A bike map for Washington and (eventually) by Washington


Bicyclists ride on their final leg down Pennsylvania Avenue during Tim Johnson's Ride on Washington on March 20, 2012. Bicycle riders have a new way to plan trips around the Washington region. (Ricky Carioti/THE WASHINGTON POST)
August 11, 2012

Bicycle riders have a new way to plan trips around the Washington region. And this tool lets them draw on their experience and wisdom to guide other cyclists.

BikePlanner.org is a Web site that does what the name suggests. Riders can select routes and tweak them based on their preferences for speed, flatness or safety.

There is a limit to what a map can provide. Only someone who travels through an area knows about a particularly steep hill or an endlessly congested spot. That’s where the hive mind comes in.

BikePlanner relies on OpenStreetMap, an open-source service that is basically a map version of Wikipedia. Maps can be edited, and users will be able to draw on the collective experience of Washington bicycle riders to plan routes.

“This tool is really a way to tap into the knowledge and experience of local area cyclists,” said Chris Eatough, program manager for Bike Arlington.

BikePlanner was created by OpenPlans, a nonprofit group based in New York that wants to use technology to improve transportation. The organization also worked on CiBi.me, a trip planner for New York City’s (delayed) bike-sharing program and on a trip planner for the TriMet transit system in the Portland, Ore., area.

The bike-trip planners for New York and Washington were built as demonstrations, said Kevin Webb, the Washington-based co-director of transportation at OpenPlans. Much of the technical work was already done for the Portland project, so it wasn’t a huge leap to create the new sites.

The New York planner went up in the spring, and Webb said he met with Bike Arlington officials this summer to discuss bringing it to the Washington area. BikePlanner went up a couple of weeks ago, but organizers really began promoting it Thursday.

“No one knows the ins and outs and nuances of biking our area more than the people who bike it all the time,” Eatough said. “People have the areas they really know about and are experts on. People who bike to and from work have refined that trip. . . . They know it better than anyone else."

Webb, 32, is one such traveler. He lives in Columbia Heights and uses Bikeshare as well as his own bike to get around. Like many commuters who use Bikeshare, his ride can combine a Metro trip with time on one of those cherry red bicycles. This kind of “unified” travel can help change the way people commute, he said.

Capital Bikeshare is an important presence on the map. The Web site directs people to the closest station and gives the number of available bikes and the number of spaces open for leaving bikes. As they open, new Bikeshare stations will appear on the map.

The plan is to add other transit options to BikePlanner so that travelers can see the full range of options when they make plans.

The Web site could help different types of riders in different ways, said Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Experienced cyclists might want the fastest routes; occasional riders and newcomers might feel more comfortable knowing that they were taking a flatter or a safer path.

“What people want is, ‘How do I avoid that hill?’ ‘How do I find an area where I don’t deal with too much fast traffic?’ ” Farthing said. “Getting information out there that is reliable and vetted is huge.”

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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