Those of you that have been reading Utility Cycling for a while have probably picked up on the fact that in addition to writing about all things utility cycling, I am also a student. In fact, I’m close to wrapping up my last semester of full coursework as a PhD student in the School of Geography & Development at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Yipee! Anyhow, the reason for telling you this is to provide a bit of context for this post about a map I recently helped to develop called UA Campus Bicycle Geovisualization.
View UA Campus Bicycle Geovisualization in a larger map
As the title of the map might suggest, I am currently taking a course on geovisualization (short for geographic visualization). Geovisualization (from here out – geoviz) can refer to a wide range of techniques for displaying, interacting with, and using geographic data to inform viewers, aid in decision-making, and much more. It’s really quite a broad topic, but its key features include the use of geographic (or spatial) data and visual (as opposed to textual) display of said data to provide information. A geoviz can be anything from a static 2D map to an virtual reality simulation. The geoviz course that I am taking is co-convened with graduate and undergraduate students, and a few weeks ago, we were assigned a group project to develop our own geoviz and evaluate its usefulness. As the group leader, I asked the three undergrads (Brian F, Dan M, & Carlos P) in my group what they were most interested in. Much to my surprise and excitement, the agreed upon topic was bicycles! I was very glad to hear that others share my interest in bicycle mapping.
So we went to work brainstorming a bicycle geoviz. I began by contacting Mike McKisson of Tucson Velo, as he has a page of map collaborations on his site and an interest in the topic, to see if he had any burning mapping needs we could assist with. I bounced around a couple of ideas with him, as well as with a good friend – Chloe Forsman – who is a professional mountain biker and also an intern for UA Parking & Transportation. Chloe recently lead the application process for the University of Arizona to become a Bicycle Friendly University and has been doing a lot of other great bicycle and pedestrian focused work around campus. After a number of iterations, our group flushed out the plethora of ideas we had floating around and decided to develop a Google Maps MashUp for our bicycle geoviz.
The final product – UA Campus Bicycle Geovisualization – is a detailed map of bicycle infrastructure and routes around the UA campus. The main impetus for the map came from our discovery that the Google Bike There directions around the UA campus are actually quite sparse. In Tucson, the preferred route for most cyclists riding around the university area is through the UA campus, but the Google Bike There directions don’t cover the main thoroughfares through campus (see the lack of green bike route lines in the photo below). So when you ask for directions from one end of campus to another, you get routed around campus instead of through it. This may be due in part to the way the Google algorithm works, and it may also be due to lack of data at Google, but either way, we decided to improve the level of information available for a cyclist who wants to ride to and around the UA campus with our geoviz.
The map we developed uses three different types of features, which include route lines, photos, and video. We collected the videos for our project using a new product called the CatEye Inou. The Inou is a really cool little device that captures geocoded photos, videos, and routes, which can be uploaded and shared online with a website called Inou Atlas. We considered using Inou Atlas to develop our geoviz, but since one of our goals was to make it easily accessible and editable by other people, we decided to stick with the Google My Map interface, which we felt was more accessible to a wider audience. To that end, we drew our own route lines in the Google Map with different colors for different sections. We took the static photos of bicycle signage and infrastructure on a digital camera and “geocoded” them by making them placemarks in the map. The videos were recorded by the Inou from the handlebar of my bicycle (and I must admit…there are a few instances where the video quality is rather lacking, mostly due to the operator, but also due to the device itself in some cases), uploaded to YouTube, and “geocoded” into placemarks. Below is one example of a video of the famous Snake Bridge in Tucson (it rattles when you cross it!).
Once the map was completed, we presented it to our fellow classmates and gave them a survey to assess whether the increased visual cues (ie. photo and video) were useful in deciding what route to take by bicycle. Our preliminary results suggest that the videos are the most useful, for both cyclists and non-cyclists. Additionally, even some non-cyclists felt that the geoviz was useful, as it shows areas of high bicycle traffic, which they might want to avoid in a car or on foot.
Although the project is now complete, within the context of our class, that is, we still hope that the map will be useful into the future. We fully welcome collaboration and additions to the map. Additionally, we have even received some press on our project from Tucson Velo and the Arizona Daily Wildcat. Dan Majewski, one of the group members, also wrote about the project on his blog Urban Transport Revolution. We were also asked to add our routes to Share the Path, which is a really cool website that shows bike paths and routes from users all over the world. I definitely plan to add some of our routes to Share the Path. I am also going to send the map to Google in hopes that they will be able to update their Bike There directions for the UA campus with the information from our map.
Finally, I am interested to hear what our readers think. Are videos and photos useful in making a decision about what route to take by bicycle? Do you think that you would be able to use this map to get around the University of Arizona if you had never been to Tucson? I am interested to hear your reactions!