Wednesday 3 September 2014

Melbourne map of key cycling transport routes, infrastructure and destinations

Summary: Google Maps bicycling layer is an excellent, cycling infrastructure tool for urban cyclists but actual cycling experience is needed to identify the preferred, complete routes, shortcuts and cycling-specific destinations. Hence, I've created a custom Google map to collate these Melbourne insights. I will progressively add the key transport routes, bike infrastructure, shortcuts, destinations, services and other recommendations of most relevance to Melbourne utility cyclists. This post will explain how to use the custom map and also be used to provide additional details on the routes and markers.

Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Grid map

Related Posts:
> See the "routes and maps" category of this blog.
Best cycling routes through Melbourne's CBD

1. Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Grid map - Status, scope, value-add, contributions, usage
- The Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Grid map is custom route map created using Google Maps Engine. Details on Google Maps Engine Lite features (which is free) are here. I am now paying for the Pro version ($5/month). The map can be accessed from the top navigation links on this blog.

Contributors: Adam Potaznik (around Caulfield)

Current Status: Ongoing addition of the mose useful connected bike routes and points of interest. (~50% complete).

Current Scope: I build out the current Melbourne Grid map based on my own needs to get around and so most routes and destinations are centred around where I live (Fitzroy North). It may be useful to have experienced transport cyclists from the south, west and east extend the scope.

Value-add Differentiation: I focus on complete, connected routes that form the backbone of a usable, safe-enough network to get around Melbourne. Most data-generated maps focus on cycling infrastructure and thus in cities like Melbourne contain:

(a) Lots of gaps (e.g. parts of the road where the bike lane or markings disappear)
(b) Significant redundancy and too much low-value information
(c) Misinformation (e.g. dangerous bike lanes on roads that no experienced cyclist would ride)
(d) Missing safe routes (local streets, greenaways, traffic calmed) that don't have tangible infrastructure
(e) No human-based prioritisation (e.g. that one route option is far superior and more popular with cyclists than another)

Contributions: If you have many contributions to make and the time to do so, direct editing access may be provided. The easiest way to contribute is via the comments on this blog post or sending me an email using the contact form on the blog home page.

Current Suggested Usage: Useful complement to Google Maps especially if you live in or near the inner north of Melbourne. Unlike automated "bicycle infrastructure" maps for Melbourne which have lots of gaps and redundancy, my map has completely connected routes.

2. Urban cyclists need a dense network of safe-enough cycling routes ("The Grid")
- David Hembrow, author of the exceptional blog - A View From The Cycle Path - has written extensively about "The Grid":
A proper finely spaced grid of high quality routes which cover everyone's journeys is a prerequisite for a high cycling modal share. The truly exceptional thing about Dutch cycling infrastructure is that in this country, "mundane" infrastructure is of extremely high quality, is excellently maintained and is absolutely ubiquitous.
Main cycle-routes should be separated from each other by no more than 500 metres. Secondary routes fill in between to get the spacing down to about 250 m and neighbourhood routes fill in the gaps where needed. 
In practice, the grid is of course not arranged on strict North-South / East-West lines, but curves with the landscape, runs alongside canals and rivers with bridges to cross periodically, goes across the countryside and through the towns and cities that people live in.
A View From The Cycle Path - Blog posts labelled with "the grid"
A View From The Cycle Path: 100% segregation of bikes and cars

- In developing cycling cities (like Melbourne), cyclists should continue to work for the creation of a high quality grid but many of us aren't prepared to give up on cycling in the meantime. The primary purpose of the Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Grid map is to outline the existing, key cycling transport routes that form a usable network. Not all of these routes will be considered "safe-enough" by all cyclists (and almost all fall short of the Netherland's standards) but this information is useful in many ways - such as choosing where to live or work/study and preferred destinations.

