Networked Urbanism

design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

Design critics: Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, principals of Ecosistema Urbano

iBike, questions both the data collection as well as the dissemination.  By mounting specific sensors to a bicycle data was collected in an effort to draw the experience of cycling in Boston.  Using an accelerometer to measure micro-topography and a GPS to geo-locate the information and to provide speed data, I am questioning the existing maps by redrawing the city based on the experience of cycling.  The width of roads is drawn based on the speed of travel (faster roads feel wider) and the micro-topography is drawn by increased density of marks when viewed at the neighborhood scale and as a color gradation at the larger scale.  The resulting maps provide the cyclist with a layer of information absent in existing cycle maps that relates directly to the human experience.

003_iBike Color Map

iBike Boston began with a simple proposition, go out and explore Boston, discover the city.  This seemed a funny proposition as Boston is my home, where I have lived and worked for eight years, having grown up in a smaller city fifteen minute to the south.  Accepting the challenge of discovering my city I decided to take my bike and ride around the residential part of South Boston.  I have spent quite a bit of time in Southie, but always along the water or along Broadway, the main street running through the middle.  What I found was that it was nearly impossible to get from my appartment in the South End to South Boston, a distance of only about two miles.  Though Boston has been making great moves to become a more cyclable city, there exist still major gaps in the infrastructure and linkages.  The two mile ride to Southie bring you across a four lane intersection and on ramp over the highway and around a major rotary, the way back sends you under the highway where no cross lanes exist.

This adventure got me thinking about how different the rhetoric about Boston being a more cyclable city is from the actual experience of riding.  I began looking at maps, both cycle specific as well as common digital maps.  The cycle maps that if found provided little information on what the surficial conditions actually were.  Cycle lanes, when represented at all, were color coded lines drawn over centerline of streets, simply denoting that a cycle lane exists with no hint at the quality or width of the lane, just a demarcation of it’s existence.  The base maps that the diagrammatic overlays were applied to are similarly simplified, seemingly dependent on satellite imagery to provide any “real” surficial information.

001_Existing Conditions Map-01

The ubiquitous google map that everyone is familiar with stands as a contradiction to the access of huge amounts of data.  The flattened surface of the “map” view juxtaposed with the satellite imagery layer are presented as a complete picture of the world, encompassing all of the resolution necessary.  With this dichotomy of the ultra simplified map and satellite imagery a certain thickness of information that had been drawn into maps for centuries has been wiped away.  Further, the ubiquity of data collection devices (smart phones with gps, etc.) bring to question why modern cartography has largely been simplified (perhaps because of the ubiquity of data collection and dissemination).

002_iBike Sensor

From this research I decided to explore how a thicker more informative cycle map could be drawn, to remap the city drawing the experientiality of cycling.  To do this I built a sensor to mount to my bike in order to map data related to the experience of the ride.  I focused in on two parameters to map, micro-topography and speed.  I used an accelerometer to map the micro-topography; using the z-value from the inertia sensor I was able to map the feeling of the road while riding.  A GPS was used to geo-locate the information and to provide speed data.  The width of roads is drawn based on the speed of travel (faster roads feel wider) and the micro-topography is drawn by increased density of marks when viewed at the neighborhood scale and as a color gradation at the larger scale.  The resulting maps provide the cyclist with a layer of information absent in existing cycle maps that relates directly to the human experience.  The limited parameters of micro-topography and speed provide quite a bit of information pertinent cyclists, as the yare two major factors in the comfort of a ride.  Additionally the use of the accelerometer and GPS allows for future scalability as most, if not all, smart phones have these two sensors built in.  With the intention of turning this into an app crowd-sourcing data iBike can redraw the city based on the experience of cycling temporally, showing conditions as they change.  The maps have the ability to transition as road change, construction begins and ends, even diurnal maps can be created so that the cyclist can better understand what the riding conditions are likely to be when they set out.

003_iBike Color Map


0.18_Park_1 [Converted]

Developing into the future I am looking to formalize iBike Boston into a crowd-sourced digital mapping system, drawing thick user based maps that redraw the city based on experience.  Additionally I am developing sensor packs to measure other inputs that affect the quality of cycling.  By collecting and mapping this data I am looking to impact the way we urbanize our city and environs, the city exists as a system of people, not of cars and our infrastructure should reflect that.


12 12 .5_Map_AirQuality_CO


iBike Boston is a project on re-mapping the city of Boston in an effort to draw the experience of cycling in the city. By mounting a sensor that links accelerometer and GPS data to the handlebars of my bike and riding the city I have been mapping the micro-topography of the streets and the speed of travel, this information is used to redraw the streets to better show the experience of riding in Boston.

Riding a bike around the city of Boston you come to realize quite quickly that the cycle infrastructure is lacking. Even with the declaration by Mayor Menino that in Boston “the car is no longer king” and the cities recent focus on improving the cities cyclability, riding in the city is tough, scary and at times down right dangerous. The infrastructural improvements consist mostly of painted line bike lanes and Sharrows (painted bicycle arrows indicating an acceptable space within the lane a cyclist can occupy). While researching the current conditions I found that the mapping of the cycle infrastructure, and more the experience to be completely lacking. The maps of cycle lanes mainly consist of diagramatic overlays on plain google maps. I realized that there is not a map (at least I have not found one) that has the actual lanes drawn in. This type of mapping is deceiving to the rider as the system that exists is disjunct and rough with potholes and seamed pavement.

My goal first is to begin remapping the city of Boston’s cycle infrastructure to better map the experience of riding in the city. I am currently building a sensor consisting of a GPS and accelerometer to map the micro-topography in the city, additionally the speed, stops, turns and the side to side motion associated with pedaling hard will be used to redraw how open a street feels to the rider, the faster and smoother the ride, the wider the feeling of the street, the slower and more jerky the ride the narrower the feel.

From this I plan to develop an app that, though not as precise as the sensor I am constructing, has the opportunity to crowd source this data, as well as translate it back to the user, in essence creating real time crowd source mapping.

Where I Stand Now:

I am currently trying to convince all of the components of my sensor to start talking to each other. After about 15 hours yesterday I    have come up with a new issue of the card not being read, hopefully that will be remedied shortly. Once that is done I just need to get the accelerometer into the party, we’ll see how that goes.

My hope for this project is that this new mapping will help to inform the urbanization and infrastructural improvements in the city.

Understanding the negative impact that Google Maps has had on the realm of cartography, expressing the map as either a flat diagram or 3d satellite imaging, I am looking to understand how crowd sourcing can help to remap our understanding of the city. Many urbanites carry super computers in their pockets, full of sensors and transmitters these devices have the power to collect and disseminate information in real-time.

Focusing on the growing use of the bicycle as a main means of transportation I will begin remapping the city in an effort to describe the experience of riding in the urban environment. My hope is that this research will not only map the existing conditions, but also inform future urban developments.

I am currently researching what the City of Boston has already done, and is doing to improve the cycle infrastructure. I am interviewing people from Boston Bikes, Boston Cyclists Union and Livable Streets in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current conditions. I am also constructing a sensor that will be mounted on my bike that will link accelerometer data with GPS coordinates to map the micro-topography of the city, this is the first step in developing an app that will use smart-phones to collect this data and continuously remap the city in real-time.

01leonard, 02share, 03experience mapping, 04crowdsource

What is my map telling me?

Just found this really cool stop motion animation. The whole thing is done using Google Maps Street view.

Leonard, Andrew P

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