There’s a Flat Bike Network Hiding in Your City, If Someone Would Build It

There’s no doubt: Hills are a problem for bike transportation. Which is why one company’s concept for removing the hills from a city has such promise.

This short video comes from Lisbon, Portugal, a city built on “seven hills.” It’s made by a firm called Horizontal Lisbon, which makes the intriguing promise that it’s discovered how to make the city horizontal:

The secret: finding a bikeable city threaded through the familiar one.

Horizontal Lisbon mapped 1,093 kilometers of city streets, it explains. Then it calculated the incline of every single one:

Of those, 691 kilometer have grades of no more than 4 percent — suitable for relatively low-impact biking. (For comparison’s sake, that’s about half the maximum 8.33 percent grade allowed by the Americans with Disabilities Act for bridges and access ramps.)

Using its new maps of the city’s flattest 63 percent of streets, Horizontal Lisbon then identified a series of relatively flat bike routes, assigning a color to each one as if it were a subway line. This maps one of the routes and its feeder streets in yellow:

And here’s green:

The suggestion of using color to independently brand different bike routes is novel, but seems appropriate for the winding paths these routes would need to take through the city.

Horizontal Lisbon’s concept has mostly just been marketing for their mobile app, which helps people choose flat routes to bike on.

But there’s a broader lesson here for any city that wants to build for biking. Street maps are not enough to know if a network works. To serve people who haven’t built up thighs of iron, cities should calculate which streets are flat and assign particular importance to getting safe bike routes on those streets.

In many U.S. cities, this will mean running protected bike lanes on one-time streetcar routes that remain commercial corridors today. Topography, after all, has been shaping our cities since their beginning.

As Horizontal Lisbon shows, computers may be useful for this job. But considering the contours of the land as we plan our transportation system isn’t really a high-tech innovation. It’s more like a forgotten skill.

PlacesForBikes is a PeopleForBikes program to help U.S. communities build better biking, faster. You can follow them on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook or sign up for their weekly news digest about building all-ages biking networks.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Don’t Blame Hills for Pittsburgh’s Pedestrian Injuries

|
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published an in-depth investigation of the city’s pedestrian safety record. The paper reported that 2,100 collisions injured or killed pedestrians in the city between 2006 and 2013. That should be a wake-up call, says Bike PGH Executive Director Scott Bricker on the organization’s blog. But some local traffic engineers are trying to deflect […]

Can Oklahoma City Become a Great Cycling City?

|
Portland. Minneapolis. Oklahoma City? Ok, so you probably won’t find that last one on any lists of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. But with a little bit of effort, the city could change, says Eric Dryer at Bike OKC. In a lot of ways, Oklahoma City has all the right ingredients to be a […]

Austin: The Most Bike-Friendly City in Texas

|
I was in Austin a few months ago for the NACTO Designing Cities Conference. While in town I was able to put together this look at what the city is doing to improve bicycling, including the dazzling 3rd Street curb-protected bikeway. Also captured on camera: many bike paths along the Pedernales River, car-free nights on 6th street, and the ridiculously long […]

Mapping How Far You Can Bike Without Breaking a Sweat

|
Any bicyclist knows that maps can be quite deceiving at first glance. The first time I tried to traverse San Francisco on a bicycle, I foolishly set out from the bike-rental shop on Fisherman’s Wharf with a basic street map, and decided that I’d avoid downtown traffic by heading south across the grid. While I was correct […]