How does your city’s bike network compare to others when measuring stress? That’s the question at the center of a new mapping project from PeopleForBikes, which rates 299 U.S. cities.
The project, called the “PlacesForBikes Bike Network Analysis” uses OpenStreetMap (which PeopleForBikes describes as “a sort of Wikipedia for online maps”) and methodology developed by Northeastern University’s Peter Furth. A map with the rated cities appears on the website’s homepage, and interested parties can type their city into a browser and see how it stacks up.
The networks are evaluated with a number of key destinations in mind. Bikers should be able to access residences, retail, jobs and educational services, food, health care and transit on a relatively low-stress route. “Low-stress” was an indicator developed by considering lane counts and widths, speed limits, traffic signals and parked cars along the route.
That’s a somewhat different metric than, say, the quality of a city’s bike infrastructure. And many of the top-scoring towns reflect that discrepancy. They include small towns with small populations — like Rexburg, Idaho; Alma, Michigan; and Enid, Oklahoma. Sometimes, they have hardly any bike lanes.
“In all of those places, you have a ton of low stress connections in big bulk right in the middle, and that’s where all of the destinations are,” PeopleForBikes’ Jennifer Boldry said in a release, referring to some of the top-scoring municipalities.
“Clustering small businesses, public destinations and two-story housing on two-lane main streets — the standard development pattern when many of the country’s small towns were built — turns out to be a good way to make a city bikeable,” the release adds.
But in some cases, using stress as an indicator can turn up somewhat skewed results. Bismarck, North Dakota, for example, received a much higher score than either Washington, D.C., or San Francisco when it comes to transit access. But while “Bismarck’s bus transfer stations may happen to be located on low-stress streets … it’s debatable whether its score reflects the experience of combining bike and transit trips,” as the release points out.
The tool is in a beta testing period right now, and PeopleForBikes is looking for feedback until July 14.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian