Happy Maps - Help your council make Space for Cycling

Space for Cycling in Bristol, photo: Flickr CC, samsaundersleeds
To really get people out of cars and onto bikes, it is necessary to create a full network of cycle-friendly infrastructure, not just piecemeal schemes that make the odd junction safer. Local groups around the country have been helping their council achieve this aim. Cycling UK’s Space for Cycling Campaigns Officer Tom Guha investigates.

“Network planning” is not exactly a phrase that gets the pulse racing for most people. Mention it to your average person in the street and you can expect one of two responses; a puzzled, blank expression or a sullen face like that of someone trapped in a lift with an in-law that has a passion for collecting paperclips.

But for cycling, it need not remain a banal obscurity. Every day we travel on networks – whether by train, foot, car or a combination. And it's no different for cycling, however these networks tend to be fragmented and evidence suggests that this may be one of the biggest barriers to everyday cycling in Britain.

So, if we can get past the jargon, “network planning” may become a phrase we add to our lexicon. Perhaps it needs a refreshed, punchier name. To take heed from the teenagers of the mid-noughties, how about a “happy map”? After all, evidence that cycling increases happiness is well documented. Whatever works for you, these happy maps, or network plans, are going to become the cornerstone for our Space for Cycling campaign in the years ahead.

Keep it local

Local campaign groups across the country have started producing these maps. Using their insight and experience as people who cycle regularly, they are starting to clearly illustrate to their council where a network of high-quality cycle infrastructure is best prioritised.

I didn’t expect the level of political engagement I received. I had Councillors on the phone, working with me to accurately portray the map. The key was creating something that simplified a very complex network into something even a child can understand.” Adam Reynolds, Cycle Bath. 

By using an easily navigable “tube map” format, local groups have been able to capture the imaginations of local press, politicians and public alike. In 2014, the Bristol Cycling Campaign drew up the first of these maps, clearly illustrating where they believed council money for cycling would be best spent.

Using Google Maps, they started by highlighting key routes following the most direct lines on the best gradients. These almost invariably followed the main A-Road network. They then filled in some other necessary links but aimed to keep the design simple, so that the map was still recognisably Bristol.

Parts of the network that followed main roads became “protected superhighways”, while parts that followed quiet roads became “quietways”. Using rough estimates that superhighways cost £250k/km and Quietways cost £100k/km, the group estimated their network would cost £109 million over 12 years, amounting to a cost of £16 per head per year. As a result of their hard work, Bristol Council adopted the map as an aspirational target and included it in their Cycle Strategy document.

Eric Booth, Chair of the Bristol Cycling Campaign said; “the aim was to get the ball rolling. Bristol Council had lots of great ideas but we needed to set out a network for them to work towards. By starting the job for them, we helped them begin to realise their ambitions."

Just down the road, Cycle Bath recently produced its very own Bath Cycle Network Quality Map. Composed using Google Drawing, the Bath map sets out where good quality provision exists but clearly highlights the gaps in the network.

Adam Reynolds of Cycle Bath, and one of the chief designers of the map, said “I didn’t expect the level of political engagement I received. I had Councillors on the phone, working with me to accurately portray the map. The key was creating something that simplified a very complex network into something even a child can understand”.

These maps can be drawn up in a variety of different ways. It is possible just to highlight routes manually on a map and then annotate on Powerpoint to make a neat looking tube style map. Others use tools such as the Propensity to Cycle Tool, which uses data sets to predict where the greatest potential for cycling lies given different scenarios of cycle use.

Over to you - let's plan, invest and build Space for Cycling

Whatever your level of expertise, we can help you produce one of these. Our aim is to get councils across the country to plan, invest in and build high quality cycle networks. By producing one of these maps, you can help them along the first step.  

Having reflected on which way seems to be the most straightforward, we think Google's My Maps is the one to try.

If you would like to produce a “Happy Map” or if you have graphic design skills that may help others produce one, please get in touch with Tom Guha.

For more guidance on how to produce these maps, please come along to a Space for Cycling roadshow event near you