Bike-ability of Manhattan (lots of maps and 2 theses!)

One of our dreams for the future of this site is to have a live interactive map of “bike-ability” so that you can easily find the best route for your everyday tasks, and also so we can see where we have problems with bike-ability and work together as a community to find solutions.  So I was very excited yesterday to find 2 theses that actually focus on bike-ability in Manhattan.  The first is Ben Ehreth’s 2004 study using Manhattan as a case study to evaluate bicycle safety conditions on existing road networks.  He used GIS data from the city to map 8 key factors: curb lane width, slope, traffic volume, traffic speed, on-street parking, bike lanes, road surface and land use.  He then used responses from active cyclists in the area to give different weights to each factor to create a final map of bike-ability.

This is a fantastic map that you could use to plan your next commute.  Toby Murray and I (and anybody else who wants to help edit openstreetmap) are going to use data like this to tag every road and path in Manhattan for bike-ability.  Eventually this will allow us to create that fully interactive map of bike-ability we have been dreaming about.

As a quick aside, I have to say I especially love the slope map.  For those of you who think Kansas is flat, think again:

The other fantastic thesis I recently discovered (thanks to a note from KSU Landscape Architect Stephanie Rolley) is Chad Bunger’s 2008 Bicycle Master Plan Update.  As he notes in the abstract: “In 1998, the City of Manhattan, Kansas and Kansas State University jointly developed a City of Manhattan Bicycle Master Plan. This plan created a vision for bicycling in the community, established goals and designated streets to be improved with bicycle facilities. The Master Plan also developed recommendations to incorporate bicycle facility planning into the growth of Manhattan. This plan created a solid political foundation that showed that bicycling matters in Manhattan, Kansas. However, the 1998 Bicycle Master Plan lacked specifics on how to incorporate these recommendations and routes into the existing and future street system. The 2008 Bicycle Master Plan Update attempts to address the shortcomings of the 1998 Master Plan and incorporate the growth and expansion of the City since 1998. General recommendations and funding options were created to assist in the advancement of the goals and objectives originally initiated in the 1998 Master Plan. The result is a Master Plan that can be used by City Planners to incorporate bicycle transportation into the City and a map for bicyclist to travel from one place to another in the City safely.”

There are a number of great maps in the thesis, including this excellent rendition of what I think of as “the Manhattan archipelago” (showing the various islands / neighborhoods).  Since the birth of Linear Trail our city has done a fantastic job of creating links between these islands, but we need a few more, especially in the southwest (Amherst/Uni Heights/Miller Ranch and Woodland Hills) and East Manhattan.

He also has a nice clean map of traffic volume, one of the most important factors in bike-ability.  There are a few spots where I would question the data, but it is mostly correct. (For example, the map claims that Kimball between Hudson and Seth Childs is “Moderately Low” where it should probably be Moderately High.)

And finally, he concludes with a solid proposal for phased improvements to bike-ability in Manhattan.  He bases the timeline on the idea that we should improve the bike-ability in areas surrounding the key destinations and work outward from there, so most of his Year 1-3 proposals center around campus and downtown.

I agree with most of the proposals and the timeline, but I think an alternative logic could be pursued that would elevate the priority of some of these proposed improvements.  This alternative logic would be to consider how many people could benefit from a proposed improvement and how great would that improvement be for them.  This would elevate connections across danger zones for people living in the southwest and eastern parts of town who now have virtually no options for commuting.  As of now, he has such improvements slated for 4-10 years out.  With these being the 2 most high-growth areas in town, such improvements would do much more for improving bicycle safety and getting more bikes on the road (and more cars off of it) if they were to be implemented sooner.  The proposals for the southwest neighborhoods are also not as strong as I would like to see and do not take into account the problems created by Wildcat Creek which blocks their access to parks, shops, and the school to the north.

In the end, we owe a huge thanks to both of them for this work.  With Chad Bunger now working for the city as a planner, we can be hopeful that the thoughtful planning that has helped Manhattan emerge as a wonderful biking town will continue in the future.

Michael Wesch

Chair of the City of Manhattan Bicycle Advisory Committee, avid bicycle commuter, and a cultural anthropologist.

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1 Response

  1. September 12, 2011

    [...] to raise awareness and to inform cyclists of safe routes around the Manhattan area. His idea of interactive maps would allow anybody to update them from anywhere in case of bad weather, poor riding conditions and [...]

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