CICF News / 2012 / September / News Post
September 27, 2012
Pedal Pushers

There are statistical spikes in behavior and then there’s this: Bike commuting grew by 150 percent in Indianapolis from 2000 to 2009. From a cycling enthusiast’s point of view, impressive growth. But dig a little deeper into the statistics and it turns out we’ve still got our training wheels on compared to other cities. Indianapolis’ total share of bike commuters grew from .2 percent at the start of the decade to just .5 percent near its close. In Minneapolis, by comparison, 3 percent of the population rides bikes to work. In Portland, the cycling commuter rate is nearly 6 percent.

The Indy Ride Guide includes both dedicated bike infrastructure and roadways.

Then a group of six volunteers decided to do something about it. These cycling and transit enthusiasts spent nearly 200 hours scrutinizing Google Maps images of Indianapolis in early 2012, noting both the presence or absence of road curbs and the width of lanes throughout the city. Their efforts were focused on a common goal – making bike-riding easier with a special new tool. While collecting road data may not be the most enthralling task, the volunteers were committed to help produce a bike map, The Indy Ride Guide, designed to make cycling Indianapolis both safe and exciting.

The Indy Ride Guide, a joint project of IndyCog and local urban designer Brian Staresnick, seeks to do two things. Staresnick, a landscape architect who works with RATIO Architects, had time to contribute to a community effort, and his interest in utilizing data to improve urban living brought him to the project. The first goal of the team is to make riding a bike an accessible and safe option throughout the community. The second goal is to highlight and celebrate Indianapolis’ bike infrastructure, by adding a layer of compelling design to a map that is largely built on data and algorithms. The Central Indiana Community Foundation provided support to the project.


Making the Important Interesting

In addition to the curbs counted and lane widths collected by volunteers, Staresnick has collected information from the Metropolitan Planning Office and the Department of Public Works including traffic counts and posted speed limits for the map. Using the Clark Index, an algorithm that considers road traffic, speed, widths, curbs and other factors, Staresnick transformed that data into a map that includes roadways, greenways and bike trails throughout the county.

“Designers have to make the important interesting,” says Staresnick. “So, we’re taking all this data, but we’re making a map that is interesting and useful.”

IndyCog bike map detail
Brian Staresnick and Pivot Marketing staff combined road data and design for the bike map, aiming to create an attractive and useful tool.

In addition to data-crunching, Kevin Whited, Executive Director of IndyCog, wanted to create a tool that provides valuable information about cycling while it creates enthusiasm for the city. IndyCog worked with Pivot Marketing, a local ad agency, to develop the Indy Ride Guide’s design and written content. Pivot’s input includes city highlights and facts, as well as information on safety, all in a tone that sounded less like a school-marm than like a friend.

“When you’re dealing with bike safety, or any map really, it’s often really straightforward and boring,” says Kate Franzman, Editorial Director at Pivot Marketing. “We really tried to make the instructions and the copy on the map friendly and even a little cheeky.”

The group also aims to make the map a “collector’s item” with design-focused graphics and tentative plans to reimagine the overall design on a regular basis.


A Map for the Masses, Refined by Committee

Beyond GIS mapping and city data, IndyCog used input from cyclists and other urban planning advocates to refine the map. At public meetings, frequent riders gave their input on the relative safety and stress levels associated with a variety of roadways.

“There weren’t that many surprises,” says Kevin Whited. “But the public meetings added subjective information that makes the map better.”

IndyCog plans to distribute the Indy Ride Guide through boutiques and other local businesses. On October 10, the bike map will get its own launch party.

“We want the map to be exciting, for it to be definitively branded as Indianapolis,” says Staresnick. “But most of all, we’re hoping that the people start riding their bikes all over the city.”

More about CICF's support of Inspiring Places.