Losing the Bike Path

Today’s map was brought to my attention by a reader, Tina, and comes from the Department of Parks and Urban Forestry in Verona, Wisconsin:


Detail of map - click for full PDF (515k). Obtained from ci.verona.wi.us, prepared by JN Design and Planning Services.

This is the city’s recommended bike loop for 2006 (the most recent available year on their website, at the time of this posting). The top of the map mentions that this is “Map 10.4.5,” which makes me worry that they’ve got a lot more of them somewhere.

There is plenty of needless detail on this map – the boundaries of every city lot are included, which is wholly unnecessary unless, as Tina suggests, “they really wanted riders to know that such-and-such a ride starts in front of the THIRD house from the corner of S. Main and W. Verona Ave, not the second.” If you start from the second one, the man there will probably come out waving a shotgun and yelling at you to get off of his property. The map is for your safety.

Needless detail is not harmless. This is a map about where to ride your bike – that means you need to be able to pick out a route following certain roads. On this map, you have to dig the roads out of all the clutter. Many of them aren’t even labeled, though most of the critical ones are. The lot boundaries, being in black, are the thing that stand out most on this map, and they’re exactly the thing that is least important. All the important stuff is in bright cyan and green, which is much harder to see against the white background.

There are a lot of non-functional labels here – consider “New Century School.” Where is it? I can’t tell. The label just sits there among a bunch of lots. The school is probably the biggest one nearby, but there’s no real connection between the label and any specific place. The parks, at least, have green dots in the middle, though, if you’re going to draw the park boundaries on the map, why not fill them in green rather than putting a dot in the middle? Unless the City of Verona, in fact, has a series of small circular parks (I am imagining them as having exactly one tree in the middle) surrounded by a barren lot. Perhaps full of broken glass and cinderblocks strewn about.

The whole bottom 20% of this map is waste – there are no bike paths marked anywhere in it. It was probably added so that the map fit a standard 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper.  Blank space on the page can be scary, I guess.

There are three kinds of bike loops drawn on this map. Two of them exist right now, and one is listed as “Nearly Existing Off-Road Multi-Use Path,” which suggests to me that it’s not quite complete and ready yet for usage (as of 2006).  Of the three line types (cyan, green, dashed green), which do you think is the one that marks a path that doesn’t yet exist?

No, it’s not the dashed one.

Dashed lines frequently mean things that aren’t finished, or are tentative, or uncertain on maps. But, on this map, a complete and functional path is indicated by a dashed line here, while one that doesn’t entirely exist yet is indicated by a solid line. Confusing at best.

A further confusion – the green line comes in dashed and solid varieties, as I say. But the solid green line is for an incompelete off-road path, while the dashed green is for a complete on-road path. So looking at the color won’t even tell you if it’s a road path or not. Using green for each implies a connection of some sort that does not exist.

There are a couple of other small problems here and there. The Sugar River, to the west of the map, disappears for a little while near the road. And, of course, I couldn’t let this go: “Epic System’s Campus,” with the incorrect apostrophe – the name of the company being Epic Systems.

One Nice Thing: Some of the items on the map besides the trails are indeed useful. Knowing where parks are is a good landmark for reference, and a possible destination for cyclists. Likewise with schools (if it were clearer where they were) – are also a good landmark, since this is going to be used by people familiar with the area who are likely to do at least some navigation based on the locations of things they know.

I leave off with a plug for a friend: Michigan Railroading. It is, as the name suggests, all the news that’s fit to blog about concerning the rails in my native land of Michigan.


7 Responses to “Losing the Bike Path”

  1. 1 Tina
    19th July, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Hilariously, though, I realized in reading this that the third house from the corner of W. Verona Rd and S. Main would actually also be the third house from the corner of Paoli Rd and S. Main, as all the lots on Main south of W. Verona Rd are commercial lots. Park Bank, World of Variety, Miller’s Grocery, a coffeehouse, etc.

    Although what this really says about me is that I spend far too much time in Verona.

  2. 20th July, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Cartographically, I would forgive most of the supposed flaws of this map, with the exception of the disastrous line symbology for the paths, which of course is certainly not insignificant. This is the kind of map that city planning (or parks this time) departments spit out of AutoCAD or something. Or in this case, “Design and Planning Services” contractors. They work fine for internal use. And I wouldn’t be against all those property parcels being important after all. This isn’t a bike map; it’s a planning map.

    The problem is that they decided that throwing this map on the city website under the “Bicycle Route Information” was a good idea. Wait, unless Verona is a colony of civic employees. I’d believe you if you told me that it is.