3. Melbourne's official bike network maps: Principal Bicycle Network, TravelSmart
- According to VicRoads: "The Principal Bicycle Network (PBN) is a network of proposed and existing cycle routes that help people cycle for transport, and provide access to major destinations in the Melbourne metropolitan area". See: VicRoads: Bicycle network planning. Unfortunately, much of the PBN hasn't been completed and the Victorian Liberal/National government eliminated even the scant funding it had. VicRoads apparently got too embarrassed with the lack of progress and has removed the PBN map from its website (only a low quality PDF remains). It's SmartRoads information is viewable online which captures some of the PBN cycling routes in its multi-mode maps.

Bicycle Network: Incomplete Principal Bicycle Network routes

- I have found the PBN GIS source data and aim to make it viewable online in the most useful ways. (See: Principal Bicycle Network). Currently, it is best downloaded as a compressed KMZ file (filesdata.vicprincipalbicyclenetwork.kmz) and opened in Google Earth so the entire PBN can be viewed as a connected grid. The size of the dataset means the entire PBN dataset can't be easily added to Google Maps (like my Melbourne Grid map) or other low-cost, web based mapping tools. Principal Bicycle Network - Viewed in Google Earth

- For context, I temporarily integrate parts of the PBN data as layers in the Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Grid map when extending my Melbourne Grid map in areas where bike infrastructure is currently very incomplete (thus Google Maps doesn't show any green lines). Below you can see the current Google Maps bicycling layer around Heidelberg compared with the PBN data added to my Melbourne Grid map:

Google Maps - Bicycling layer around Heidelberg, Rosanna, Macleod

Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Grid map (PBN data temporarily added)

- If the PBN bike routes were ever completed around Heidelberg there would be a safe-enough, connected and efficient grid of routes to support transport cyclists. Unfortunately, progress is extremely slow and looks set to remain that way. Most of the PBN proposed on-road routes are managed by VicRoads and reliant on state government funding. It's the typical "chicken and egg" problem - affected residents, commuters (e.g. La Trobe Uni) and voters with the most to gain from transport cycling in this area need to push state and local government to act. The Grid will not magically appear otherwise. (See: "Interested but Concerned" potential cyclists need to take action themselves)

> Bicycle Network: Better Conditions - City of Banyule
> Banyule Bicycle Strategy 2010 - 2020 (PDF)
> Banyule Bicycle Strategy 2010 - 2020 Action Plan (PDF)
> La Trobe University: Transport Central - Cycling (see TravelSmart map)

- Apart from the PBN, VicRoads has a SmartRoads plan that "manages competing interests for limited road space by giving priority use of the road to different transport modes at particular times of the day." It publishes a Melbourne dataset of Road Use Hierarchy as a KMZ file (see VicRoads Road Use Hierarchy) that anyone can download and view in Google Earth (or mapping apps). Below you can see this grid network with just the bicycle priority routes turned on. However, this is a prospective grid and is a prioritised subset of the PBN called "Bicycle Priority Routes" (BPRs). However, the KMZ files (as opposed to PDFs) will at least allow those interested to build more useful grids of existing recommended routes.

- It turns out that at VicRoads there is a planning/implementation hierarchy for Victoria's transport cycling routes. It seems to have evolved into narrower subsets of priority routes. The hierarchy is now: PBN > BPR > SCC (Strategic Cycling Corridors) - with the SCCs the immediate priority. The most useful presentation on this grid hierarchy and what will be built/completed first is from the Bike Futures Conference 2014 called - Developing Strategic Cycling Corridors in Inner Melbourne. I'll be adding more info on the SCCs (a smaller subset) when I am able to obtain the data.

Bike Futures Conference 2014Developing Strategic Cycling Corridors in Inner Melbourne

Existing Bicycle Routes (government recommended)
- The only current "official" sources of existing bicycle routes are via local governments. You'll need to check your local government's website. E.g. City of Yarra: Bike routes and maps. These "TravelSmart" PDF maps have horrible useability but if you are really struggling to find a recommended route in a problematic area they may be worth a look. The blue cycling routes (particularly the dotted "informal bike routes") often show the recommended way to get through areas with busy roads. E.g. In the section below, getting across Queens Parade and Hoddle St using shared paths and a train station underpass.

