it is. Roughly. And I could easily find it with Google maps on my iPhone. But why use car-centric mapping when I can use the Bike Hub cycle journey planner? I commissioned this app and am bursting to get it out there. I have a beta version installed on my iPhone. Bike Hub Version 1.0 is submitted to the iTunes App Store later today and all iPhone users will be able to get their hands on it very soon.
It’s a free app yet actually cost a load of cash to develop. iPhone users can thank the Bike Hub levy for the freeness of the app. [Next task is to create an Android version of the app so other smartphone users can be happy, too].
As well as the cycle journey planning – which, of course, uses Cyclestreets.net and OpenCycleMap – the app locates nearest bike shops. Here’s a few screenshots of how I planned a cycle journey from Kings Cross to Look Mum No Hands.
SEARCH (using placenames, although could have also used postcodes):
QUIETEST ROUTE (routing engine here uses some waymarked cycle routes, but not religiously):
SAVED FOR USE TOMORROW (I’ve favourited ‘quietest’ and ‘fastest’ and will see how late I’m running tomorrow before choosing which route to take):
ELEVATION PROFILE (I have some climbing to do):
LONDON CYCLE HIRE POINTS (the app has lots of extra features like this, such as feature articles on the Cycle to Work scheme, cycling and the law, and other such goodness):
Follow Bike Hub on Twitter (it’s me) to get first news of the app’s successful release and info on updates.
At the end of August, Mary Spence, president of the British Cartographic Society, laid into online mapping, claiming that Google Maps and Multimap were “demolishing thousands of years of history [and] geography” because they, and other online mapping services, failed to always include the same amount of detail as Ordnance Survey maps.
She said online mapping was good for driving directions but left out the sort of crucial data people need to understand a landscape, such as churches, ancient woodlands and stately homes.
During a talk delivered at the conference of the Institute of British Geographers in London, she said:
“We’re in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique, giving us a feel for a place even if we’ve never been there.”
Google, Microsoft, and satnav specialists, such as Garmin, were guilty of “corporate blankwash,” said Ms Spence.
She didn’t diss everything digital: she championed projects such as Open Street Map, a wiki map that users can update with plots of anything they fancy: from bike shops to bus stops, and from pubs to post boxes.
This personalisation of maps is powerful: but it’s not just a wiki thing, Google Maps does it, too. Third-party developers produce so-called ‘mash-ups’ of Google Maps, And far from killing maps, mash-ups are allowing individuals and special interest groups to create hard-working maps that clearly have an enormous role to play in the future of wayfinding.
There’s an ever growing list of such way-finders on Bikeforall.net.
One of the newest additions to the Bikeforall list is Bristolstreets.co.uk, a map-based site covering all of Bristol – natch – but also parts of South Gloucestershire and North Somerset.
Bristolstreets.co.uk is a map-based site chocka with transport information, including bike lanes, off road routes, bus routes (with live bus info), train times, and car club locations. The site is interactive, too. Users can mark the map and post a request for cycle parking, or suggest the addition of a cycle lane, or flag up a hazard such as a pothole. There’s no guarantee any particular request will be acted upon, but the council will use the data collectively to determine where improvement will be most effective.
Although the site looks like the work of a massively funded quango – Bristol, after all, is England’s first ‘cycling city’ and is home to the UK’s chief ‘shared space’ transport guru – it’s actually the work of a one-man company.
Toby Lewis of Logogriph of Bristol is a web designer. His site is Google Transit on steroids.
He created it in November 2007 and it has been evolving – and improving – ever since. It was started because travel information about Bristol appears all over the place
“There are already many sources of information about public transport. People are faced with a needle in a haystack and often multiple haystacks as different transport modes have different web sites or different organisations providing information. There is little consistency in the presentation of the information from different sources,” said Lewis.
“There are lots of web sites these days with maps in them, but there are few where the map is the site. When location is an important aspect of the information it makes sense to present this first on a map and then show further details when the visitor has identified the items of interest.”
