Interactive animated animals will soon be appearing on the streets of Bristol

An urbanimal in urbaction. Image: LAX.

“This September and October,” a press release announces, “a playful pack of wild beasts will appear in unexpected places across the city of Bristol, waiting for people to play with them.”

This is not, in fact, a warning that there's been a break out at the zoo, or some kind of live action remake of the hit animated movie series Madagascar (if only). No, it's the winner of this year's Playable Cities Award.

That award, you'll recall, is the work of the city's Watershed arts space, and it exists to highlight the fact that urbanism doesn't have to be a dry matter of street furniture and transport infrastructure. It's a reaction, of sorts, to the modernist nightmare vision of “smart cities”, in which a city is nothing more than a machine for living in.

This year no fewer than 197 groups from 60 countries entered the award, which were whittled down to a shortlist of seven.

The winning project, which will get the honour of actually being put into practice, was Urbanimals: a series of animated dolphins, kangaroos, rabbits and so forth, which will interact with passersby in “places of transition, where people often do not contemplate their surroundings”. Places like subways, or bus stations.

Urbanimals is the work of the Polish experimental architectural think tank LAX. Once up and running, to quote the statement again, it’ll use “urban details to highlight the city’s hidden value, in the same manner Banksy gives deeper sense to dilapidated building walls”.

Or, as the group's founders Anna and Sebastian put it:

“...with Urbanimals we want to highlight the city’s hidden value and treasures inspiring residents to consider their environment in new and unexpected ways, we want to stimulate their senses and inject a sense of excitement and wonder into the everyday urban landscape”.

What does that mean, you ask? Well, here’s a gif.

All this will be brought to life on the streets of Bristol this autumn. Another reason, as if any were necessary, to visit the fine English city of Bristol.

 
 
 
 

The best bike maps are made by volunteers

A cyclist in Vancouver, Canada. Image: Getty.

Not all bike routes are equal. Some places that are marked as bike routes on a map feel precarious when traversed on two wheels, including shoulders covered in debris and places where you can feel the wind from speeding cars.

North American cities are building more bicycling routes, by adding on-street painted lanes, physically separated cycle tracks, bicycle-only or multi-use paths and local street bikeways. These different kinds of routes appeal to different types of users, from the interested but concerned cyclist to the keen road rider.

Despite this boost in biking infrastructure, a city’s website may not immediately reflect the changes or it may lack important information that can make cycling safer or more enjoyable.

Web-based maps that allow people to add information about bike routes give riders detailed data about the type of route, what it might feel like to ride there (do you have to ride close to cars?) and where it can take them (for example, shopping, work or school).

They can also tell us which cities are the most bike-friendly.

Measuring bike routes

We set out to assemble a dataset of bike routes in Canadian cities using their open data websites. But we found it was nearly impossible to keep it up-to-date because cities are constantly changing and the data are shared using different standards.

A physically separated cycle track in Victoria, British Columbia. Image: E. Gatti (TeamInteract.ca).

The solution was OpenStreetMap, which creates and distributes free geographic data. Anyone can add data or make edits to OpenStreetMap, whether they want to build a better bike map or make a navigation app.

We looked at OpenStreetMap data for three large cities (Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal) and three mid-sized cities (Victoria, Kelowna and Halifax) in Canada.

Not only did the data in OpenStreetMap agree reasonably well with the cities’ open data: in many cases it was more up-to-date. OpenStreetMap tended to include more local details such as where painted bike lanes ended and often marked the short cuts connecting suburban streets.

How did OpenStreetMap measure up?

Our analysis focused on how well different types of routes were mapped. We measured cycle tracks (which physically separate bikes from motorised traffic), on-street painted bike lanes (which use painted lines to separate bikes from motorised traffic), bike paths (which are located away from streets) and local street bikeways (which include traffic-calming features and where bicycling is encouraged).

Painted bike lanes are the most common type of route and also the most consistently well mapped. This makes sense, because the definition of a painted bike lane may be clearest across time and place. There is also a straightforward way for volunteers to tag it on OpenStreetMap.

But it was harder for us to distinguish cycle tracks from on-street painted lanes or paths (bicycle-only or multi-use) using OpenStreetMap. Local street bikeways were challenging to identify because of the wide range of ways cities design these kinds of routes along residential roads. Some use traffic-calming measures such as curb extensions, traffic islands, speed humps and raised traffic crossings to slow vehicle traffic and encourage safety, or greenery, reduced speed limits and bike-friendly markings on signs and the road surface.

Correspondence between OpenStreetMap and Open Data for categories of bicycling infrastructure. Image: author provided.

Bicycle routes that are physically separated from motor vehicles and pedestrians, like cycle tracks and bicycle-only paths, have the greatest benefits for bicycling safety and encourage bike use.

Ease of access to bicycle routes is important to a city’s overall bicycle friendliness, but there are other important things to consider including the distance to destinations, the number, slope and length of hills, number of riders and how the transportation culture of a city can influence its safety.


Bike-friendly Canadian cities

Our results showed that Montréal has the greatest total distance in cycle tracks in Canada. As cities continue building more bicycle routes, researchers and planners can use OpenStreetMap to measure these changes on the ground.

The perfect bicycle map is up-to-date, covers the entire globe and gives riders an idea of the kinds of experiences to expect on different trails, roads and paths. People cycling in cities can contribute to the high-quality geographic data needed to understand changes in bicycle friendliness.

But OpenStreetMap is only as good as its contributions. The exciting thing is that anyone who wants a better bike map — city planners, researchers and everyday riders — can join the bike-mapping revolution by logging in to OpenStreetMap and mapping the features that are important to bicyclists.

The Conversation

Colin Ferster, Post-doctoral fellow, University of Victoria and Meghan Winters, Associate Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.