It is an established fact that colour coded maps are easier for people to read, but in many towns and cities there are more than 15 or 20 cycling routes, which means that there are more routes than there are colours. My idea is to use the same colours more than once, by coding routes according to a direction of travel.
All routes on the north-south axis are allocated a particular colour, all routes on the east-west axis another colour, and so on. This concept goes by the name of compass colours.
Depending on the layout of the cycling network, between four and seven compass colours are used. Whilst it is sometimes necessary that routes of the same colour join together, generally speaking they run parallel to each other. Designs for about 40 towns and cities have now been completed, about 15 of which are in continental Europe.
Why is it a good idea to code the routes on cycling networks using compass colours?
1. The map is more compact, more elegant and easier to read;
2. The signing strategy is intuitively useful to people;
3. More of the network can be coded with compass colours than with other signing strategies; and,
4. The map and signing strategy can be made colour blind-compliant.
With regard to the second point, it is important to understand how people navigate a route. According to Wikipedia, there are four steps in the wayfinding process:
1. Orientation, which is the action of orienting oneself relative to the points of a compass or other specified positions;
2. Route decision, which is the selection of a course of direction to the destination;
3. Route monitoring, which is checking to make sure that the selected route is heading towards the destination; and,
4. Destination recognition, which is when the destination is recognised.
In a noted experiment, thirty-five people were blindfolded and driven in a bus around a circuitous route for almost 20km in an Australian country town. At four points they were asked, whilst still blindfolded and in the bus, to indicate the direction of the point of origin of the journey. Interestingly, females performed better in this task than males.
The case is, that for as long as people are able to keep themselves correctly orientated (step 1), they are able to select a course of direction to their destination (step 2). Route confirmation markers laid down at regular intervals would help people to stay on track (step 3).
With regard to the third point, accepting that colour coded maps are easier for people to read, the most practical alternative to compass colours is one-colour-per-route. However, as before said there is a natural limit to the number of routes that can be coded with this strategy, whereas with compass colours, there is no such limit.
In the final analysis, it is surely good practice to ensure that cycling networks are clearly defined, easy to understand and intuitively useful. As People for Bikes has noted: “A robust cycling network isn’t just direct and efficient; it gives everyone the gift of improvisation, of exploration.”