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State bike maps blaze a new trail

Looking to cycle beyond cell-tower range? Want to plan a bike trip with friends at the table over brunch? We’ve got a map for that.

The Mapping and Information Systems Unit has redesigned the state’s bicycle maps – and revamped the map creation method in the process. Cartographer Melanie Dennison led the project and worked to ensure three main goals:

  • Bring bicycle map creation in-house
  • Update to a modern and accessible design
  • Represent the state’s diversity

In the past, these maps were developed by outside vendors on a three-year cycle, three districts at a time, with each vendor producing a unique product that looked different from other parts of the state. This led to inconsistencies IDOT wanted to get under control – and the resulting decision to bring the work in-house.

“We really started wrapping our heads around the idea of taking it on ourselves in early 2019,” Dennison said.

First, the Mapping and Information Systems Unit had to accomplish a key component of this endeavor: acquiring GIS Pro software. This would enable the team to create the maps now and update them later.

Once GIS Pro was acquired, Dennison was able to standardize all nine district maps with the same fonts, consistent labeling and improved trail naming with trail insets. Previous versions used full trail names, making the maps difficult to read. Using named trail insets alleviated that problem and helped create a map that’s more visually accessible.

“As we developed the first map, there were some major adjustments along the way,” Dennison said. “In late 2020, we really started gaining speed on the project.”

In addition to bringing the process in-house and standardizing map features, the unit worked with the Office of Communications to create  new front and back covers. Part of these improvements included more accurate representations of diversity.

“While the covers of our bike maps have historically shown trail use by individuals, there was no representation of the diversity of our state,” said Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator Lee Ann Prather. “By capitalizing on IDOT’s internal talent and more-than-capable staff, we were afforded the opportunity to take a step toward showing more diversity.”

Communications kept diversity in mind as they sourced new photography. They also took advantage of the overhaul to tweak the map design for ease of use and distribution.

“We took into account how these maps would look in a typical rack,” said Communications Web Content Assistant Nathan Bailey. “The goal was to make it easier to find the map you needed without sorting through them.”

As part of the work, bright and inviting color schemes were developed for the covers, with every district having a unique color. The name of each map was changed to indicate areas included in the map. A thumbnail locator map was placed on the back cover to quickly show which counties are represented.

The success of this project relied on the dedication of many functioning across various offices and roles throughout IDOT while illustrating the department’s support of all modes of transportation.

The new maps are now available at all rest areas and welcome centers. Click here to order a copy.