On May 25, Metro releases the ninth edition of its Bike There! map, featuring 1,500-plus miles of on- and off-street bicycle routes stretching to the far reaches of the Portland metropolitan region.
Bike There! is more than a map. It's a chronicle of a region's growing interest and investments in bicycling for fun, commuting and getting things done. It's also a tool to get more people interested in trying bicycling occasionally or frequently, Metro program staff and bicycle advocates say.
"It is such a valuable resource, both for finding a comfortable route to a destination and for discovering the growing network of off-street paths across the region," said Bicycle Transportation Alliance deputy director Stephanie Noll. "We teach route planning as a key skill for having a comfortable and successful experience bike commuting for the first time, and Metro's Bike There! map is the go-to resource."
But in the age of Google Maps and Strava, why do a paper map at all? What sets Bike There! apart? Here are several reasons Bike There! is special.
Its ancestors go back a hundred years in the region.
The region's first bicycle map was created in 1896 by the Multnomah Wheelmen. As the Portland Tribune reported in 2010, the "Cyclist's Road Map of Portland District" provided information about the quality of road surfaces, topography, and – interestingly – taverns where a rider could find some refreshment on long rides. "Good" and "Fair" routes were depicted, a precursor to the suitability ratings on today's Bike There! map. The map's territory stretched well beyond what became the 25 cities of the Metro region, most of which were then small towns or hamlets if they existed at all.
It wasn't until 1979, as cycling resurged in popularity in Portland, that a group of geography students at Portland State University worked with Portland transportation planners to develop the city's first 20th-century bicycle map.
Forty percent of the region's population wasn't even born when the first Bike There! map was released in 1983.
Like a lot of members of the Millennial generation, Bike There! was born in the early 1980s. It had a slightly less catchy name when it was first launched: "Getting there by bike." Created painstakingly by hand, it was printed on waterproof Tyvek that couldn't be torn but also created concerns about sustainability and recycling.
And it had a lot more red ink than today's map – marking routes considered less than ideal for most riders. Indeed, only a few routes, mostly in inner Portland, were marked as "highly suitable" for bicycling. And extremely complicated diagrams were needed to tell riders how to get on Portland's Willamette River bridges, in the years before the Hawthorne, Morrison, Broadway and Burnside bridges all had their bike facilities upgraded.
But the poor state of the region's bike network back then served as an inspiration: "get the red out" became a mantra for regional and local planners trying to knit together a safe and accessible bike network.
The difference is in the ratings.
Bike There! does more than show where bike lanes, sharrows and trails are. Instead, Bike There! provides users of various skill levels information to help them choose the most comfortable route for their abilities. Thirty-six different variables play a role in determining suitability scores – everything from speed of auto traffic to degree of separation to quality of signs and pavement.
"The idea is to simplify things and create a product where anyone can quickly and easily determine a route that works for them. We’ve worked hard on making both the language and visual classifications for this edition easier to understand," said lead cartographer Matthew Hampton.
For the first time in this edition, all that data is fully integrated with Metro's Regional Land Information System, which means it can be more easily and quickly updated for future paper editions and the free online, mobile-friendly version of the map.
More routes, more destinations – less money.
The ninth edition of Bike There! features 333 more miles of on-street routes and 316 more miles of off-street routes – an increase of more than 50 percent. All the added miles are partially a reflection of new bikeways built since the last edition was released in 2010 – including the Tilikum Crossing and other routes with the Portland Milwaukie Light Rail project, new trails like the Powerline Trail in Washington County and Gresham MAX Path and new north-south bike lanes in Hillsboro.
Another big contributor to the increase in routes is better data from local jurisdictions, which are designating more local streets as bike routes and helping identify key neighborhood connections, Hampton said.
For the first time, the map also shows trails suitable for off-road biking in the region, including Powell Butte, the Sandy River Delta and the Cazadero Trail outside Boring.
You'd think packing all that extra bike goodness in would mean a higher cost – but the ninth edition of Bike There! actually features a 33 percent cost cut – from $9 to just $6. (The online version of the map is free.)
Another first for this edition: a color scheme that is legible for people with deuteranopia, or red-green color blindness, which affects as much as ten percent of adult males.
This edition honors someone who helped make it possible.
The ninth edition of Bike There! is dedicated to Mark Bosworth, a Metro GIS analyst and avid cyclist who was instrumental in creating several editions of Bike There! in 22 years at Metro.
Bosworth helped modernize how data for the map is collected and organized, Hampton said. But he was also a good friend and passionate advocate for helping people discover bicycling. "He had a playful spirit, super kind," Hampton said.
Bosworth disappeared September 16, 2011, in Riddle, Oregon while volunteering with the 2011 Cycle Oregon ride. He hasn't been seen since.
"When work on this edition started up, I was really sad he wasn't around," Hampton said. "I don't think Bike There! would be what it is without his work." So, Hampton said, he decided it would be appropriate to honor Bosworth's contributions and spirit with a special dedication.
Bosworth's family and friends created the Mark Bosworth Fund to continue spreading his love of cycling. The fund – now in its third year – sponsors first-time riders in the Cycle Oregon ride. The 2015 recipients were announced April 19, and include Monique Ybarra, Emily Meagher and Chris and Jenn Basham.
Pick up your copy of the ninth edition of Bike There! at local bike shops, bookstores and outdoor sports retailers beginning May 25.