Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cycling from A to B without getting lost

Although I dislike many many things in the Viennese bicycle infrastructure I must admit, that the city also does a lot of good things for cyclists. I already mentioned the Citybikes and the rain ponchos. Today I will talk about another practical thing -- the bike route planner. I hope this is also interesting for non-Viennese people although you will probably never use it.

The bike route planner is available on the homepage of the city council: Radroutensuche (in German only)

Input
It's a very simple tool. You just type in the start and end point and optionally also stopovers.
Moreover you get to choose between a safe route and a short route. I tend to use the safe route, because in general it's faster and easier to remember.
The average speed is by default set to 15 km/h, which I find to be a good estimate (but can be changed).
Once everything is typed in one just has to click on "Radroute erstellen".

Output
After a few seconds a map with the computed route pops up. Further details can be displayed, e.g. Citybike stations and bicycle parking (generally, zooming in is required to see these items).
Moreover, it's possible to download a pdf that contains the map and also a description of the route. I can't recommend the description, because you probably don't want to take out that paper every 20m to find out that you have to go straight on anyway. On the contrary, the map doesn't contain all street names and it's therefore advisable to carry a proper city map.
It's also possible to download GPS data, but I never had a use for that.

Possible improvements
It would be handy if different routes (e.g. safe and short) could be displayed on one map rather than having to compute it all over again. Many one-way streets that are open for cyclists in both directions are not contained in the route planner (leads to unnecessary bypasses). Funny, but true -- the bike route planner also computes routes that contain a lot of walking although better alternative routes are available. I found this especially in the city center. Well, sometimes walking the bike is a good solution, but not to that extend.

Usability
I don't use the bike route planner much, cause from experience I already know the best, shortest and safest routes that I need most. However, when I want to explore new terrain, I tend to view the output of the system and then adjust the route as I like. I have a conventional bike map of Vienna that is perfect for that and also convenient to carry around: Radatlas Wien published by Esterbauer (although mine is out of date already). These three things -- my sense of orientation, the online bike route planner and my city map -- work well for me and so far I never got lost.

There is, however, another application of the bike route planner that I used extensively: When I moved flat, I used it to find out how long I have to cycle from different addresses to university/work/shopping etc. (same thing with the public transport planner). I found that a natural thing to do, but I also know people that moved to the suburbs and then complained that they have such a long way to work, poor public transport and therefore unfortunately "have to" commute by car. Well, look before you leap, that's all I say... ;-)

And how do you get from A to B? Do you use maps? If yes, special bike maps or just normal city or car maps? Did you ever get lost?

2 comments:

Dottie said...

That's a cool program! Nothing like that here. Chicago makes a bike map that was super helpful when I first started riding in the city. http://www.cityofchicago.org/Transportation/bikemap/keymap.html

Now I pretty much use regular googlemaps and know enough about the different streets to figure out the best cycling route. Sometimes I use googlemaps satellite if I want to see how far bike lanes continue.

Xavi said...

I agree that's quite a cool system. What I find specially useful is the fact you can get your maps in different formats, from pdf to GPS.

I wished we had something similar here in Barcelona. Anyway, the system I mainly use not to get lost is experience...

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