    Also, it’s been three years since these paths were “nearly existing.” That leaves me very uncertain about their current state. If nothing has changed, they might as well sneak in there and change that 6 to a 9 so that the map appears current.

    • 3 Tina
      20th July, 2009 at 10:54 pm

      Andy: I think you’re right about the planning map – it wouldn’t surprise me if the task of producing a town bike map got tossed to the general planning staff, who probably wanted to save themselves some time. I don’t know how well you know the area, but Verona has really exploded in development in the last four years or so, and some of these departments might be struggling to keep up. Since some of the incomplete trails are indeed complete now, they’re definitely behind in updating the map.

      Also, Daniel: I think the Sugar River disappears to indicate where there are bridges or some sort of overpass. I make no claims about the logic of this approach; I’m guessing based upon my knowledge of the trails and local terrain.

      • 4 Daniel Huffman
        21st July, 2009 at 10:33 am

        There are a few spots where it does indeed look like it’s passing under a bridge, but there seems to be one on the far edge of the map that doesn’t look road-like. But it is rather hard to interpret, especially because roads are just gaps in lots, rather than being directly drawn.

  3. 5 Nic Grabien
    31st July, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    This is “sort of” a planing map. Actually, it’s a map generated from a GIS database, showing selected “layers” of data. The “10.4.5” label indicates which layers are used. It’s probably a municipality-based database, showing the Verona Basemap; Data Layer 10: Property Lot Boundaries, category 4: Roads, subcategory 5: Bicycle Service Pathways; or somesuch.

    The fact that it’s an artificial map construct based on database information doesn’t change the fact that it’s a crappy map, merely that somebody was tasked with producing it by entering the raw datya into the database (while creating subcategory 5). Essentially, the map itself is a semi-accidental byproduct of the data entry process.

    GIS database maps are generated for a given municipality or other geographically delineated area. Usually by the civic agency responsible for administering the area; often for public safety and utility service management purposes. So you’ll geta basemap, with the general outlines of the town boundaries, then various primar layers. One for physical features such as hills, creeks, etc. Another for “public spaces” like parks and playgrounds.

    The point, of course, is to maintain a single mapping database that provides down-to-the-micron accuracy of placement for anything that any municipal agency might need to be interested in. Fire hydrant locations, for example. Electrical substations and distribution networks, including every single telephone pole. Stuff like that.

    So, say a fire alarm is tripped at 120 S. Main St. The fire department’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system instantly displays a map showing where exactly where the fire alarm box is located, based on the information on the “fire hydrant” layer of the municipal GIS database. A display on the fire truck shows exactly where the truck is currently located, and the shortest route to the fire alarm box. Same for the police department.

    When the first responders arrive at the box, they radio back further information: the building on fire is actually at 126 S. Main. The CAD operator updates the information, and the CAD system spits out an updated map to all the remote consoles. This one might show where the closest hydrants are; which service lines those hydrants are on, etc. Further on-scene reports say the fire is larger and needs a second alarm response and an ambulance or three. More map updates happen, all generated on the fly from the GIS database. Now we’ve got traffic routes for multiple fire companies, police, ambulances, etc. Both to and from the scene, back to hospitals. Additional GIS layers show the traffic department which intersections will be affected, so any remote controls for traffic lights can be established to allow fast movement of response vehicles. Another GIS layer connects to the property database, which lets responders know how many people live/work in the building, who they are, and so forth.

    The utility of such a GIS database is obvious. Unfortunately, for “mundane” things like creating bike trail maps for public use, they’re complete overkill.

    And in this case, results in a very crappy map.

    • 6 Tina
      5th August, 2009 at 10:28 pm

      Wow, Nic – that’s profoundly COOL. I’m clearly in the wrong field…

      This comment has no real content, other than to thank you for putting the time into this explanation. It’s really fascinating to me that it’s possible to have such detailed geographic information available at the push of a button – though I wouldn’t put it past the City of Verona to put fire hydrant locations or every single telephone pole on their next bicycle map.

      Thanks again!

      • 7 Nic Grabien
        9th August, 2009 at 4:18 pm

        My absolute pleasure, Tina!

        I recently did a stint writing documentation for a public safety software company. One of the core modules of their product line is the mapping module, so I had an opportunity to get an extremely intimate look at the inner workings of this kind of GIS system. Properly designed and deployed, such systems are very useful. Improperly designed, or inappropriately used, however…not so much. Part of my charter was to write documentation that trained end-users on the ins and outs, and in how to appropriately apply the mapping tools at their disposal. As a life-long map junkie, the assignment was tons of fun.



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