John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The city finally has an easy-to-read bicycling map, thanks to the vision of a die-hard local cyclist.
Drivers who stop to ask Mat Kladney for directions are in for a frustrating day. Because Kladney bicycles all over San Francisco, the route he instinctively gives weaves through town like a madman's marathon – great for cyclists, unnatural and awful for motorists.
"As a longtime cyclist, I recently realized that the mental map that exists in my mind of San Francisco is different from most (and importantly does not exist in print form)," Kladney writes at "See-Through Maps," a cartography symposium held earlier this month at UC Berkeley. To satisfy his personal curiosity, he sat down one recent day to translate the map in his head into one you can view online. The result is this wonderfully simplified version of San Francisco's bicycle infrastructure, with routes between popular destinations given as colorized tubes not unlike the city's metro map.
The "San Francisco Bicycle System" is partly a critique of existing bike maps, which can be rather cluttered. Kladney explains:
The current San Francisco bicycle map is difficult to approach, especially when answering the simple question, "how to I get from here to there?" This map has everything you might possibly want in a bicycle map in a hilly city: the grade and name of every San Francisco street, four different types of bike lane, even contour lines for every hill from Twin Peaks to the slight elevation change found in the Mission. Unfortunately by trying to be everything, it loses much of its usability. Tracking the best way to get across the city becomes more difficult when confronted with so much data. This new simplified map helps cyclists to quickly and easily find the shortest route through town.
His argument is easy to understand when you look at this lovingly detailed, but eyeball-screwing, bike-and-walking map from the SF Bicycle Coalition:
Compare that ant swarm of data to Kladney's minimalistic vision:
To further cut down on visual pollution, the map omits topographic contours or any complicated references to the city's calf-pummeling hills. It simply plops the names of peaks down in bold brown text, and assumes you're smart enough to know to avoid that area (unless you're an endorphin freak).
Kladney purposefully made design references to urban subway maps because he believes people are more apt to bike if they think it'll be as easy as riding the train. "Need to get from Downtown to the Bernal Heights? Just follow the Blue Line," he says. "This simplicity will re-frame the existing San Francisco bicycle lanes as the San Francisco Bicycle System and will help convince more people to saddle up and take to the streets."
He hopes this new map will prod the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency into laying out more bike-infrastructure improvements. One suggestion: Why not drop color-coded bike racks into a parking spot at each of the map's subway-like "stations"? "These stations will be dotted along each route, not just providing vital infrastructure for cyclists, but providing a easy to follow pathway," he says.
Here's the key:
Images courtesy of Mat Kladney via See-Through Maps