City of Yarra: TravelSmart map (pdf)

- There are a few targeted publications/PDFs of existing/new local bike routes published by government too. For example, local governments sometimes create back street routes (nicknamed "shimmy" routes) which consist of quieter, residential streets and often involve a few zig zags. The City of Darebin published three of these here: Darebin Shimmy routes (pdf)

- In the absence of an official bicycle network map that is comprehensive, accurate, useful and useable, it's up to others to create and update their own maps of the preferred, "good-enough" cycling routes that currently exist. Hence, my Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Grid map.

4. The best current Melbourne cycling infrastructure maps

BigYak custom Google map with OSM data
- While Open Street Map's (OSM) crowdsourced data isn't comprehensive it is far more extensive than what any individual can maintain and contains some value-add additions not on Google Maps. However, I find the OSM map interface much less usable than Google Maps. Hence, integrating OSM data with Google Maps produces a more desirable cycling map.

- For Melbourne, the BigYak bike trails map does this very well. Simply, switch to the Map view (not Satellite or OSM) and turn just the OSM layers on. The result is the below map of existing bicycle infrastructure in Melbourne (blue is on-road; green is off-road):

BigYak bike trails: Melbourne Map view with OSM bike layers on
This map that uses Open Street Map data is even better once you choose a clearer base layer (MapQuest) and then work through the relevant overlays to turn on for your city.

For Melbourne the relevant overlays to turn on are:
- highway=cycleway
- cycleway=track
- cycleway=lane
- cycleway=opposite or one-way
(bicycle=yes & footway, path, track, etc is relevant but not very useful)

Below you can see the Melbourne map with these overlays turned on except cycleway=lane in order to focus on the key cycling routes with segregation. The cycleway=lane overlay can subsequently be turned on as needed (the actual availability, quality and usefulness of the many on-road lanes varies enormously). Note that most of the long, contiguous routes are shared paths running along waterways and often not direct or efficient grid arterials.

Mijndev OSM cycling infrastructure in Melbourne (excluding on-road lanes)

If you're interested in what a comprehensive, high quality cycling grid looks like, compare with a Dutch city like Groningen (primarily separated routes and a few high quality lanes). Note the long, straight (not windy) arterial transport routes that extend far beyond the inner city.

Mjindev: OSM cycling infrastructure in Groningen

The OSM layers allow some other useful cycling-specific or relevant infrastructure to be focused on including the specific streets which have contra-flow lanes only for cycling, bike parking and roads where cycling isn't allowed.

5. Strava Heatmaps and Routes provide useful insights into popular routes albeit weighted toward recreational and experienced cyclists
- Strava heatmap data and Strava Routes are new tools that focus on routes popular with local cyclists. While Strava trip recording is dominated by enthusiast cyclists who often ride for sport/recreation and not transport, it still provides a very useful perspective. I'll be using the Strava heatmap data more often to identify the most appropriate (safe-enough, transport oriented) of these popular routes.

- My Melbourne Grid map will never be comprehensive in its coverage and so the Strava heatmap is a very useful complement. Below is the Strava heatmap around my part of Melbourne:

Strava Labs Global Heatmap - Melbourne

- If I'd had access to this map when I first started trying to get around Melbourne by bike it would have been extremely useful for rapidly figuring out the smartest way to get across the more challenging parts of the city by bike. For example, below it is easy to see how many cyclists avoid having to ride through the congested city centre to cross from north-east to south/south-west. This isn't an obvious route.

Strava Labs Global Heatmap - Melbourne

Strava Insights also provide more targeted insights into Melbourne cycling trips. For example, Strava has a Melbourne Commutes map showing just the most common routes marked as commutes. This map shows some of the best routes to live next to if commuting is a key concern.

