Mental Maps for Getting Around

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We all make mental maps of our well-worn pathways: the commute to work, the afternoon dog walk, the route to the grocery store.  You can mentally picture those routes right now, right?

Image removed.

A slightly derisive mental map depiction.

Courtesy of j b kyrgier

A big challenge in getting those of us who drive most of the time to switch to walking, biking, and transit is helping them them create mental maps of those more sustainable modes.  That's part of the reason that the Bureau of Transportation publishes so many maps on how to get around by walking, biking, and transit.  We are trying to help people create their own mental maps of their transportation options.

I started thinking about this after reading a post by Jarret Walker, who writes the blog Human Transit (he's also a transit planner among other professional pursuits).  He's applauds Toronto's new transit map because it brands high frequency service in a clear, easy-to-follow manner (much as TriMet already does to an extent). 

However, the big point that stuck out to me (and to Walker) was this (emphasis mine):

"I also like the emphasis on naming the lines after the streets they run on. If your city is fortunate to have long streets with a single streetname, this kind of naming helps people think of the transit line as an intrinsic part of the street itself -- exactly the kind of simplification that we need if people are ever going to rely on their transit networks the way they rely on their street networks -- not just as mobility tools, but as ways of organizing their idea of their city."

Could we do this in Portland?  And not just for transit but for bicycling and walking?

I think so.  We already have trails that are not defined by a number or some other identifier.  Most everyone can picture the Springwater Trail or Tom McCall Waterfront path.  We all know what we're talking about when we say the Hawthorne Bridge. 

In particular, I believe our developing Bike Boulevard/Neighborhood Greenway system could really benefit from this type of branding.  Informally a lot of people call a street they bicycle on by it's name, for example the recently developed Going Bike Boulevard.  But there is not a cohesive identity advertised for the Going Street project or others.  I want to change that, but would love a little help.

If you've got some ideas for branding our next generation of bikeways, drop me an email (scott[dot]cohen[at]portlandoregon[dot]gov) or leave a comment.