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Steal This Idea: A Bike Map Coded for Route Stress Level

Why don't more people ride bikes in U.S. cities? A study last year suggested that (at least in some locations) the problem isn't necessarily laziness or inconvenience, but stress: for most people, biking in traffic is too stressful for most trips they want to make. Armed with this research, and other studies that classify riders based on how much stress they're willing to take, an engineer in Austin argues that a bicycle map should be based on comfort.

A narrow bicycle lane on a busy high-speed street with heavy truck traffic can be a world apart from a wide bicycle lane on calmer street, yet both appear equal on a traditional bike map. In the end, map makers have to answer the question of who their target audience is and what information they need. In Austin, map makers believe in the “interested but concerned” narrative—that about 2/3 of the population are interested in riding a bike more often and would, if only they felt safer and more comfortable. Mapping bicycling experiences is part of the toolkit for making bicycling mainstream.


Unlike the maps in many cities, which mark lanes based on type (showing off-street trails, bike lanes, and bicycle boulevards in different colors), the Austin bike map classifies routes by how likely they are to stress you out. Completely quiet streets, or separated lanes, are marked in green, and the classification system goes down five levels to red (routes that only the bravest bike messenger would enjoy).

Beyond helping riders, the maps can also help city planners: a glance at the map shows just how far the city has to go before it's a truly comfortable place to ride.

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