For a year or two already I have been playing with the idea to design a cycling map that covers Ottawa’s multi use pathway network, as a true connected network. Not with the green wiggly bits and pieces you can find on Google, or the red lines on GeoOttawa, or the large combined printed map from the twin cities and the NCC, but a clear map that shows the network for people who are not familiar with our network system yet.
The annual Ottawa Bicycle Map is a great improvement, but I found it is not really honest in its safe cycling sometimes: Bronson as a suggested cycling route?
There are also maps available from Heritage Canada, but to my shock and horror, I noticed that it is a car specific map, even though it has nice green lines along the canal and the Farm. I had always assumed it was a bike map, until I took a closer look and realised it is catering to motorists first. Now I understand why the Arboretum MUP was missing!!
The Google and City of Ottawa/NCC/Gatineau maps out there are mostly an inventory of cycling facilities, for which it is really useful, but not so much for the visitor who doesn’t know the city.
The BikeOttawa on line maps are another great searchable resource for routes. The great benefit of these on line maps are their interactive options to find a safe route depending on your ‘level of stress’ requirements.
The lack of a small but clear map became apparent now I work at Escape Bicycle Tours & Rentals, where renters often ask for suggestions where to go. We tend to use the Heritage Canada maps as they are easiest to take with you. But it isn’t always covering what I’d like to share with visitors. It only stretches from the Aviation Pkwy to Island Park Dr.
Each map serves a purpose, but what I feel is often missing is that scrappy 8.5″ x 11″/A4 map that sits in your pocket. We once did a bike tour in Chicago with exactly that, an 8.5″ x 11″ printed B/W map. It was the best.
Then there are the electronic maps, through Komoot, Map my Ride, Strava and their ilk. I do use that too and its great to share or download those routes. Sometimes though, it is just nice to pull a map from your pocket, look where you are or be able to ask a local to show on the map where the heck you are. Every year I meet people at the locks or the Farm who try to figure out where they are supposed to go next. Not everyone uses cell phones and e-maps.
Node based network
Not only is a proper map missing, we also badly need wayfinding. As you know, I am very much enamoured with the numbered node system in the Netherlands. It is the way to go for Ottawa. I wrote about it, I presented at the NCC and I think Ottawa is ready for it, but setting it up is a major investment in knowledge. It also requires a proper long term strategy. 2020 is probably not the best year to ask the mayor for a wayfinding system for the future. Numbered nodes require signs (albeit very small) on the ground as a minimum.
Instead I decided to design something myself that meets the needs of visitors and residents who are not all that familiar with our cycling network. But rather than having the numbered nodes, I chose for nodes referring to existing landmarks, perhaps the next best workable thing after a numbered wayfinding system.
This winter, I started to read a few blogs on how others draw these maps and one approach that I liked at that time was taking a photo of a map, and bring it in as a base layer in GIMP, of which I know some basics.
So I tried that and send it around on social media. The reception was great, but I realised Gimp didn’t really work for the fine tuning. After getting sucked more into the map making and cartography blogs and websites rabbit hole, I learned that free open source Inkscape is another tool to build maps. (Readers know the key word in my blog is ‘free’). An extra benefit of Inkscape for me is that you can work with vectors, allowing you to resize your drawings.
What to include
As usual, the more you know, the less you know. New questions arose: what font size to use, which colours to use, which level of detail, which information, following real paths or a subway style map or some mix of the two? I also decided to start with the inner Greenbelt area else the map becomes unreadable.
The area of the map covers around 25 x 16 km or about 40,000 ha. Here are some screenshots from other cities from Google with a similar area compared to Ottawa’s inner Greenbelt and parts of the Greenbelt (these screenshots also show trails and on-road bike lanes):
Focus on visitors
While working on the map, I set a few -perhaps arbitrary- rules, as I had to start somewhere.
– focus on the area mostly inside the Greenbelt for now;
– draw simplified routes, but leave the nodes in their geographic place;
– only add pathways and raised bike lanes that are connected, in other words the true network; I made an exception for the Experimental Farm for the roads are very quiet and closed in weekends. This means that not all pathways are included. I have also left out all the short connections coming from neighbourhoods as it clutters the map too much.
– add a few very modest missing links that are safe enough for an 8 year old to complete an otherwise interesting loop;
– add connections to rail transit where useful;
– choose a larger font so that it is easier to read for 55+rs
– In order to have a workable scale, I left Gatineau and the Ottawa exurbs out; this will be phase 2
First version online now
I am putting draft versions out on line and love to hear some feedback. (note, since publishing the first map I added updated versions with a number of additions based on reader feedback). I know it is not complete yet but I also didn’t want to wait until the summer is over, nor wait until it is perfect (I took a page from Microsoft here). I’ll keep working on it. I am hoping it will be used and if not, I learned at least a new skill or two. 🙂 Thanks to the loyal following on Twitter for the input provided already. More to come such as ‘end stations’, perhaps bike repair stations. But there is only so much space on an 8.5 x 11…..Below you find a list of updates based on feedback I received.
June 2 2020 updates on Ottawa Cycling network map
- Added the train bridge at Ottawa GeeGees across the Rideau River near Hurdman
- Corrected the name of the Canadian Museum of History
- Add a route in Bells Corners to connect two MUPs. This includes a bit more residential roads and even an arterial (might use the sidewalk) than I would like to, but it completes a loop with and adds a guideline for Bells Corners residents to connect to the network.
- Added a node at Carleton Heights, Andrew Haydon Park, DND and Moodie
- Added MUP on Moodie and extended along Carling
- Added a line (bottom left-vertical) with the size of the map coverage (25 x 15 km approx)
- Added connection between Corktown bridge and Ottawa U to make the connection more obvious
- Added Adawe Crossing name
June 29 updates
- Made the nodes bigger so they stand out better
- Minor improvements in routes
- Changed a few node names to nearby parks
- Made the node names a bit smaller for a calmer impression of the map
- Added several arterial roads in a thin grey line for better orientation
Download the Ottawa Multi Use Pathway network map
Downloadable Ottawa MUP bicycle map
Here is the link to the 8.5″ x 11″/A4 map in PDF