The Independent‘s cover story is a look at how digital technology is enhancing maps, and how maps have historically enhanced our understanding of and interactions with our environment. The article identifies anchors in the Triangle’s mapping community, people who share a desire to critique the world through spatially arranged lines and icons that, in sum, represent the world as we see it. Or don’t see it. Or think it should be.

It’s an excellent article, not the least of which because it features Gary’s Endangered Durham… go read it.

When I was on Durham’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, the most frequently asked questions from the public (besides, “can you put a bike lane in front of my house?”) concerned bike maps. “Why don’t you have better bike maps?” “Is there a map that shows safe places to ride?” “Is there a bike map for Durham, you know, one that shows the bike trails and the bike shops?”

I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about bike maps per se. When someone asks “where are the bike trails in Durham,” I want to point to the nearest road and say, “right there.” North Carolina law makes it clear that neither cities nor counties can do anything to restrict cyclists from riding on roads (with the exception of Interstates and freeways, like 147). All roads, whether neighborhood cul-de-sacs or state highways, are bike-ways.

Folks ask for maps of bike trails, though, for many reasons.Some want quiet, bucolic surroundings in which they may lose themselves in thought. Some want smooth surfaces with low traffic-volume to teach children the art of balancing on two wheels. Some adults want space to gain their own confidence with shifting, braking, and pedaling before adding signaling turns to the mix. After talking with hundreds of people about cycling in Durham, I think most just want to ride in a space where bicycling is clearly sanctioned. For the same reason we go to parks to play, to rivers to canoe, or to mountains to hike, we go to greenways to ride. It’s what you do there.

My frustration with the question about bike maps is layered. It has something to do with the implied syllogism that bike maps show bike trails, that bike trails are where one rides a bike, so therefore bike maps show where one rides a bike. And since bike maps (at least ones I have seen in the past) usually highlight greenways or roadie routes though the countryside, the latent syllogism reinforces the perception that cycling is just for recreation.

Containing bicycles to linear parks, such as the American Tobacco Trail, or pastoral secondary roads on weekends is a kind of social relegation that is also reinforced every time someone sighs despondently about how dangerous the roads are. Yes, roads are dangerous places where collisions (some of which are accidents) kill and maim every day. It’s my belief, however, that drivers have an inflated sense of both their safety and cyclists’ danger. Habitually commanding with just your touch two-thousand pounds of steel and glass caging will do that, I suppose.

The perception that roads are unsafe has something to do with the fact that roads are one of the few places left in our daily lives where we do not choose, we do not even know, with whom we interact.

Riding a bike on a greenway is no doubt one of the best ways to spend a Saturday afternoon. It is also my favorite way to grocery shop, to commute to work, or to explore a new city while on vacation. Given the number of people who showed up to last week’s Bike to Work events, I’m not alone in thinking that roads exist to serve more modes of transportation than just the automotive variety.

Any bike map that’s worth its salt needs to reflect the various ways that people ride bikes. I continue to invite you, then, to help map Durham (or the other areas of the Triangle, if you’re not lucky enough to live in the Bull City) through the eyes of a cyclist. Like Gary says in the Independent article, Jack Edinger and I originally conceived of this map as something that’s community driven, something that “allow[s] for freer exchange and collaboration.” These maps (Durham’s below and the other cities’ behind the link) are currently based on Google Maps so that they can be collaborative, so that any number of people can design, edit, and create them. While I’m still not entirely convinced that bike maps are necessary, it has been fun to see what others add to the maps. And, in some small way, colluding with other Durham cyclists is a way of challenging the recreation-dominant model of cycling that the broader driving public swallows uncritically.

Portions of this also appeared at Op-Ed News. View Larger Map


maps — 4 Comments

  1. Agreed! I’ve been adding to the Orange Co. map over the past few days routes and cut-throughs that I find make it easy to get around Chapel Hill and environs on a bike to do any number of practical things, and see the sights too.

  2. Pingback: Rolling Resistance» Blog Archive » Maps

  3. Hey PB

    Thanks for highlighting the article – I agree with your notion that the ‘bike map’ would not be one thing, but could be different things to different people. Like describing the landscape more broadly, I hope we continue to develop finer abilities (and tools) to graphically convey such distinctions, so that the layered meaning is implicit in the layers of maps/graphics.


  4. Thanks Gary. In the spirit of just that, making maps more useful and meaningful, I’ll add links here from comments left on this article’s place at

    Maxwell says, “The best bike maps, by far, come from Adventure Cycling Association (formerly Bikecentenial):

    And Bruce Allen Morris recommends a look at Portland’s bike maps

    Also, a link to new bike maps in Omaha, NE —

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