Saturday, March 08, 2008

Illinois Bike Maps = Rare Collectibles?

I made a disturbing discovery on a recent visit to the Illinois Department of Transportation's bicycling pages:
The Map Sales Office is closed and no further information is available at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience
Uh-oh. I contacted the League of Illinois Bicyclists, who in turn contacted their point man at IDOT. He confirmed that IDOT's district bike maps cannot be ordered at this time and said he did not know when they would be available again. In the meantime, he suggested two ways to access the maps online.

The first method, interactive maps by IDOT district, is unwieldy at best. I think it's a lousy interface, and a few instructions would help immensely. The map area on the screen is way too small (not sized to the browser window like Google Maps are), and you pretty much have to know what you're looking for in order to find it. This may be workable for locals but not for touring cyclists.

The second way is to download a PDF for each county. Again, this is easier for locals than for tourists. Someone crossing Illinois north-south may have to print up to 20 county maps. What I don't like about county maps is matching them up with other counties. The way IDOT presents the maps, this is an utter nightmare because each county scales differently for printing. Forget about lining up the roads from one county to the next. Plus, you need a color printer to make the maps readable (maybe I'm the only person still using a black & white HP LaserJet from the last millennium?).

Some visitor centers and bike shops still have IDOT's paper bike maps if you're willing and able to hunt for them. Unfortunately, in my experience, their maps are often one or two editions out of date. I'd hate to plan a long ride through Illinois without paper maps, and I'm very glad I didn't have to settle for the online or PDF maps while writing my book. I never would have found many of the great road rides, especially downstate. This is a huge step backward for Illinois bicycling, so I hope the paper maps will be available again soon.

Other Illinois bicycle maps: For Chicago area cycling, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation map is much better than IDOT's map of northeastern Illinois and well worth $6.95. The City of Chicago publishes a free map, but bike routes end abruptly at the city limits. DuPage County and Kane County also offer maps, and the new Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's map wisely overlaps with about six miles of Illinois. The LIB has been working to develop bike maps for smaller cities such as Springfield, Aurora, Rockford, and the Quad Cities area (including Iowa). They also have guidebooks (with maps and cue sheets) for three popular touring routes: the Grand Illinois Trail, the Mississippi River Trail, and the Route 66 Trail (note that these are "trails" in name but include many miles of roads). All of the LIB's maps and guides can be downloaded as PDFs.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Oh nutmeg, I'm still a few regions short. This BLOS!