Cycle wayfinding is less well served than pedestrian wayfinding, often limited to a choice between a folded map of the whole city network and/or a smartphone journey planner app. A close look at some of the issues will help to understand why, and how to improve what’s on offer. (Cycle wayfinding part 1, 2, 3)
Whole network cycle maps
These maps seem to be available everywhere. They typically squeeze a cycle network into a small printed area, and can therefore offer little granular detail and reference points that allow turn-by-turn journey planning. Although these maps present available established cycle routes, and may fold down to a pocket size, they do not address the needs of a broad number of cyclists. Transport for London recently removed this type of map from circulation when feedback showed that they were being used often by tourists who want a free pocket map, not by the cyclists for whom they were intended.
- Show the cycle routes on offer as part of a complete network
- Fit in your pocket while cycling
- Scale allows for very little extra detail
- Do not allow users to choose a preference, such as quiter, safer, faster or flatter routes
These are good for finding the quickest route to your destination and can guide you by audio, which aids road safety. Various routes are offered allowing users to choose either the quickest, most direct option or a quieter, more pleasant one. Gradient information is also useful in hilly areas, or when users want a minimum of exhertion. However, the routing data in this type of app is usually built up from the journeys taken by other users. Just because a lot of cyclists use a certain route, it does not follow that the city authorities would encourage cyclists to use it. This data certainly doesn’t reflect new and coming cycle infrastructure improvements.
- Audible mode Journey Planners can be safer than reading a map in traffic
- Based on real cyclists’ experiences
- Can accommodate different user preferences (in theory, actually the data probably comes most from expert riders)
- Rider cannot make detailed route choices with a Journey Planner app (although they can choose route type preferences: quiet, fast, flat)
- Journey planning apps are optimised to give you specific point A to point B journey descriptions but they do not do a good job of representing the overall ‘network’. This discourages exploration by bicycle, and also means that cycling as a mode can be seen as disconnected from other transport options (including walking).
- Less experienced cyclists often gain encouragement and reassurance from a feeling that they are part of a controlled, managed system (or network), and smartphone apps don’t always offer this.
City cycling objectives
In order to achieve a more sustainable future, cities are creating a vision which includes an increase in cycling as a sustainable form of mobility. Cities wish to change public behaviour to make cycling, walking and public transport accessible, natural choices. To achieve this, they are making infrastructure improvements to prioritise cyclists and make cycling safer for all.
- Chicago wishes to build more protected bike lanes than any other US city. All Chicagoans are to be within half a mile of a bike facility.
- Portland identified 60% of the population as “interested in cycling but concerned about traffic safety” and aims at converting these people to cyclists.
- Copenhagen’s vision was to create 26 superhighways to connect the suburbs for longer rides, using innovations such as air pump stations, green flow traffic signals and digital cycle counters en route to connect with the public.
- The Mayor of London has pledged that London must become a city where walking, cycling and green public transport become the most appealing and practical choice for many more journeys.
Cycle city wayfinding can be an important component in support of these strategies. Safe, segregated, cycle friendly infrastructure needs to be clearly presented to the public without them having to search for it. For example, maps highlighting cycle routes, placed at key decision points would nudge people into considering cycling.
More can be done for cycle wayfinding
Printed network cycle maps and smartphone apps tend to be used by people who have already decided to cycle. This amounts to preaching to the converted. Cycle wayfinding needs to take the “tell me only what I need to know, where and when I need it” approach, familiar in pedestrian wayfinding systems. This means creating data which encourages cycling and making it available in a host of different formats and media, from physical signs to printed neighbourhood “cycle to school” maps or digital maps online.
Where urban planners within the city have a strategy for improving cycle infrastructure, cycle wayfinding must highlight this and encourage cyclists to use the new infrastructure. This will require better data than the established popular routes. In addition, local knowledge can be used to highlight and join up a network of safe, quiet neighbourhood routes less well known to lycra-clad cycle enthusiasts.
Cycle wayfinding should be integrated with pedestrian and public transport wayfinding in order to build a new sustainable mobility culture. This needs to be done in a way that doesn’t make it feel as if it is a completely separate option. For example, cycle data can be overlayed on detailed, curated pedestrian wayfinding maps. This provides cyclists with a much higher level of detail when making route decisions, including pleasant green features, public squares and shared footpaths. Cycling and walking trips are also integrated by pedestrians and cyclists sharing the same maps. Distances could also be stated in time for both walking and cycling on the same products.
Public transport journeys are integrated by placing cycle wayfinding information at interchanges, often chosen as good locations for bikeshare facilities. Cycling and walking information should also be branded along with public transport information, to make all types of journey feel joined together.
The abundance of this shared information at key points can help create a cultural shift.
Creating a cycle wayfinding system
Firstly, a wayfinding strategy should be developed, based on desired users. Potential cyclists include a very broad spread of people with very separate needs:
- Commuters – trips will often be longer distance, with speed and directness the priority
- Leisure cyclists – trips are unhurried, with regular stops and a pleasant environment as priority
- Fitness cyclists – trips will prioritise high speed and long, straight stretches
- School children – trips should be safe, shorter, simple and familiar
- First time visitors – trips are flexible about destination, often starting at an interchange or hotel and are hampered by a lack of local knowledge
Very different types of wayfinding information can be envisaged for each of these user cases. Therefore it is best to build up a core of cycle wayfinding data which is robust enough for use across many different outputs.
This requires that the provider takes ownership of the data, collating it in such a way that it will be fit-for-purpose and future proof. The resulting cycle data resource should be properly maintained as part of a central system.
Our next blogpost in this series, Data for the cycling revolution will take a closer look at cycle wayfinding data considerations and examples. We will then follow up with an article providing examples of cycle information integrated into city wayfinding systems.