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New Crowdsourced Bike Safety Map: BikeMaps.org

by Melanie Colavito

Anything that combines two of my favorite things – geography and bicycling – is something I can’t help but share with you all! Hooray for bike maps! Earlier this month, at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, geography professor Dr. Trisalyn Nelson launched a new bike mapping website called BikeMaps.org. The website is a crowdsourced bike safety map that allows you to track things such as crashes, bike thefts, danger zones, and near misses. The map legend items include: citizen collision report, citizen near miss report, cyclist hazard, official collision report, and bike theft. There are also general alert areas, information about rider volume in a given area, as well as infrastructure (at least in Victoria) and an incident heat map. bikemapsorg_legend Of course, as with any crowdsourced map, it relies on other people to populate it with data. Nonetheless, crowdsourcing has been shown to be immensely popular for preparedness and emergency response and has been widely used in recent disasters such as last year’s typhoon in the Philippines or the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Open Street Map is perhaps the most prolific of crowdsourced mapping options on the internet, and it has a cycling friendly spin-off called Open Cycle Map. GoogleMaps also used a feedback option when they first launched the bike directions feature in 2010. And you can still request that they fix a problem on their maps, but it’s not really quite the same as crowdsourcing. What’s nice about BikeMaps.org is that it has a very specific focus on cycling hazards. So if that’s something you’re curious about before you head out on your bike, it could be your one-stop-shop for the information you need. As they say on their About page:

At BikeMaps we love biking as much as we love maps! Our goal is to map your cycling experience to make biking safer. You know your local cycling trouble spots and we want you to map them. Your knowledge of cycling safety, hazards, and even bike thefts will be analyzed using GIS and statistics to identify hot spots of cycling safety, risk, and crime. We are constantly updating our maps and technology, so send us feedback. And stay tuned for updated safety maps generated from YOUR biking experience.

I spent some time playing with the map, and it’s definitely better in some places than others at the moment. Naturally, it’s a little Canada-centric at the moment, but it’s intended to be a global map. But as you can see from the data this morning, there’s definitely more information being populated in North America, with a focus around British Columbia. bikemapsorg_global If you zoom into Victoria, B.C., where the map originated, you can see its got quite a lot of detail. The little circles with numbers tell you the number of incidents in a given area, and when you zoom in, the information becomes increasingly detailed. bikemapsorg_victoria And if you really want to get a sense of where the most incidents are occurring, you can use the incident heat map option, which basically just combines all the incidents into one intensity map with red being the highest intensity of incidents and blue being the least. bikemapsorg_heatmap There’s also a nice bike infrastructure option on the legend, but it looks like it’s currently just limited to Victoria. Another nice feature is the rider volume, which pulls its data from Strava. So although the bike infrastructure is just limited to Victoria at the moment, you can get a sense of where people ride based on the rider volume data. bikemapsorg_density Working in the background of BikeMaps.org is some fancy GIS (geographic information systems) to provide the nice incident intensity bubbles and heat map. All in all, it’s a pretty slick operation. The map’s creator feels that safety fears are one of the number one things preventing people from using bicycles more for transportation, and she hopes that this will help to alleviate some of those fears. Read more of her comments in this article from the Times Colonist. As she notes here:

With only 30 to 40 per cent of cycling accident data captured by traditional data sources, BikeMaps.org represents an important effort to fill data and information gaps. I love cycling and I commute by bike daily. But, especially as a mom, I am always looking for ways our family can ride as safely as possible.

She also hopes to see the map expand globally, and she and her team are working on an eventual mobile map with a route finder. This would be a pretty great way to dynamically provide riders with the data while they’re en route. Another bonus is that riders can point out areas with hazards such as potholes as they appear, so it has the opportunity to be pretty real-time. Anyways, I encourage you to check out BikeMaps.org and start adding data where you live. You can also the hashtag #bikemaps to share your data on Twitter, as well. Happy Bike Mapping!

 
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3 Responses to “New Crowdsourced Bike Safety Map: BikeMaps.org”

  1. Colby says:

    This was the first I heard of Bikemaps.org. The website uses OpenStreetMap data for its maps. However, it for some reason, doesn’t query the bicycle infrastructure from OSM. That’s kind of weird. Also, it’s using Strava data for it’s route use intensity. That’s fine, but it might bias it towards fred-style training ride routes and not so much everyday commuters who would be more likely to use RideWithGPS or a similar service. It has potential, but it doesn’t really seem like it fulfills a need for me other than feeding my cycling/geography curiosity.

    • Yes, good point about the map not pulling in OSM’s bike infrastructure. That is a bit odd. I agree with the limitations of Strava, but even the fred-style riders tend to use the main bike routes. But still, there could be more potential if it pulled in other sources, as well.

  2. Ted Johnson says:

    I have to wonder if their “specific focus on cycling hazards” is misguided — reinforcing the myth that cycling is hazardous (i.e. disproportionately hazardous relative to using automobiles).

    Do GPS and mapping systems designed for motorists focus on the hazards of driving? It seems to me that the focus on convenience. The convenience of having a computer navigate for you. The convenience of routing you around traffic problems. The convenience of not having to think or worry about certain unpleasant things.

    It is exactly the same thing, but framed in a way that doesn’t focus on perceived threats, and instead focuses on blissful denial.

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