Monday, January 16, 2012

Cool wayfinding site in Chicago, and one from across the pond

A northbound Brown Line train crosses Division Street.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)

You’ve probably used MapQuest or Google Maps to find your way around Chicago. After you provide your starting and destination addresses, you can choose either to get directions via driving a car (the default setting), public transportation, or walking. Google Maps also has a “bicycling” choice for mode of transport. The search results provide you with a map of the suggested route, and the estimated time it will take, given the date and time you’ll be departing on your trip.

There’s another wayfinding website you might not know about, even though it’s been around for four years: HopStop. Unlike the others, HopStop doesn’t assume that you’re going to be driving a car: In fact, it doesn’t provide driving directions. Instead, it asks you to choose from walking, bus only, train only, combo of bus and train, bicycling, or taxi. For those of us living car free or car light in Chicago, it’s a great resource.

The coolest part about HopStop is that it not only gives you the usual map with the route, and estimated travel time, but it also tells you the calories burned and carbon dioxide savings over driving in your own car. This is a nice way to remind everyone of the health and environmental benefits that result from choosing active transportation. HopStop provides you with a grid so you can easily compare all the methods. 

Screen shot from HopStop.
Above is the grid that results after entering a route from Halsted/Lincoln/Fullerton to Lincoln and Montrose, a trip of just over three miles. You can see that taking the #11 bus only lets you burn 3 calories, takes 24 minutes and saves 1.44 lbs CO2. Walking to the Brown Line and taking it from Fullerton to Montrose takes 34 minutes total, but you burn 52 calories and save 2.38 lbs CO2. Both of those options also cost about $2 bus or train fare.

Walking the whole way up Lincoln would take an hour, but it’s a great way to burn 243 calories and of course, it produces no carbon dioxide emissions. 

Southbound bike/bus only lane on Clark Street.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
The taxicab option is interesting. Taking a cab would burn 0 calories and produces the full 3.53 lbs CO2. According to the results, the trip would take 21 minutes by cab, but that must have time built in waiting for an unoccupied cab to arrive, because the drive itself is only about 10 minutes. The site even provides you with an estimated cab fare of $9.04 (shown elsewhere in the results). 

When you compare all the options, it’s hard to beat bicycling: You burn a decent 130 calories, save the maximum 3.53 lbs of C02, arrive in 12 minutes, and pay $0! (However, I have to admit that 12 minutes is somewhat optimistic: That assumes a steady speed of 15 mph, with no stops for red lights. I average about 10-12 mph in the city, at a relaxed pace and stopping for all red lights, so 15-18 minutes would be a better estimated trip time for me. That’s still faster than all other methods, except maybe cabbing it.)

HopStop is a very cool site that can be used by Chicago residents as well as visitors to plan their local routes.

However, if you’re a bicyclist and map geek, you MUST check out what they have in Copenhagen, one of the most bicycling-friendly cities in the world. The Cycle Copenhagen website allows you to simply drag pins on a map to your starting and end points -- none of this dreary typing in of addresses or intersections.

Then, you choose one of five bike route “profiles”: Shortest route, Copenhagenize/using bike lanes whenever possible, Safer route/steering you away from major traffic, Green route/goes close to nature, or the Quietest route. The map then generates your route, showing the distance and estimated time. (In Chicago, by contrast, we only have one route: “Just get me there alive”.)

Screen shot from Cycle Copenhagen.
You’ve never been to Copenhagen? Don’t let that stop you from playing around with the map. I started at Langelandsvej 2 and ended up at Tjorengade 9, and I’m thinking I prefer the Quiet route.

Chicago is on track to have in place hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes, bike priority side streets, and other infrastructure to make bicycling safe and easy over the next several years. Wouldn't it be fantastic to have a website like this in Chicago some day?

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