New bike routing site needs your input

August 10, 2012

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

The gadget is BikePlanner.org, a Web site that does what the name suggests. Riders can pick their beginning and end points, as on any other map, but then they can begin changing the trip to fit their needs.


(Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)

Cyclists have the option of picking a kind of route; you can decide how much speed, safety and flatness matters and tweak your route based on that. In addition, riders have the option of saying if they have their own bike or need to grab a Capital Bikeshare cycle.

There is a limit to what a set map can provide. Only someone who bikes somewhere every day knows about a particularly steep hill or perpetually 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. Users can edit the map, making improvements and drawing upon the collective experience of Washington’s bicycle riders to add 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.

Things are always changing in this area, with road work, lane closures and other headaches that won’t show up on a map. People who bike ride through certain areas can alert other people and spread the word.

“No one knows the ins and outs and nuances of biking our area 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."

BikePlanner was created by OpenPlans, a non-profit based in New York that aims to use technology to improve transportation. The company also worked on CiBi.me, a trip planner for New York City’s (delayed) bike-sharing program, and on a trip planner for Portland’s TriMet system

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

The New York planner went up in the spring, and Webb said he met with Bike Arlington officials to discuss bringing it to Washington. BikePlanner went up a couple of weeks ago, but they really began pushing it out on Thursday.

Webb, 32, lives in Columbia Heights and uses his own bike as well as Bikeshare to get around. Like many commuters who utilize Bikeshare, his trip can combine the Metro and the cherry red bicycles. This kind of “unified” approach can help change how people commute, he said.

“It's not about biking anymore, it's about creating a new form of mobility,” Webb said. Bicycles become just another form of transportation in a city.

Capital Bikeshare is a key part of the map. The tool directs people to the closest stations for picking up or returning bicycles, in addition to noting the number of available bikes or open spaces. (New Bikeshare stations will automatically appear on the map.)

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

This tool could also help different types of riders in different ways, said Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Experienced cyclists can see the fastest routes, while newcomers can feel more comfortable knowing they are taking a flatter, safer path.

And having riders add routes and make tweaks can help pull together data that can be useful to local governments, Farthing adds. If some areas have major gaps where there’s no overlap between safe routes and quick ones, that’s a place where bike lanes could be needed.

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