Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


Plan your next bike trip with BikePlanner.org

If you bike in the Washington region, it just got a little easier to figure out your route thanks to a new tool, BikePlanner.org, that launched today.


A Capital Bikeshare trip planned on BikePlanner.org.

BikePlanner.org lets you choose a start and end point and find the best bike route. Other tools like Google Maps already give bike directions, but this one does much more. If you want to take the trip on Capital Bikeshare, it will plan walking directions to and from appropriate CaBi stations, and even integrate real-time information about which stations have bikes and free docks.

There's often not one single, best bike route between two points. Some routes might be faster but hillier. Some routes involve more off-street trails, cycle tracks, and bike lanes. By default, BikePlanner.org evenly balances making the route quick, flat and (perceptibly) safe, but a triangular control lets you change the tradeoffs.

It's fun just to see what it would come up with for the absolute quickest route, or the flattest, and so on. Most maps don't tell you at all how hilly a route would be, and sometimes it can be quite a surprise when you try it.

OpenPlans, collaborating with BikeArlington, built the tool using publicly available, open source data about streets and bike paths from the OpenStreetMap project, where all kinds of people contribute geographic data, wiki style, that can become a part of tools like this one. You can too!

BikePlanner.org is similar to a New York tool, cibi.me, that OpenPlans put together after New York released proposed locations for its upcoming Citibikes bike sharing system. cibi.me let New Yorkers directly figure out how Citibikes could help them in their everyday trips. BikePlanner.org, though, will also plan a trip by personal bike without regard for CaBi locations.

The neat triangular routing tool comes from OpenPlans' OpenTripPlanner, powers Portland's TriMet trip planner. Since Portland has so many people biking or combining bikes and transit, TriMet wanted to be sure its planner let people plan a trip to bike to a transit station, ride transit, then bike to a destination. Of course, all other transit agencies would benefit from a similar feature.

Give it a try!

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Looks neat. Unfortunately, we're stuck on IE 8 at work, and the bike routes won't show up at all. Alas.

by Gray on Aug 9, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

I like the ability to weight your route based on safety, speed, and grade.

One thing that I think would be a huge improvement, would be the ability to drag a waypoint on your route to force it to show alternates.

For example, even with the weights set to 100% safe, the route takes me on a street that is four lanes, has high speeds, and is fairly steep (weighting for low grades also sends me on this street). When I actually bike it, though, I can add less than 0.25 miles and bike on quiet residential streets.

by Matt Johnson on Aug 9, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

Looks interesting, but the first route I tested has a non-trivial bug. To go from downtown Silver Spring to Bethesda, it is strongly biased towards staying on East West Hwy vs taking the Georgetown branch trail east of Jones Mill Road. I think I isolated the problem to the fact that the trail includes a bridge over a creek. The program clearly doesn't know a bridge is there so it thinks there is a very steep downhill & uphill. Therefore, if flatness is valued at all, the program avoids including the trail section with the bridge.

Given that Google also can use GIS topography data, this is probably one reason they don't when mapping routes. There's a level of individual edits that are required to make such a system work. Hopefully bikeplanner will get these edits & improve over time. Right now, there's no way to even suggest a correction except through the generic comment box on the openplans website.

by Dan H on Aug 9, 2012 3:07 pm • linkreport

Looks good! When they iron out the kinks, it'll be great. For me, every trip, no matter the route, is 33% on safest, fastest, and quickest.

by xavier on Aug 9, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

Cool!

by Jasper on Aug 9, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

Maybe it's good in DC, but my daily commute from Quince Orchard Rd in Gaithersburg to the NIH in Bethesda was planned by this thing totally wrong, no matter how I played with the triangle (and the route they suggested as 100% safe... no, not at all!). I could not drag the route or see the bike paths either, those things are sorely missed, compared with Google. The idea is good, but I would not trust it at this point.

by Dmitry on Aug 9, 2012 4:02 pm • linkreport

xavier:
You can drag the little circle around the triangle to change how much you want the program to consider all those three elements in deciding the route.

by MLD on Aug 9, 2012 4:04 pm • linkreport

@Dan H -- Nice investigation! You're right that there are still problems with the route data.

