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Choosing a Bicycle Route

September 18th, 2014 | Author: OmahaBikes
Category: Bike Route

What goes into making a useable bicycle map? Connecting destinations is fundamental for any map but with the bicycle’s human powered engine, efficiency in energy output must be part of the calculus for laying out routes.

Throughout pre automobile history, travel routes were governed by geography, water/food sources, and topography. Most non-sports oriented riders prefer traveling longer distances over smaller grade hills than shorter, steeper routes to get to their destination.

For a flatter topography, a grid system of routes is most efficient time and energy wise. But for a lumpy topography like much of Omaha, the grid system is very inefficient energy wise, sometimes not even being viable.

Thus, a bike route map that provides viable routes for a wide cross section of riders will give precedence to the third dimension of height rather than direction (length and width).

Another important consideration for bike routes is their Level Of Service or LOS. This refers to the infrastructure and density of automobile traffic. Separated, non motorized, limited access routes like the Keystone Trail have the highest LOS of “A.” A high car traffic route like Saddle Creek Rd during many hours of the day would have an LOS of “D.” But ride Saddle Creek late at night or early in the morning with little car traffic and the LOS becomes an “A” for bicycles.

Thus, for proposing a comprehensive bike network, the LOS is irrelevant because the infrastructure can be repurposed to provide LOS A/B all day in the future. The only thing that cannot realistically be changed is the topography. Thus, like direction, topography again is given precedence over a poor LOS score.

With topography as the key determiner of bike routing between destinations, a map was produced on, with grade (rise over distance) calculated by hand from – the Douglas Counting Geographical Information System. All layers were unchecked except for two foot topographical lines. For historical perspective, choose the 1941 basemap. Outside Douglas County, the USGS topo map was used. In general, a 5% maximum grade was sought. Sections over 5% for 200’ of distance are noted in the route comments. Infrastructure/LOS are indicated by colors:

  • Gold are limited access, with or without grade level street crossing, e.g. West Papio Trail.
  • Green are sidepaths (wide sidewalks) adjacent to or paralleling a street, e.g. Blondo St from 102nd St to 144th St. Trails through parks are also Green.
  • Black are streets with no separate bicycle infrastructure but with a higher non rush hour LOS.
  • Red are streets with no separate bicycle infrastructure and low LOS for a longer duration than normal rush hour.
  • Blue are proposed routes not existent at this time. These usually parallel the gradual grades along drainages and creeks.
  • Salmon are abandoned or active railroad right of ways proposed for routes.

This inspiration for this project developed out of a July 22, 2014 steering committee I was privileged to attend on the Heartland Connections Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. I saw quickly that the proposed routes, and the current Omaha Commuter Map were based more on two dimensional access and LOS while the topography was given subservient decision making in route selection.

As the map developed, the 5% maximum grade was decided on for a goal. There are mistakes and omissions in routes and route comments. Having consumed 200-300 hours on this project as of this writing, it was more important to get the reasoning and product out before perfecting it.

Because the routes take jogs here and there to find the path of least elevation change, they need to be memorized or a cue sheet developed. Ideally, in the future many of these routes will have way-finding signs at each turn.

Given the above as a primer or appetizer, please enjoy the main course (or routes) at

Bon appetit!

–Dale Rabideau

P.S. Here are the key East-West routes generated topographically:

  • Military Ave/Sorensen Pkwy – Military Ave is the oldest road and predates automobiles. Sorensen Pkwy is an abandoned RR line.
  • Fort St/Boyd St/Keystone Dr/Ames Ave – this is more hilly than Military/Sorensen but provides access to Ames Ave business district/North Omaha, and Benson to downtown Omaha.
  • Maple St is shouldered from 196th to 108th. East of 680 is four lane curb to 72nd. A great route to/from Benson when traffic is low.
  • Blondo sidepath to Westroads/Crossroads business districts past UNO to Leavenworth and downtown Omaha.
  • Dodge St parallels west of 680: north side from 180th to Big Papio Trail, south side from 144th to Big Papio Trail. Decision at Big Papio Trail: go north to Blondo or south to cross 680?
  • Surprise finding: From Field Club Trail/Leavenworth to downtown, there are two routes with the same elevation change: St Mary Ave/Leavenworth and Farnam/38th Ave/Leavenworth. Harney St has 70′ more elevation change than Farnam.
  • Pacific St east to 132nd has sidepath and is viable. East of 132nd it gets lumpy, especially between Big Papio Trail and Keystone Trail. Because of traffic, right-of-way limitations, and elevation change, this section of Pacific St does not meet requirements for an east-west corridor.
  • Center Rd – east of Keystone Trail to Hanscom Park and downtown is even better than Leavenworth corridor. A protected bike lane on this section may be as busy as Farnam St protected bike lane. Extend the protected bike lane west to Big Papio Trail for even more traffic.
  • I St/F St from 132nd St to Keystone Trail/South Omaha Trail nexus. This provides the least elevation change from West Papio Trail to downtown Omaha without going to Bellevue. Though this is 4 miles south of Dodge, estimate a ride from West Papio Trail/Dodge would be about same time wise with less effort via I/F Sts because 680/Dodge requires detour one mile to Blondo or Pacific and more elevation change. From 120th East, there is heavy truck traffic and the need for separated bike infrastructure.
  • If I St/F St infrastructure brings LOS to A/B between the West Papio and Big Papio Trails, then South Omaha Trail/Field Club Trail may be one of the busiest east-west corridors. Especially if proposed RR ROW trail to Gretna is built.
  • Q St is 5% grade or less except for Ralston. A lower grade option is available.

Omaha Bikes
1516 Cuming Street | Omaha, NE 68102

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