So I was flyering on Decatur today and this girl who was…well…really high on something asked me “why make a bike map?” So I started to tell her how regular maps don’t tell you about road conditions or travel speed that are good to know as a cyclist. “But I know my way around the city, so who is the map for? tourists?” I tried to explain how it would be helpful for kids, older people, people new to the city, etc. But moral of the story – Miss Heroin made me realize I need to hammer out exactly how a bike map is going to help New Orleans.
So, why map? Well, in general, maps are a visual tool that help a person to gain a better understanding of an area. When you look at a map, you can view your whole neighborhood, city, state, country, or ever the whole world. If you’re a really visual person anyway, you mike have a map of your city already ingrained in your head (my mental map of new orleans is still a little fuzzy though). If you’re like my brother, you have a GPS to tell you how to get your favorite restaurants because you probably couldn’t find your way out of a paper bag. Having a map of your city is really helpful if you’re like my brother and have a hard time finding your way around. Maps are also helpful if you send most of your time in one part of the city, but sometimes you have to travel to the other side but don’t know it as well. So, reason number one: Maps are helpful tools for finding your way around a city.
New Orleans already has a road map, but it’s for cars, not cyclist. A road map tells you the name of the road, the direction, and where the road leads. It does not tell you travel speed, width of the lanes, or the pavement quality. These three sets of information are very important for cyclists. In other cities with hills, elevation would be important too. When you’re driving, you experience roads quite differently than when biking. You might not notice how much room there is to pass if a cyclists is riding in front of you. The road might not also seem as bumpy as if you were on a bike either. So you might know how to get from the Bywater to Midcity in a car, but do you really know the best way to get there on a bike? So, reason number two: Bike maps provide further information about streets for cyclists.
You may have noticed there are a few bike route maps out there for New Orleans. So why aren’t those enough? For one, would you recommend that all cyclists travel on St. Charles to get from downtown to Uptown? Well, if can bike fast, then yeah, it’s great. What if you’re 70 years old and you don’t have quite the get up an go that you used to? Would it be better to take a slower speed, less traveled neighborhood road? What if you’re 10 years old – you know how ten year olds like to ride, popping wheelies and being silly. Do you think a 10 year old should be riding like a goofball all the way up Canal? Granted, the kid needs to learn how to bike on the road eventually, but there are saver ways for him to travel from downtown to City Park than taking Canal. St. Charles and Canal are both called out to be bike routes, but they aren’t the best routes for everyone. Plus, I use to bike St. Charles everyday and it’d be nice to mix it up sometimes. I don’t have time during my morning commute to test out every east-west road between Uptown and Downtown – but I would have time to look at a bike map to find a route. Reason number three: Bike maps give people choices to figure out their own bike routes that are best of them and and their style of riding.
Having a printed bike map also provides a medium for promoting safe cycling. Maybe published bike maps also include safe biking tips (check out the Vancouver/Portland and NYC DOT maps for some really good examples) such as where to have lights and reflectors. Also they can include diagrams of where on the road you should be biking (a lot of people in New Orleans bike against traffic instead of with it – sometimes because they like to see the cars coming, other times because they don’t know bikes are considered vehicles and should ride with traffic). The also commonly include state and local bike laws and “know your rights” sections as well incase you ever get hit or run into trouble with police (you may not belief it if you’re from New Orleans, but in other cities cops love to give cyclists a hard time, and will give you a ticket for almost anything). The final map I produce will include all of these things – safe biking tips, diagrams, laws, and rights. Reason number four: Bike maps also provide cyclists with additional information about cycling in their city and promote safe cycling habits.
The last reason I’m going to type out tonight is that maps are also important policy tools. I make and present maps to help push policy changes. With a map you can show many things – where there are no sidewalks, where there is poor drainage, where protected natural habitats are. Maps are a vital visual tool for policy making. What the NolaCycle Bike Map will do is promote cycling in the city and show the city and state where dangerous areas are for cyclists, where the best roads are currently, and where roads need to be improved. People could use this map to help campaign for the resurfacing of roads. They can also use to point out where bike infrastructure (bike lanes, shared-use paths, bike racks) should go. Maps are also be used to help promote cycling to groups that may be turned off by it or may think all the roads in New Orleans are too narrow or too bumpy. It can also be used to promote cycling for kids. Reason number five: A bike map will serve as an important policy tool to promote cycling and encourage the expansion of cycling infrastructure in the city.
So who will benefit from a bike map of New Orleans?
-Anyone who doesn’t have bike routes memorized in their head for the entire city (I think that’s probably a lot of us…)
-Anyone who bikes crosstown and gets bored of going the same way every time
-People with slow bikes who don’t enjoy battling traffic while dodging potholes
-People with fast bikes who don’t enjoy battling traffic while dodging potholes
-Anyone who just moved here
-People who have moved to a new neighborhood of the city they don’t know as well
-Local university freshman
-People who are visiting or volunteering
-Alley Cat bike racers (this map will be the Alley Cat cheat sheet when it’s finished!)