Tuesday, September 21, 2010

London Cycle Map Campaign

Cycle Lifestyle, a new freebie mag, has a campaign to create a unified London Cycle Map.

I'm not so sure that it's such an easy problem to solve. The argument goes, why not create a tube map for bikes? The dozen or so official maps are rather cumbersome to carry and confusing to use, and a lot of journeys require more than one map and constant re-folding of the one you're using.

However, the reason the tube map works is that tube travel is a simple business. There are no landmarks on the Tube other than the stations, and the only thing to worry about is your interchanges, which are few on a typical journey. Cycle travel, like bus travel, is a lot more complex. There's more possible routes, and lots of scope to end up on a busy road you wanted to avoid or going in the wrong direction altogether. Could cycle navigation be made simpler?

One factor that I've come up against when trying to navigate through unfamiliar parts of the smoke is the crap state of a lot of the infrastructure. Too many so-called cycle routes involve narrow advisory lanes on roads with high levels of traffic. Outside peak hours, parking is often allowed in bus and cycle lanes. On the other hand, quieter routes may take you through places you'd rather not go at night. In other words, just because TfL say it's a cycle route doesn't mean you would want to cycle it. It would be possible to devise a 'rating system' for different roads, but that wouldn't help much - finding a continuous, high-quality route from A to B is impossible a lot of the time.

The Campaign are pushing Simon Parker's map.It is quite tube-like in its presentation, with colour-coded, numbered routes. Actually navigating with it could be tricky. There are no road names and not many landmarks. Some of the routes involve a lot of junctions, so keeping track of where you are would be difficult. However, with colour-coded street signs, or with a colour-coded line on the road to follow, I can see how the idea could work. Parker's vision is about more than just the map - it is about the network. If that network took you along segregated or low-motor-traffic infrastructure, you would have something very worthwhile.

Unfortunately, without long-overdue regime change at TfL, the vision won't be becoming reality anytime soon.

A last thought. With GPS-enabled smartphones becoming ubiquitous in the near future, maybe there is less need for a map and more need for an app?

UPDATE: This story has been reported in The Guardian here.

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