One challenge with bicycle maps his how complex they are, especially when it comes to the best trails. I made this more simple map, showing only the trails that are the regional biking equivalents to highways:




Most bike maps are great at the local scale, but practically useless regionally. Compare Google’s highway map for the DC region with its bike map at the same scale. Notice on the highway map how the most important roads pop out, with clearly defined lines that easily show the best driving routes. Then notice how the bike map is a muddled mess of criss-crossing lines and minor trail segments.


Images from Google Maps.


At the local scale all those little trail segments can be important. But at the regional scale it’s useless information. At the regional scale I just want to know where the best and longest trails are, in relatively simple geographic terms. I want a highway map for bike trails.

Thus my map, showing only the largest trails. I didn’t put a huge amount of thought into it, nor did I spend a lot of time making the map as pretty as it could be. This is just an exercise.

A more dedicated and useful mapping effort might be to overlay the “bike highways” identified here atop the official regional maps, using a thick line that clearly indicates the importance of these routes. A stronger effort might also establish some objective standards for which trails to include, since arguments could be made that I left some important ones out.

But at the very least, this should help to visualize where the major biking corridors of the region exist.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post .