In general you should submit changes yourself in OpenStreetMap (that's where OpenPlans gets the data)! Go to OpenStreetMap.org, click Edit, read the directions, and make the change.

I believe I have fixed your problem by tagging the nodes at the edge of the bridge (and the bridge itself) with "ele = 68", the approximate elevation in meters. The next time they update their data, it will be there automatically.

by Matt Caywood on Aug 9, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the comments! We're particularly interested to know what folks think about the routes provided.

As David Alpert mentioned in the post this site depends on street and bike lane information from OpenStreetMap.

In many of these cases mentioned above it's easy to fix a bad route simply by updating OpenStreetMap. Anyone can do it! Just surf over to http://www.openstreetmap.org and sign up for an account.

We'll be running a training later this month to show folks how to correct the data with biking/routing in mind. We've been working on improvements for the core DC and Arlington area this summer but there's still more to do. And we would particularly appreciate feedback and edits from MD cyclists!

by Kevin on Aug 9, 2012 4:20 pm • linkreport

Expanding on the "drag waypoints idea": I would love if this were not just enabled, but would also have a feedback on the triangle, i.e.: I drag the track and _then_ the triangle shows what it thinks about _my_ route. Kind of the already existing algorithm reversal. Even more exposure, with [color-coded] weights that the system has assigned to segments of my route would be ultimately perfect.

by Dmitry on Aug 9, 2012 4:29 pm • linkreport

A few streets on my route (not safe and not that fast - but that is hardly their fault) are not labeled.

by Jazzy on Aug 9, 2012 4:29 pm • linkreport

I would love to try this, but for some reason our filter is blocking it. :p

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 9, 2012 4:35 pm • linkreport

I tested my regular commute and I think it was fairly accurate as to safest, gradient and speed in terms of route suggestions. Interesting it tells me the distance is 8 miles whereas googlemaps claims it's 7.5. And my "map my ride" says even less. Also, going the 8 miles is not a 50 minute journey. My worst time (save for flat tire days) was when I had a horrible sore throat, it was cold out and there were constant 20mph gusts in my face... that's when it was 45 minutes. Best is 28 minutes. Typical is probably 33-36 minutes. And this is all on a hybrid, including time waiting for lights, etc. So I'm trying to figure out how it figured 48 minutes unless it assumes I'm a very slow biker.

by T11 on Aug 9, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

T11, quick comment about the speed. We're assuming an *average* bike speed of 11mph (which would put you at 43 mins for an 8 mile journey). We also adjust slightly based on terrain and penalties for turns -- which is likely where the 48 mins comes from.

That said, the 11mph assumption is adjustable. In fact, in future version we're planning to add a small slider bar that let's users adjust their bike speed preference.

Also, we should note that we're planning bike share trips as being slightly slower than owned bike trips (we're using 9.6 mph as the default). We got this based on analysis we ran over the summer using CaBi trip data (more about that here:http://openplans.org/2012/06/13/how-does-bikeshare-stack-up-to-transit/).

We all know from personal experience that bikeshare bikes aren't as fast as most street bike but it's an open question if we got this default right. We'd love folks input on this!

Also, we'll make these assumptions more transparent in future versions of the site.

by Kevin on Aug 9, 2012 5:01 pm • linkreport

@T11:

Speed is a very subjective thing, there are cyclists of all ability levels around, and I guess they went for the lowest common denominator (for my 14 miles they are off by 20 min from the real thing).

I guess the best suggestion here would be for them to include a slider control where you can set your average speed.

by Dmitry on Aug 9, 2012 5:01 pm • linkreport

Great to see this - I was just wondering how I might get to my new job via bike, and now I have some options to try out.

by DCster on Aug 9, 2012 7:31 pm • linkreport

I'm at home so I can really try this now. I bike from near glebe and 50 to clarendon most often and the route that puts a little more weight to flat/safety is basically only a block off what I assumed was fastest while I got it right on the fastest route but yeah you have to deal with a busier road.

by drumz on Aug 9, 2012 8:23 pm • linkreport

I think it needs work. For my commute from downtown to Friendship Heights it wants to use Reno Rd even when I ask for the safest routing. The DC Bike Map indicates Reno is a poor choice. My personal observations of it would confirm this (note to David Albert - a speed camera every 10 feet on this road would not be too much).

by JeffB on Aug 9, 2012 8:44 pm • linkreport

@JeffB

You raise a really good point.