The site will pay for itself with paid-for markers, said Lewis. He’s planning to add a property section. Estate agents could load house-for-sale markers. Bike shops could pay to be listed. He’s also making money for hosting survey research. Bristol City Council is currently seeking information on cycle commuting take-up in Bristol and has a survey on Bristolstreets.co.uk
Lewis isn’t worried that Google Transit could steal his thunder: “Google Transit is fantastic but it doesn’t get under the skin of a city. When you live in the city you’re producing a map for, you have on-the-ground knowledge. This is critical when you’re navigating people around an area.”
Bristolstreets.co.uk also has a Facebook presence.
In the US, Google Transit has made big strides since it was launched.
“Plan a transit trip in several cities across the US and Canada with Google Maps. Get step-by-step directions and travel times for your entire route, all in one place online.”
The first map was for the San Francisco Bay area.
Other cities have since come on stream. There’s still little info on UK cities. In fact, the only UK location for Google Transit is South East of England, but it’s populated with data only from ?Traveline South East.
In theory, Google Transit offers A to B walking routes as well as bus and car route information. What is doesn’t yet provide is bike route info. Such an omission rankles with some cyclists. Earlier this year GoogleMapsBikeThere.org was set up to pester and petition Google to add bicycle routing to Google Transit.
However, this isn’t something Google could provide easily. Cyclists may pick out short-cuts side streets sometimes, but this can often be a slow way to cycle across a city. And bike paths very often snake their way around town, when roads usually take the most direct route. Any cycling directions on Google Transit would therefore have to be produced by cyclists. But one cyclist’s ‘dangerous highway, choked with cars’ is another cyclist’s ‘fast route into town, with cars as pacers’.
Google need not do all the legwork themselves. As other Google mash-ups have shown – for instance, byCycle.org, which provides bike mapping for Portland, Oregon and Madison, Wisconsin – people are willing to share their knowledge for the greater good.
RIDE THE CITY
Mash-up site RideTheCity of New York has taken a different approach. Instead of seeking rider feedback, it has meshed Google Maps with city crash stats, creating recommendations for safer routes. It can also recommend faster routes for those who don’t mind mixing with cars.
“Every time you search Ride the City, we look through more than 125,000 records in a database. Most of that data comes from the City’s LION GIS data. The City’s LION file does not contain bicycle facility data, so we made a Freedom of Information Act request to the NYC Department of Transportation and NYC Department of City Planning. That got us a little closer, but we still had to put in dozens of hours of data cleanup to get everything working more-or-less correctly.”
“Sometimes the most daunting thing about riding a bike in New York is figuring out the best route to take. How do you get to the bridge entrances? What’s the best way to Central Park from the Hudson River greenway? We created this website to help beginning bicyclists answer those questions,” founder Jordan Anderson told TechCrunch.com. He runs the site with fellow cyclists Vaidila Kungys and Josh Steinbauer.
According to the trio, Ride the City was built almost exclusively from open source software and tools.
TfL’s Journey Planner is complex but you can soon drill down to the transport options you want, including cycling. After typing in start and end points, the system gives an esitmated average journey time and a map.
The London Cycle Network map (requires registration) uses A-Z mapping and you can click to choose overlays, such as National Cycle Network routes or London Cycle Network bike routes.
Shockingly, the Department for Transport funded UK Transport Direct journey planner does not contain bike route info despite this proud boast: “Transport Direct is a world first. We are the first ever web site to provide national coverage for information about all types of transport.”
However, Martin Whitfield of print map making company CycleCity Guides said his company is to “to add a cycling layer into Transport Direct’s existing multi-modal journey planner.”
Taking your bike to Berlin? This is a great route finder, and it has an English language option, too. It’s open source – PERL, in fact – and has a myriad of options, making it one of the best featured of all online bike route maps.
