Review of Bike There!: Your map for cycling in and around Portland and Vancouver, 8th edition

Review of Bike There!: Your map for cycling in and around Portland and Vancouver, 8th edition

Published by Oregon Metro. Portland, OR: Oregon Metro, 2011. 26.5" × 39", 4.5" × 9" (folded). $9, waterproof paper, www.oregonmetro.gov. ISBN: 978-0984475100

Review by Chandler Sterling and Greg Grube, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Bike There!: Your map for cycling in and around Portland and Vancouver, 8th edition

Description:

In the 8th edition of Bike There!, Oregon Metro provides a map of the Portland, Oregon area, detailing the many suitable options for cycling around Portland and the surrounding region (Figure 1). The waterproof map shows 235 miles of off-street bike trails and 600 miles of on-street bike routes and includes cycling safety tips and guidelines for better biking. The map’s authors did an excellent job in depicting a complex network of roads and bike paths simply; drawing a connection between Portland and the surrounding communities with the main emphasis on natural areas and outdoor recreation (Figure 2). The inset maps help to show points of interest in Portland and surrounding communities in greater detail. Bike shop locations are also shown, which are features of particular interest to recreational cyclists. Overall, the authors created a crisp design that looks good, is user-friendly, easy on the eyes, and evokes a sense of calmness which reflects the theme of a relaxing day cycling.

Although the map appears simple at first, its complexities are discerned upon close inspection of the roads and paths. It shows a hierarchy for of cycling suitability, using color to differentiate between bike trails, main bikeways, bike lanes, and high or low-traffic streets. The colors work well together and match the pastel theme of the base map. By decreasing the scale to show the entire Portland Metro area, thereby connecting one city to another, the authors’ map embodies the name Bike There. This map would be helpful for individuals who live in surrounding cities but commute to Portland for work. This map is not strictly for commuters, however, as accessibility to parks and natural areas in both the city and country are depicted.

Figure 1: One complete side of Bike There!
showing the entire Portland metro area.

Figure 1: One complete side of Bike There! showing the entire Portland metro area.

Figure 2: Bike There! depicts numerous parks and green spaces
for recreation, as well as a hierarchy of suitable routes.

Figure 2: Bike There! depicts numerous parks and green spaces for recreation, as well as a hierarchy of suitable routes.

The predominately green, hill-shaded hypsometric base map reflects a theme of outdoor adventure; it creates a feeling of escape from the complexity and compactness of an urban area (Figure 3). As one looks at the map, it is easy to get lost imagining exploring the rolling hills of the countryside, or taking a relaxing ride to the Columbia River. Soft pastel colors suggest an easy traverse of the open landscape on a sunny day. The colors suggest a simplistic paradigm, engaging the reader in a cycle-centric world. The authors excluded the built landscape of the city from the map, a decision which contributes to the theme of encouraging cycling as an alternative mode of transportation for traveling in and around the area and avoids the sense of chaos associated with major urban areas. Portland seems less like a hectic metro area with a maze of streets, and more like a relaxing network of bike paths. A good visual hierarchy is also maintained through de-emphasizing the city as an urban area and focusing on the abundance of cycling routes.

Figure 3: An inset map of the suburb community of Gresham.

Figure 3: An inset map of the suburb community of Gresham.

As functional as the map is, by ignoring the built environment it is also somewhat deceptive. It de-emphasizes the compactness and concentration of the downtown area and makes it seem as easy to move around there by bike as it would be in the countryside. These are high traffic areas with lots of motor vehicles and pedestrian traffic, and yet the map only shows the bike paths and roads, making it seem more open than it likely is. Another issue encountered when reading the map is the confusing map legend, which ranks the routes according to suitability levels with subcategories within those groupings. This complexity is not a problem in itself, but the symbol color scheme does not lend itself to an intuitive hierarchy. For example, the colors used to designate the different path suitability range from purple (most suitable), to green (moderately suitable), and orange (least suitable). Using these specific hues to rank suitability is not as appropriate as a sequential color scheme would be. The reader needs to first familiarize themselves with what each line color means, and then with the order of suitability, in order to understand which bike paths are best.

The biggest problem with Bike There! is the inconsistent labeling of features throughout the map. There are places on the map where parks and natural areas are labeled well, and would help a biker to reach their destination, but in other places, parks and natural areas are not labeled at all, and the reader is left to wonder what is actually at that location and, if they know a park or area is there, why it was not important enough to merit inclusion. In places that do have labels, there are many instances of labels overlapping features, making them nearly impossible to read, and some instances of labels getting cut off on the edge of the map. There are also some instances of improper label placement, which yields a weak association between the label and the feature. Granted, in some of these places the areas to be labeled are small, but with more care and attention, the map could have been more consistent, and thus more clear.

Overall, the design of this bike map serves its purpose well for commuting and recreational cyclists. It shows a vast array of bike trails in the entire region, with insets for areas of denser information. It does a great job simplifying the complexity of the Portland Metro area by excluding the built environment, and of conveying a sense of outdoor adventure, even though it may be deceptively pastoral. The map is an effective navigational tool, whether there is a set destination in mind or simply a plan to meander through the countryside. All Portland residents (and those venturing from outside) looking to explore the area by bicycle should have a copy of Bike There!.

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