Finalist: San Francisco Bicycle System | Mat Kladney

Click on image above to view a zoomable PDF of the full map [0.4 MB]

Author Essay: As a long time cyclist, I recently realized that the mental map that exists in my mind of San Francisco is different from most (and importantly does not exist in print form).  Many times when asked for directions by a driver, I found myself giving the routes illustrated on this map, routes only reasonable via bike.  When borrowing a friend’s car, I found myself traversing the wiggle to make my way to the Golden Gate Bridge, unquestionably the wrong way to get across town in a car.  What was initially a project to teach myself how to use vector graphics eventually became something much more important; this is my San Francisco.

Overall, this map was made with three major interconnected goals in mind:

  1. Provide a simplified complement to the current bicycle map.
  2. Use familiar schema to attract new cyclists to the road.
  3. Call the SFMTA to consider cycling as a part of its transit system, not an adjunct.

The current San Francisco bicycle map is difficult to approach, especially when answering the simple question, “how to I get from here to there?”  This map has everything you might possibly want in a bicycle map in a hilly city: the grade and name of every San Francisco street, four different types of bike lane, even contour lines for every hill from Twin Peaks to the slight elevation change found in the Mission.  Unfortunately by trying to be everything, it loses much of its usability.  Tracking the best way to get across the city becomes more difficult when confronted with so much data.  This new simplified map helps cyclists to quickly and easily find the shortest route through town.

Additionally, by mirroring the design features of subway systems throughout the world, the available cycling infrastructure will appear more approachable to the uninitiated.  Given the training required of their black cab drivers, the difficulty of driving through central London is legendary, yet the Tube is used by legions of tourists everyday.  Need to get from Downtown to the Bernal Heights?  Just follow the Blue Line.  This simplicity will reframe the existing San Francisco bicycle lanes as the San Francisco Bicycle System and will help convince more people to saddle up and take to the streets.

Although the SFMTA has made huge strides in recent years to improve the San Francisco cycling world, there is plenty to go.  I imagine color coded (and coated) bike racks taking up a parking spot at each station on this map.  These stations will be dotted along each route, not just providing vital infrastructure for cyclists, but providing a easy to follow pathway.  Next to each bike rack could exist a ‘station’ similar to a bus stop with system maps, local maps and other relevant information.  Lastly, this map has been designed to help the SFMTA refocus its efforts and see the bike infrastructure as a legitimate addition to its bus, train and taxi system that already exists.

Why we picked this map. This map clearly lays bare the author’s view of the city as a cyclist. By simplifying the existing San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Map into a subway map-style guide, he reveals the city as a series of color-coded bicycle “lines” with transfer stations. All subway maps are really diagrams rather than maps, as they significantly distort geographic reality for the sake of graphic and cognitive clarity. The achievement of this map is that it keeps that distortion to a minimum—unlike a subway train, a cyclist must use actual streets, so correspondence with physical reality must be maintained. Although the map would be more useful if more street names and slope information were included, in its current form it is both personal, practical, and transparent in its agenda.

Click on image below to view the map in full size [0.4 MB PDF]

Medium/Software: Inkscape

4 thoughts on “Finalist: San Francisco Bicycle System | Mat Kladney

  1. Daniel Brownstein

    Although much energy has been devoted to strenuous debates about whether the famous Tube Map designed by the engineer Harry Beck was a diagram or a map, the debates are of little interest to Mat Kladney, for whom Beck’s image provides an alternative way to map the subjective space of the cyclist–and affirm cycling as an alternate mode of transport. Although this map dispenses with topography in adopting Beck’s circuit format, Kladney uses the iconography of circuitry to suggest how embedded cycling is in the San Francisco landscape, tracing established routes of bicycling in the city that aren’t confined to the Golden Gate park or bridge, but reach into urban areas where every lane is a bicycle lane to celebrate cycling as an alternate mode of transit. Beck’s design has long provided an icon of moving through London–so much that its adoption in works of art like Great White Bear it is an icon of Englishness–and Kladney creates an alternate iconography for moving in and through San Francisco’s neighborhoods, irrespective of its hills.

  2. jameslesec

    The London Underground map is so well designed, because the route doesn’t matter – it’s all about the connectivity and destination.
    The current SF bike coalition map with all the ‘shades of pink’ representing grades of the roads is SO useful for avoiding or heading up/down hills and noting where shops, parks, and the ‘usual’ SF quirks and oddities are located.
    Kladney’s map lacks any useful details and over-simplifies a wonderful city just built for exploring. If all the bike routes were tunnels… this would be a perfect map!

  3. Chris Mueller

    While I appreciate the spirit put into this map, the iconic subway-map format is terrible for cyclists. I couldn’t agree more with jameslesec. Cycling requires attention to specifics of roads, hills, bike lanes, landmarks. This map, while it shows how connected the city is, dispenses with any real navigational aids. Unless, I suppose, we paint matching colored lines on all the streets so people can follow the routes.

    1. w4ffl3

      Yeah, I agree totally. Looks nice but I couldn’t fathom actually using this as a map, so it’s pretty useless as something of utility


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