Do you feel comfortable riding a bike in your neighborhood? Image by Patrick licensed under Creative Commons.

“Low stress maps” that show which streets in an area are easiest to bike on are all the rage these days. Fairfax County is the latest to publish one.

Maps are a good way to find a route between two points, obviously. But for people traveling by bike, the straightest line usually isn't the only concern. Most cyclists want to know not only how to get to where they're going but whether or not they'll be safe on the trip. Roads that are popular for driving rarely make good roads for cycling when there's no dedicated bike infrastructure.

Building a network of bike lanes is a great way to make cycling easier and more appealing, but that can take a long time. That's where the low-stress map comes in;  even without protected bikeways or bike lanes, many places do have routes that, if people only knew about them, are nice and easy on cyclists.

Fairfax's bicycle stress map zoomed in on Merrifield and Dunn Loring. Image by Fairfax County.

The map ranks roads by how comfortable someone might feel while riding a bike on it. “Comfortable” roads, which are roads where anyone could feel at ease riding a bike in the street, are marked in green. Beyond having infrastructure designed for cyclists, a road might be listed as comfortable because of lower speed limits or fewer cars using it.

Beyond those marked comfortable, there are other roads that are still a pretty good option for experienced cyclists. These are marked in blue and yellow as “somewhat comfortable” and “less comfortable.” There are also roads that are only recommended for the most intrepid of cyclists, marked in gray as “use caution.” These roads are usually places where cars travel at higher speeds.

Trails are marked in purple, with unpaved trails getting a dashed line. The map also points out train stations and bike stops for people looking to add a bicycle route to a transit trip or people who may need to make a pit stop.

Montgomery and Arlington Counties already have low-stress maps for their communities. You can find an interactive version of Fairfax's online, where you can zoom in on your neighborhood and see what options are available. The county also has a print version, which it started giving out before Bike to Work Day last week. You can see a PDF of the back of the map, which includes all kinds of info, from tips for beginners to descriptions of local trails to trail and safety etiquette and beyond, here.

To make Fairfax safe for bicycling, we still have a ways to go

The map does also show the limitations of biking around Fairfax. Almost every major road is functionally off limits to cyclists. Low stress alternatives are not always available and even then it may require long detours which adds time to a cyclists trip for no reason other than some roads are simply too dangerous.

Roads with bike lanes aren't a guarantee for low stress either. Even though bike lanes have been added to many streets in Annandale, none of those roads garnered better than a “somewhat comfortable” rating.

Do you bike in Fairfax? What do you notice about the map? Let us know in the comments.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Reston.