The Ingenious Way One San Francisco Bicyclist Is Making It Easier to Commute

Getting more Americans to ride their bikes would mean a healthier, less polluted world. Here's one guy who is making that easier to do in San Francisco.

bike map san francisco

(Photo: Joey Cells/Getty Images)

Ameera Butt is a regular contributor to TakePart whose work has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, Merced Sun-Star, McClatchy newspapers and the Los Angeles Daily Journal, among others.

Despite his deep familiarity with cycling routes in San Francisco, resident Mat Kladney found himself struggling to get from the Bayview neighborhood to the Inner Sunset by bike a few months ago.

Though he's been car-free since 2004 and has long pedaled the Bay Area's famously bike-friendly streets, it was impossible to tell which direction to go. Throw in the steep hills and inclines San Francisco has to offer, and urban cycling can be either a thrill or just plain scary for newer cyclists. 

“I was getting annoyed and couldn't figure out where to turn,” he recalled. “I just thought, 'What is a better way to think about this?' Everyone knows how a subway map works, and so I figured it would be a natural conversion.”

The map Kladney envisioned helps new cyclists easily navigate the city and simplifies routes for others. He came up with the San Francisco Bicycle System Map to transform the hilly city into a network of lines; it's reminiscent of a traditional subway system map, complete with color-coded routes.

Need to get from downtown to Bernal Heights? You can use the Blue Line. The map features 17 lines and covers more than 200 miles. An express line is the easiest, safest way to take, while the local lines indicate steep hills or lots of traffic, Kladney said.

The idea is that a visual map can grow to inspire actual street signage and color-coded paint on bike lanes to help bikers navigate safely. 

Last year, San Francisco had 16,864 bike commuters, or 3.8 percent of the city's population, according to a report released last month by the League of American Bicyclists. Bike commuting in the city grew by more than 200 percent from 1990 to 2012. 

Legal analyst Ken McLeod of the Washington, D.C.–based League of American Bicyclists, an organization that promotes bicycling for fun, fitness, work, and transportation, calls Kladney's map a good idea, especially for newer cyclists or cyclists looking to reevaluate current rides.

“For some, Google Maps are a good thing, or those created by their local government or advocacy groups are the best thing. For others, simplified maps like this are a great resource and are perhaps easier to understand,” McLeod said.

Until the implementation of elements such as "stations" equipped with bike racks and pumps or street painting of real-world routes, Kladney sees his map as complementary to the San Francisco MTA's map.

“Having them side by side is exactly how I imagine [it] being used right now,” he said.

Elements of the map are worthy of deep consideration from the San Francisco MTA, said Ben Jose, public relations officer for the SFMTA in the Livable Streets Subdivision.

I think there's a large value because people understand subways; it makes it relatable just by association,” Jose said. “We definitely appreciate the fresh take applied here, and we always look forward to feedback and potential collaboration with interested parties as we update our bike network map.”

Gary Kavanagh, a Los Angeles– and Santa Monica–based bicycling advocate, said the map seemed interesting by treating bike routes visually more like a transit system, but he added that topography could be more clearly indicated.

Kladney said initially when he was making the map and added topography, it became cluttered—so using the "local" route nomenclature seemed a good way to let bikers know they'd be in for a slower ride. 

"In a typical transit-style map, actual distance is not that important, but a sense of how much distance one has to cover when you are the one powering that travel is helpful. So miles for length of the different routes could be a nice touch,” Kavanagh said.

Kladney hopes the idea of the map will catch on in other biking cities and was surprised someone else hadn't come up with the idea first. Maybe his Kickstarter campaign will inspire others to get into the bike mapping game.

“I think this could be something huge anywhere that has at least a bit of a bike infrastructure built in,” he said.

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