Like all other route finders you enter starting position and destination as well as any ‘via’ points. But you can also choose your likely average speed, whether you want to mix with traffic or take side streets, whether you want to include bike paths, and there’s also data on current weather so you can upgrade or downgrade your probable speed given the likely road conditions.
BBBike can also be downloaded to laptops for offline route-finding.
Naturally, as one of the most bike friendly places on the planet, Amsterdam has an online routefinder that knocks the socks off most others. In fact, Routecraft is for cars, too. But hit the bike symbol and you select the cycle planner. Type your start point or drop the bike on to the map. Type your end point or drop on the chequered flag. Hit ‘find route’ and you’re done, with a resulting map route and turn by turn directions. Routecraft calculates the distance but, neatly, also tells you how many trees you’ve saved by not driving. It’s what’s motorists would no doubt consider to be a smug-o-meter.
Routecraft also has live roadworks info and a traffic blackspot option.
Best of all, though, Routecraft Bikeplanner is also available to use on a mobile phone. You need one with an internet connection and which can run Abobe Flash Lite.
DIY PRINTED MAPS
On 6th September, Richmond, Indiana, became a bike-friendlier place. It now has its own bike route map. It wasn’t funded by the locality, it was pushed through by cyclist Mark Strosberg. His inspirational website details how we went about the task, from creating the routes through to raising the funds.
“I hope that by sharing may experience in this project it may guide other motivated citizens who would like official bike routes in their towns, but don’t want to wait until their cities have both the time and the money to produce them on their own,” said Strosberg.
“Anyone is welcome to design and print a map, and it is experienced cyclists, not city bureaucrats, who are most qualified to determine what recommended bike routes should be.”
Like this article? It’s an extract from the Bike to Work Book, available in November from Amazon.com. Get the free podcast for the book. A larger extract of the book will be available as a PDF soon.
Boo-hoo. Back at work. Wish I was still cycle touring. But these photos will keep me going until the next family bike trip.
We’ve just returned from cycling along Scotland’s Great Glen, the 70-mile geological fault line between Inverness and Fort William. Over four days of cycling we went there and back, using the dirt tracks and steeps of the Great Glen Way, a waymarked walking route. The fast-and-furious A82 between Inverness and Fort William is scenic because it skirts Loch Ness and other water features but the Great Glen Way is even more spectacular because it takes the high road, with jaw-dropping vistas down to the lochs.
On the return journey we backtracked along the towpaths of Thomas Telford’s monumental Caledonian Canal and then climbed to Whitebridge and the famous Falls of Foyers. After Fort Augustus we were on minor roads, some of them singletrack for long distances.
The Reidlets – Josh, 10, and Hanna and Ellie, both 8 – coped well with the unthinking motorists who use the minor roads as race-tracks. On their Islabikes they also coped well with the rocky descents of parts of the Great Glen Way.
The Great Glen Way stopped being promoted as a long-distance bike route in 2006, although cycling is still permissible because of Scotland’s access laws. The southern half of the route is easy enough, it’s on the canal towpath but the northern half is tough going, especially for kids carting pannier bags. Some of the descents are steep, rocky and sandy in places. Looking back now it’s amazing we got the kids down some of the descents.
We did about 32 miles each day. This might sound a lot for little kids but they’ve done 50+ miles a day in previous tours. 32 miles on rough stuff was an enormous ask for the kids and we arrived at our pre-booked B&Bs much later than we had planned for.
The route might have been tougher than we had expected but the fabulous weather brought out the very best in the landscapes and we were treated to postcard-perfect views of Highland highlights such as Ben Nevis, Neptune’s Staircase and Urquhart Castle.
It was still sunny when we left Inverness yesterday. Half way in to the six hour train journey it started raining. Our ride home was a wet one, but at least it hadn’t rained on our hols.
I was using Arkel pannier bags for the first time. What stunning bags! I wish I’d had this kind of equipment on previous tours.
