Mapping the Safest Bicycle Route through the City

Urban planners in Montgomery County in Maryland, USA, have developed a Bicycle Stress Map that rates the “traffic stress level” of the county’s streets, paths and bike trails.

Autor*in Anna Rees, 06.13.16

Urban planners in Montgomery County in Maryland, USA, have developed a Bicycle Stress Map that rates the “traffic stress level” of the county’s streets, paths and bike trails.

Zipping around urban areas on two wheels can be like an obstacle course, with cyclists having to dodge tram tracks, weave through tightly congested streets and between parked cars. Despite calls for more people to opt for cycling rather than driving to reduce CO2 emissions, in some places, due to inadequate infrastructure, this just isn’t possible. In 2014, the Guardian asked readers what puts them off cycling to work. Among the top reasons why people choose not to cycle were bad driving on the part of car owners, dangerously-designed roads, sub-standard infrastructure, lack of facilities and perception of danger. All in all, cycling can be fun but it can also be a headache.

To help make planning cycling trips a little easier, authorities in Montgomery County (which lies just north of Washington D.C.) in Maryland, USA, have developed the Bicycle Stress Map, an interactive platform that plots out every street in the county and calculates the level of stress cyclists may experience riding along that particular stretch of road. According to the website, these calculations are based on characteristics like traffic speed and volume, the number of lanes a road has, parking turnover, whether an intersection is easy or difficult to cross and more.

Each street is assigned a colour with blue indicating very low-stress areas for cyclists. The colour ranking follows a traffic light scale, with red marking streets that are the most stressful for cyclists, such as a bike lane-free highway (each colour rating is accompanied by an example video to give users an idea of just how easy or hectic riding in certain areas can be). The map is very user-friendly and allows riders to seek out routes that are as low stress as possible.

Building a platform that helps cyclists safely plan their route can go a long way towards increasing confidence and could help more people ride instead of drive. But what really counts is providing safe and proper infrastructure. Crucially, having this information visualised on a map allows city planners to gain insight into which areas in the county may require an upgrade in bicycle infrastructure. The map is part of Montgomery County Planning Department’s Bicycle Master Plan, which aims to develop a high quality, low stress bicycle network. Among some of the areas to be explored as part of the plan are buffered bike lanes, bike boulevards and safe storage options.

To get started with the Bicycle Stress Map, head to the website here.

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