Strava Insights: Melbourne Commutes map

6. Making Google Maps bicycling layer data more accurate, comprehensive and useful
- For the forseeable future, Google Maps will be the go-to source for bike-friendly routes and map usage in common situations so it's critical to improve its bicycling layer data as much as possible. I plan to use my Melbourne Grid map to focus on ensuring that these routes are represented as accurately and usefully as possible in Google Maps by making direct map contributions via Google Map Maker.

- I will be using a separate blog post to document some of these Google Map Maker edits/additions and provide guidance to other cyclists interested in how they can efficiently improve the quality of Google Maps bicycling data in their cities. See: Improving Google Maps bicycling layer data for Melbourne

7. The Grid has gaps so get off the road, use shared paths/detours or be prepared to ride with traffic (e.g. at higher speeds)
- In cities like Melbourne, at any time, you can go from having a great bike lane to feeling forced to evacuate the road due to it being unsafe for bikes. So be prepared to find the shared path, use empty footpaths, ride on dirt/grass, take a detour, walk your bike or up your speed to make riding in traffic less stressful.

- For example, on my Melbourne Grid map, I have marked Gaffney St and Murray Rd as a key east-west route in the network as most of it has good bike lanes and is very convenient. However, it has some problematic gaps. Below you can see the section just west of Newlands Rd appears on Google's bicycling layer to be bike-friendly on-road.

- In reality, there is no bike lane here or any space for bikes on this busy road section which often has high speeds. Personally, I prefer not to have trucks and buses coming up behind me at 60km/hr. The only place to ride and feel safe are the footpaths on either side.

Gaffney St near Newlands Rd

- The Open Street Map is more accurate but not perfect. It indicates a nearby off-road path (which is inconvenient and inefficient if just trying to go west/east along Gaffney St). It does not indicate the very narrow shared path on the northern side which Google has marked up as if it were a bike lane. If you remember the shared path in time, you could exit the road and use it if it's clear of pedestrians. However, I prefer to cross to the southern side and use the footpath (which never has pedestrians) and then the grass when the footpath ends.

BigYak OSM - Gaffney St near Newlands Rd

- Temporarily riding off-road (e.g. on the grass in the image below) is often preferable to the narrow shared path or other unsatisfactory infrastructure. Puncture-proof tyres help make this an easy decision.

Gaffney St narrow shared path on one side and grass on other side

8. Google's bicycling layer is often technically wrong but can be useful anyway
- What really matters to cyclists are how safe and pleasant roads are to ride not whether they have separated paths, actual bike lanes, de facto bike lanes, bike markings or just plenty of space for bikes. Below you can see that Google has marked Newlands Rd as having bike lanes from Edwardes St down.

Google Maps Bicycling Layer - Newlands Rd

- In reality, Open Street Maps accurately indicates that it doesn't have bike lanes or any bicycle-friendly road markings in the northern section of Newlands Rd.

Open Street Maps - Newlands Rd

- However, the road is actually very wide and is quite safe for cyclists to ride on the northern section. I would have no issues with it being marked with dashed green lines (bicycle-friendly). There is also no reason why the bike lane couldn't start from Edwardes St and local cyclists should ask the City of Darebin to do this.

218 Newlands Rd - where the bike lane actually starts

- On my Melbourne Grid map I have included Newlands Rd in the grid as I consider it safe enough and it is a key north-south connector with other important transport routes nearby. In developing cycling cities it's important to fill the grid gaps with the best available, "safe enough" routes. Better cycling infrastructure and cycling rates need to advance together. Regular cyclists in the City of Darebin who come to use such routes are best placed to ask for quality bike lanes to be put in along the whole length of these key roads.

9. Using the Grid to find the best route to suite your trip needs, circumstances and preferences
- Cycling grids are not followed religiously, they are used pragmatically to make getting around by bike as safe and convenient as is feasible and desired for that particular trip and person. Google Maps Engine lets you easily import saved "My Tracks" from your Android smartphone (or Strava .gpx files converted to .kml) and so I've done so below with a trip I made to Dan Murphys to pick up a carton of beer with my bike trailer. If unencumbered and on my single speed bike, I may choose to use parts of some main roads (like Heidelberg Rd) to save time on longer trips. But on this trip I was pulling along a bike trailer at an average of 11km/hr and wanted to avoid main roads and mixing with cars.