Right now we're relying on the OSM roadway type to classify the "safety" for routes. There are additional criteria that designate improved bikability (e.g additional bike facilities like designated bike routes or striped lanes) but there's no standardized way to classify a road that's *not* recommended for biking.

That's a problem because not all roads of the same class are the same from a cycling perspective.

Reno is a great example. It's listed as a tertiary, two-lane road but is a terrible bike route. But there are lots of other tertiary two lane roads that are fine -- including ones listed as fair or good on the DC bike map.

We solved this problem in the Portland OTP deployment by using the Oregon Metro route maps to tag bicycle "caution areas." Because OSM doesn't offer a tag to express this we had to create our own Metro specific tag (RLIS:bicycle=caution_area -- "RLIS" being the Metro Oregon GIS data source we used).

Now that we're applying this in other jurisdictions, and are lucky enough to have data like the DC Bike Map as a guide, we should develop a better, more generic tagging convention and make sure this data can be considered by the routing engine.

At the risk of going into too much detail, the tagging design gets kind of tricky (likely why OSM punted on the problem). Unlike roadway type and facilities which are objective measures (a road has a striped bike lane or not), a "caution area" is a bit more subjective. In fact different groups might even have different classifications for the same road. This means that you care not only that a road is a "caution area" but also who says this.

There are even cases where the same organization might send mixed messages about a specific route. For example, looking at the DDOT map there are places, such as 1st NE near Dave Thomas Circle, where they list a road both as a "signed/designated route" and a being a "poor" route choice. Yikes!

This gets hard for sure, but there are ways to handle this and we should. Highlighting caution areas is an important thing to do and we're lucky enough to have the data thanks to the hard work from folks in our local governments.

I'll get our team to weigh in on how to solve the tagging problem and we'll put this on the list of data items to fix at our upcoming bike mapping event (date TBD). With a couple of folks helping we could probably tag all the caution areas in DC in a few hours. Depending on data availability we should do the same thing for the surrounding counties.

In the meantime, keep the feedback coming!

by Kevin on Aug 9, 2012 11:26 pm • linkreport

If I push it all the way to quickest, I almost always get the routes I choose. I guess I'm rather cavalier about safety and I fear not hills. But sometimes it just insists on going a different way then what I would choose. For example, I always choose Mass Ave over Florida Ave - even though they're parallel.

by David C on Aug 9, 2012 11:46 pm • linkreport

Trend at my office is blocking the site.

by don on Aug 10, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

I can access the site, but after putting in start and end points, I don't get the route. Am i missing a step? Is there a "calculate" button somewhere I'm missing? thanks.

by MrTinDC on Aug 10, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

@MrTinDC, no you are not missing anything. The route should display as soon as you pick a start and end point. If you don't get a route, try moving the start or end point very slightly. Sometimes there can be small dead zones that don't calculate. Let us know if you continue to have problems, info@bikearlington.com

by Chris Eatough on Aug 10, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

@MrTinDC

The lack of a route seems to be browser-dependent. E.g., a route never shows up for me in Opera, works fine Firefox, and is spotty in Chrome.

I assume when they've had a chance to do more usability testing, it should work everywhere.

by Shalom on Aug 10, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

Open Plan are looking into browser compatibility. Firefox and Chrome seem the most reliable at this time.

by Chris Eatough on Aug 10, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

The bikeplanner site has no functionality for me, it's just a nice map, must be my IE 8.0 browser at work.

by OutsideTheLaw on Aug 10, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

The days I bike to work, I'm going from Alexandria to the Suitland Federal Center; the only route it will give me for any combo is the one across Wilson Bridge then eventually up St Barnabas Road (which is not bike friendly at all. I normally take the 14th street bridge and go though town, I wonder if that is too far off the the most direct route (it's about 13 vs 11.5 miles) for this app to provide it as an option. (Google maps fwiw, does preferentially take me through town)

by Kolohe on Aug 10, 2012 5:14 pm • linkreport

Bikeplanner has been down for almost 2 months. Anyone know if it's coming back and when?

by Leigh Ann on Aug 7, 2013 1:02 pm • linkreport

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