CSE route-sharing project for bicyclists to expand statewide

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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 — a biking navigation project created and run by the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

Cyclopath is a “geowiki” 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 program’s focus has been the Twin Cities metro area. But with a $130,000 grant, the project will expand Cyclopath’s 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.

“[Cyclopath’s] community interface allows MnDOT to talk to the public,” Alquist said.

Loren Terveen, Cyclopath’s 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 department’s obligation to provide detailed bike routes, Alquist said.

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

Despite the new expansion to include statewide routes, Cyclopath’s 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 — which he said was too slow.

“As with everything these days, the push was toward the interactive,” he said.

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

While Google Maps also offers custom bike routes, Cyclopath’s 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.

Google’s route corrections are slow, Preidhorski said, and “go through a mysterious process,” a problem Cyclopath’s wiki format solves.

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

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