- As you can see the trip (marked in red) uses much of the grid flexibly to cover the majority of the east-west distance using the safest routes available (off-road paths, dedicated bike lanes). When the grid is well-known, residential streets can be flexibly used to get from one part of the grid to another. These variations often depend on which direction I am going, whether a traffic light is green or if there is a difference in hills/load. The greatest value of having a simple, usable grid comes from being able to remember much of it and choose appropriately.

Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Grid map

10. Value-add grid maps help you choose between adjacent, potential routes
- Google Maps and OSM are designed to show you all cycling infrastructure based on simple rules (e.g. the presence of dedicated bike lanes) but they can't help you choose between adjacent, parallel roads both marked as having the same level of cycling infrastructure. For example, choosing between Murray road versus Cramer/Gower streets for completing this east-west section in Preston:

Murray Rd versus Cramer/Gower Streets in Preston

- However, an experienced cyclist, who has ridden both of these routes several times, can advise which is a preferable arterial cycling route (all other things being equal - such as endpoint route connections and destinations). As I get a chance to repeatedly try out more of the prospective routes on my Melbourne Grid map (or get input from other cyclists), I will be revising the grid routes to focus on the preferred routes. This will be done through both excluding redundant routes or via adjusting the thickness of the lines to emphasize the preferred route. Currently, I am favouring Cramer/Gower streets due to the need to get onto this route near Albert St and the connections with the Preston shopping precinct. Further refinements will follow based on additional experience.

Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Grid map

11. Indicating bike lanes and infrastructure on key routes that only exists in one direction
- My main frustration with Google Maps bicycling layer "green lines" is that in Melbourne some bike lanes (or infrastructure) only exist in one direction for sections of a route, but Google Maps paints it green with no directionality. Using arrows if the bike lane is only running one way would be a useful improvement to Google Maps.

- Consequently, a value-add aim of my Melbourne Grid map is to de-prioritise routes that only have bike lanes in one direction. And if I do list them because they are useful (at least in one direction), I will note the direction on the map. Below is an example of a road with a usable bike lane in one direction and no space at all for bikes in the other direction.

Oakover Rd - Bike lane runs in only one direction

12. Wayfinding information is important for cyclists learning new routes
- Melbourne generally does a poor job with much of its wayfinding information even though this is something that is pretty easy and affordable to do well. I'll use my Melbourne Grid map to add selected wayfinding information that is most critical based on my experiences.

- I use the bike symbol on the Melbourne Grid map to provide tips such as wayfinding information. An example is the necessity to sharply change direction on the Capital City Trail and cross over Footscray Rd. The first time I rode this part of the CCT was when trying to go home after work. It was night time and I missed the turn off and ended up lost in Footscray.

- I will only be adding the most high-value tips I am personally aware of to my map. An excellent and more comprehensive source of Melbourne route tips is: BigYak bike trails map - turn on the "Melbourne navigation" layer to see them. Most updates date from 2007 but many are still relevant and useful. It would be great to have a single, ongoing, crowdsourced map for such tips.

BigYak bike trails map

13. Points of Interest (POI) particularly relevant to cycling
- I'll use my Melbourne Bike Grid Map to note points of interest of particular relevance to cycling. The aim of these isn't to be comprehensive but simply to exemplify the most useful POI data for cyclists using actual examples I am familiar with.

For example, street crime late at night in certain deserted and poorly lit areas around the city centre is known to be quite high. Cyclists are most exposed to this in areas which have bike parking (and are perfectly safe most of the time) or which are part of key off-road transport routes or connections.

Bicycle theft and vandalism hotspots are another example of key POIs that are extremely useful to cyclists. Notes with specific advice can be added to these POIs.