Ellie enjoying elevated views down to Loch Ness
Wildlife spotting is easy on a bike tour, and so is wildlife hugging. The frogs en route must have been glad of our passing
The Caledonian Canal towpath from Fort Augustus is well-surfaced and, of course, wonderfully flat
Hanna descending to Loch Ness
The newest of the Loch Ness visitor centres has a revolving statue of the world-famous beastie
This was my first long distance test of the SatMap GPS device. This features genuine OS mapping and was a joy to use. As well as being able to show the kids a little blue dot showing our current position, using the joystick in map planning mode I was able to accurately answer the perpetual question: “Are we there yet, dad?”…No, not for another 2.3 miles, kids… And all while riding along, no fumbling with paper maps.
Long days in the saddle meant the SatMap would potentially run out of juice. Using the famously fiercesome power of the Scottish sun – ha! – I kept the SatMap going for the last half an hour of each day by using the Freeloader solar charger. The add-on Supercharger solar panel fitted perfectly on the pannier rack, held in place with a Velcro strap and clips.
Naturally, it wasn’t all cycling. We also took kid-friendly side trips. This is a funny shot taken by Josh on ‘Harry Potter Hogwarts Express’ steam-train journey from Fort William to Mallaig. This might be one of the world’s most scenic train journeys but this chap had seen enough for the day.
We rode Inverness to Fort William on the way down and Fort William to Fort Augustus on the way back. This was all on the Great Glen Way. From Fort Augustus we took to the roads, from Foyers to Dores to Inverness.
More pix here.
I can’t quite believe I did this. Yesterday, on a six hour ride in the Cheviot hills of Northumberland, I mistook a map’s giant letter ‘i’ for a socking great obstacle, and said so to Brian, my ride partner.
The ‘i’ in question was a capital. Next to it were the letters ‘V’ and ‘O’. But I couldn’t see the full word: C H E V I O T.
I was zoomed in big on a SatMap Active 10, a brilliant GPS unit that uses genuine OS mapping. On a paper map it would have been obvious that the puzzling black oblong was a letter because I’d have seen the other letters, even though widely spaced apart. While riding along, in a biting wind, and without the context of a full paper map I really was expecting to soon see a large, unknown feature. Some sort of over-size Pennine Way stile, perhaps?
Luckily, Brian is intelligent and he realised my mistake. To his credit he didn’t immediately fall on the floor laughing, but I expect my map reading boob will be in his anecdotal armoury for years to come.
Anyway, it was a great ride. 24 miles in the middle of nowhere. Grassy descents. A few small river crossings. A peat bog just in front of the border with Scotland. Some wild goats. A ruined pub called the Slyme Foot inn. And some great weather despite the fact the hill tops still had some patchy snow.
Alan Shearer, Adrian Chiles and the other five riders on Sport Relief’s Supercycle 335-mile two-day bike ride from Newcastle to London are now just 100 miles from the BBC TV centre where they appear live tonight.
It’s great to see brilliant use of Web 2.0 features so followers can track their progress. On the update section of the Supercycle microsite there’s live GPS tracking, Twitter updates, Flikr photosets and YouTube videos, such as this one:
Shearer says his bum hurts, naturally, and both he and Chiles have hit the deck, but the riders appear to be going strong and the challenge should make good TV tonight.
Footballers are mega puffed after 90 minutes of play so any sporting activity longer than two hours is going to be new to Shearer. He’s always said he hates endurance events so it will be interesting to see if he sings the praises of cycling tonight.
If so, it could encourage others to try much, much shorter ‘challenges’: such as cycling one mile to the shops instead of driving there…
Today at the Mobile World Congress Nokia announced the Beta release of Nokia Maps 2.0. This is for pedestrians but could be adapted for cycling use.
Nokia Maps 2.0 adds Walk, a “pedestrian focused navigation component to the application, while still offering Drive, a world class car navigation system. The pedestrian navigation efficiently walks you from A to B with visual turn- by-turn guidance. It helps you to locate yourself by Continue reading “Got a Nokia phone? Get Maps 2.0”