A new digital mapping tool is changing the way bikers interact with their environment, providing real-time, crowdsourced data that aims to keep cyclists of all skill levels safe.
The website — www.bikemaps.org — was launched earlier this month, and was developed by University of Victoria professor Trisalyn Nelson as a way to provide cyclists with everything they need to know before embarking on their next biking trip.
"People who are avid cyclists have a sense of where it's safe and where it's not safe, but new riders often don't have that information, so this is kind of a mechanism we can use to crowdsource existing experience and knowledge to make cycling safer for everyone," Nelson said.
The site allows users to map pertinent information along their route, like safety hazards, construction sites and hotspots for theft, that is meant to supplement crash data provided through insurance companies.
"Cycling safety data is not well captured by standard sources," Nelson said. "In B.C., most of it's recorded by ICBC, which requires that you've had a cycling incident with a vehicle that's resulted in an insurance claim. So you can imagine that's a pretty small proportion of incidents overall."
Since launching Oct. 6, Bike Maps has attracted over 7,000 unique visitors to the site, and now has over 380 locations pinpointed in seven countries, including several in Whistler, where Nelson and her team visited in August to discuss the project with municipal planners.
"With hazard mapping in a city, people are driving around and you can send a crew out to cruise the streets, but hazard mapping in a place like Whistler where some of those trails are pretty hard to get to, it's much more difficult," she said. "So I think there's some real potential to see this in Whistler."
Nelson envisions the site as a database of sorts for transportation planners who can use up-to-date rider volume information to plan future assets for cyclists and mountain bikers.
"Perhaps the road cycling community could use that information to identify areas of Highway 99 and other popular routes that get a lot of road cycling traffic, and we could advocate for improved highway shoulder paving and maintenance," wrote Whistler Cycling Club president Frank Savage in an email.
The next step for Bike Maps is rolling out a phone app, which will notify users of any new reported hazards along their route, and allow them to upload geo-tagged photos warning other riders of potential pitfalls. It will also include a function that will outline the safest route to take after users punch in an origin and destination.
A similar crowdsourced database was launched by mountain biking website PinkBike this month, called TrailForks. With a particular focus on backcountry trails, it was designed as a platform for trail associations and riders to keep track of changing conditions and log any maintenance work done.
"It's really good for increasing communication and helping us know what's going on," said the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association's director of trails, Tim Andrews. "It automatically logs all the trail work being done, and as a (trail) manager you can get good use out of that."