Better By Bicycle: Melbourne Bike Grid map

14. Examples of the best custom cycling maps
- I'll collate a few of the best cycling maps below that exemplify the most useful ways to incorporate value-add information, as well as provide a diverse range of examples on how to more accurately represent the safety and pleasantness of cycling routes (rather than just infrastructure).

- The best example I'm currently aware of is from Canada: the Capital Regional District bike map: CRD Bike Map PDF

You can see below that it incorporates key cycling-specific info (one-way streets, hills, intersections to show caution) as well as accurately representing the vast diversity of infrastructure but relating it to a "level of comfort" scale. A useful blog post about this map is here: Mountain Doodles: > How to make a bike map

This approach works well for static document maps (PDF/paper) but is much harder to achieve in creating an online, dynamic map (e.g. custom Google Map). Also as Google Maps or Open Street Maps (OSM) are the two universal mapping tools with the most comprehensive data relevant to cycling, any custom online map of any scale is only sustainable if it leverages them somehow. Google Maps and OSM focus on infrastructure and so leveraging this auto-updating data is useful on custom maps while focusing on the sustainable, value-add info (e.g. grid of preferred arterial routes).

However, if the area you are trying to cover isn't too large, then online mapping tools do provide mechanisms to create these custom layers, routes and points of interest. An excellent example is this custom Google Map for cycling around Auckland: #AKLcyclemap. It incorporates the various specific types of infrastructure in Auckland, notes infrastructure under construction, and includes walkways, quiet local streets, relevant transit lanes and steep hills.


When such maps are used in conjunction with Google Maps and other local sources and tools, they can be an excellent complementary reference. The #AKLcyclemap is used in precisely this way on the excellent Bike Auckland - Auckland Bike Maps page

Further Info:
A View From The Cycle Path
A View From The Cycle Path - Blog posts labelled with "the grid"
The Grid - How the Dutch found that the only thing which really encouraged cycling was a dense network of high quality infrastructure
The importance of the mundane, why the mundane must go everywhere and why "mundane" must be very good

BigYak bike trails map (shows Open Street Map data in Google Maps)

Open Street Map - Cycling
> Bicycle wiki page
> Bicycle tags map

Strava Labs Global Heatmap - Melbourne
> Strava Routes
> Strava Metro

VicRoads Cycling
> Bicycle network planning
> Bicycle route maps
> SmartRoads

Victorian Government Datasets (
> Transport category
> Principal Bicycle Network
Municipal Bicycle Network
Metropolitan Trail Network
Bicycle Volumes - VicRoads
VicRoads Road Use Hierarchy
Victorian Transport Statistics Portal (VTSP)

Google Maps Engine Lite and Pro
> Import data onto your map

Google Map Maker

Google Maps Gallery

Melbourne Back street routes (Shimmy routes)
> Darebin Shimmy routes (pdf)

My Trails
South Morang Line Shimmy (Darebin)
Christmas Street Shimmy (Darebin)
Hurstbridge Line Shimmy (Darebin)

Bicycle Network
VIC: Metro Melbourne Corridors
VIC: Metro routes
> Plan my route
> Free maps
> Map books

Bicycle Network Google Maps (available from Metro route pages above)
> Western Rail Corridor
> Box Hill to Ringwood

Victorian Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure
> Cycling
> Publications

> Principal Bicycle Network map
> Services page

Cycle Map Australia
> Melbourne map

Boston Bike Network
> City of Boston - Bike network plan

Victorian Department of Transport: Cramer Street Preston - Prioritising pedestrians and cyclists in activity centres (pdf)

Bicycle Network: A bicycle network on arterial roads - Completing Melbourne's PBN

See-Through Maps: San Francisco Bicycle System - Mat Kladney

Mountain Doodles
> How to make a bike map

> A Wonderfully Simplified Map of San Francisco's Bicycle Infrastructure
Bike Maps That Give Riders the Info They Actually Need

Ethical Switch: How to have an ethical day out in Melbourne