CSE route-sharing project for bicyclists to expand statewide

Cyclopath will expand with a $130,000 grant from MnDOT.

by Jeff Hargarten

A community of Minneapolis bikers that share route secrets is about to spread throughout the state.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is funding a statewide website expansion of Cyclopath âÄî a biking navigation project created and run by the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

Cyclopath is a âÄúgeowikiâÄù of biking paths moderated and modified by its users. The website allows cyclists to instantly create, rate and update biking maps. Users can share their favorite routes and suggest shortcuts to others.

So far, the programâÄôs focus has been the Twin Cities metro area. But with a $130,000 grant, the project will expand CyclopathâÄôs available routes statewide, said spokeswoman Greta Alquist.

About 20 percent of the funds are provided by MnDOT, while the rest came from federal research grants, Alquist said.

The expansion will allow MnDOT to add its own information like construction or road delay alerts so users can rapidly share new routes in response. New features will also implement train and bus schedules into biking directions.

âÄú[CyclopathâÄôs] community interface allows MnDOT to talk to the public,âÄù Alquist said.

Loren Terveen, CyclopathâÄôs cofounder and a CSE professor, started talking with MnDOT early this year, and said the funding was offered this summer.

Terveen said the website currently receives about 20 logins per day and 100 route requests. He expects the numbers will soon climb.

MnDOT will be promoting Cyclopath to the public, filling the departmentâÄôs obligation to provide detailed bike routes, Alquist said.

âÄúA huge social media push,âÄù along with a smart phone application, are being used to promote the website, Terveen said.

Despite the new expansion to include statewide routes, CyclopathâÄôs focus remains local. While Minnesota is a good starting point, Terveen said the project could lead to national expansion in bike-friendly cities like Seattle, Portland and Austin.

Reid Preidhorsky presented the idea for Cyclopath to Terveen in 2005 as an alternative to sending route improvements to map publishers âÄî which he said was too slow.

âÄúAs with everything these days, the push was toward the interactive,âÄù he said.

Preidhorsky, who has since graduated with a Ph.D. from the University, said the project aims to capture the âÄúdepth of navigation information important to cyclists.âÄù

While Google Maps also offers custom bike routes, CyclopathâÄôs 2008 launch predates its features.

The website differs from Google Maps since users can quickly tag routes with the locations of potholes, steep hills and shortcuts, Alquist said.

GoogleâÄôs route corrections are slow, Preidhorski said, and âÄúgo through a mysterious process,âÄù a problem CyclopathâÄôs wiki format solves.

MnDOT will begin CyclopathâÄôs statewide expansion by Jan. 2012, and expects completion around summer 2013.