Athens residents and visitors looking for the best way to pedal around the city will soon have a new way to plan their trip. A new online mapping application created by UGA’s Community Mapping Lab will provide a fresh look at the most bike-friendly streets to get around the city. Created through a collaboration with local non-profit BikeAthens, the map highlights both the strengths of local biking infrastructure, such as multi-use paths and dedicated bike lanes. But it also shows that much work still remains to do.

The idea for this map first came from a conversation between Scott Long, the executive director of BikeAthens, and Dr. Jerry Shannon, Associate Professor in the departments of Geography and Financial Planning, Housing, and Consumer Economics, in August 2019. BikeAthens had created several previous biking maps of the city, but all were created as paper maps, and the last one was eleven years old. 

Since that initial conversation, four undergraduates in Dr. Shannon’s lab have worked on this project: Regina Nasrallah, Emilie Castillo, Olivia Gilliam, and Sam Shuster. Their jobs included getting initial public feedback on the factors most important for bikers in planning a route, running thousands of simulated routes through online mapping software, and designing a web interface that works across multiple platforms. The original plan was to solicit feedback on proposed routes at the many events hosted by BikeAthens. COVID has made that difficult, but the working group still hopes to gather feedback through an online survey with the map’s release. Dr. Alison Smith and Dr. Doug Pardue, faculty in the College of Environment and Design, also contributed to this effort, as did BikeAthens board president Jason Perry and ACC Bike Pedestrian Coordinator Daniel Sizemore.

The resulting map is available on the BikeAthens website. In addition to suggesting the best streets for bike riders, it also marks areas with steep inclines, transit stops, and local amenities. Dr. Shannon says that the shift from paper maps to a web application is important. “The online map can be carried around on the phone in your pocket, and we can update routes or amenities when things change.” The online map is also much easier to produce and distribute.

The map rates roads in four categories: Strongly preferred, Preferred, Use with caution, and Use only when necessary. Streets in this last category, such as sections of Atlanta Highway or Highway 29, are often the only ways to get across town, yet they rarely offer protections from high speed auto traffic.

“People often ask us the best ways to get around town on a bike. Having this resource for bike riders in Athens will help people get around a bit easier and safer. We will always need better facilities and infrastructure to connect different parts of town, and this map will help people take advantage of what we do have and also highlight new connections.” Scott Long stated.

While online services like Google Maps can still provide the fastest routes for a single trip, the collaborators behind this map hope that it can help new riders plan for the best ways to make daily trips around Athens. In future years, this map can inform local planning for future bike infrastructure projects, such as a new separated bike lane planned on Barber Street.

“We are in a time of very rapid expansion of active transportation infrastructure throughout Athens,” said Long, “and this dynamic map will be able to keep up with the changes in a way that a paper map never could.”

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