Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Five Years, More or Less

So what do you suppose this is?

It looks sort of like a doodle someone might make during a boring meeting at work, kind of a make-some-random-dots-and-sketch-in-lines thing.

How about this one?

A litle more relaxed and curvy -- maybe the meeting was less stressful, so the lines are more relaxed and fluid.

Actually, they're both part of the same thing. Let's pull back a bit:

Recognize it? Maybe if we pull back some more:

Torontonians may have figured things out at this point: it's a sketchy map of Toronto. I drew it myself -- but not by hand. Over the past five years, I've drawn this map with my bike.

A few years ago I pulled a muscle in my back, and ever since, riding a regular bike for more than half-an-hour has been painful. Then, in 2004, I got a Rans V-Rex recumbent, which not only made long rides possible, but revived an old fondness for cycling that had faded for a while in Toronto, even before my injury. I lateer upgraded to an HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte.

Except for my first ride on the V-Rex, a tour of Sunnybrook Park, I've had a GPS on all my rides, long and short. On that first ride, I realized how fun it was to get out on a bike again, and I wanted to keep track of everywhere I rode, and how much riding I did. I wrote some software to go through the GPS logs and work out some stats on how much riding I'd done, and started playing with importing the maps into Google Earth.

While experimenting with Google Earth, I noticed that, if I made the tracks as thin as possible (instead of the several pixels thick that's the default), I got this sketchy effect. And if I blanked out the map, it took on an odd feeling, kind of like a medial image -- especially if rendered as white on black. This shot of downtown, around where I work, gives a good example:

Downtown Core

By the way, all of the white-on-black images in this post link to larger versions, and if you mouse over them, you'll get labels of some key features. If you aren't getting the labels, wait a few moments and try again -- it might not have downloaded the alternate images completely.

This image shows off the medical feel pretty well, I think. You can see that I do most of my east-west riding on Gerrard, Dundas, Queen, and Richmond. Most of the north-south is on Spadina, Beverly, and University. In the upper left is the university -- King's College Circle is quite clear, as is half of Spadina Circle. In the lower right, the streets are fuzzier and sketchier -- as is the stretch of College where it crosses Yonge. Why would that be?

GPS receivers work by catching signals from orbiting GPS satellites. Each signal has a time stamp that lets the GPS know how long it took the signal to get from the satellite to the GPS unit -- and it knows the exact position of each satellite as it orbits. Knowing the distance to three satellites lets the GPS triangulate and figure out its location -- within a margin of error. The more satellites the GPS can lock onto, the more accurate the position information.

Unfortunately, the GPS satellite signals tend to bounce off of buildings. If the buildings around you are short, or spaced far apart, this isn't a big deal -- but in the canyons of a downtown core, it can bit a big pain. I've had the GPS tell me I was in Nathan Phillips Square when I was actually 500m away. So, in addition to giving a history of my rides, this gives you a sort of GPS accuracy map.

Here's more of downtown:


This map shows off what I call "the Long Way Home" -- A 20+ km loop that runs up through the University to Cedarvale Ravine, up to the south end of the Allen Expressway, then down the Belt Line trail to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, and finally south through Rosedale to home. There are a few variations -- you can see a fainter line that runs from Mt. Pleasant in a curve around Rosedale: that's the Moore Park Ravine trail, which runs past the Brickworks, which I take when I want a slightly longer ride.

I haven't used that route much this year, as I've been experimenting with other long rides, but I've done it enough that it's one of the most prominent features of my bike's-eye view of Toronto.

Here's another favourite ride, which I call the "Taylor Creek Loop":

Taylor Creek Loop

Of course, there's much more here than just that one loop: every time I've crossed east Toronto is in here. The Taylor Creek Loop runs along the Waterfront Trail to the east end of the Beaches, then up Victoria Park to Taylor Creek. From there, I go west along the creek and south along the Lower Don trail, back to where I started. It's around 35km, a nice couple of hours. The only downside is climbing the hill from the beach to Kingston Road.

One of the fun things about this map is that there are little details all over it that call up memories. This is an obvious one: my first ride on my first recumbent. I said above that I didn't have a GPS for that ride, so I've faked it -- I went back later with a GPS and re-rode the route, then re-labelled the track with the time of the original ride (more or less):

Sunnybrook Park

The map here shows the West Don trail coming up the Don Valley from the south. It branches into the Wilkit Creek Trail going north (the route you take if you want to head to North York) and the Sunnybrook Park road going west. The first ride started from the parking lot that's just south of that fork -- the little squiggle below the line -- and ran up around the sports fields. Not a long ride, but I was a little unsteady on the bike at that point.

You can also see three tracks heading west. The north shows the one time I biked along the dirt trail that continues along the Don. A little rough for a recumbent. The south one was from a geocaching trip with L -- we biked up the hill, then walked to the cache (the walking part is in paler grey). The middle track is how I get into the Don Valley when I'm coming from the west -- through Sunnybrook Hospital grounds and down the hill. I've done that ride several times.

Another memory triggered by the map:

Mount Pleasant Cemetery

This shows the area around Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. You can see the bright line that's part of the "Long Way Home" route, which cuts through Mt. Pleasant, but you can also see the roads of the cemetery themselves. Those mostly arise from two trips.

The first was another geocaching run. There's a puzzle cache set in Mt. Pleasant that involves looking up dates & figures on tombstones & mausoleums, then plugging those into a formula to get the location of the final cache. Most of the roads you see on the east side are from that trip, though some on the west are as well. The final cache itself was about halfway down Moore Park Ravine.

The second trip accounts for most of what you see in the western half of the cemetery. The oral surgeon who did my molar implant is just north of Mt. Pleasant - you can see some trails that go up to his office in this image. I always biked up, but one day I misread the time and arrived and hour early. To pass the time, I tried to bike all the roads in the west half of the cemetery -- and I got most of them. It was a fun morning.

By the way, you can see the Brickworks trails in the lower right of the image as well.

Here are a few other maps that I thought were kind of fun:

Don Valley

This shows the junction between the Lower & West Don trails and Taylor Creek. Up through the middle is a very smooth set of tracks -- that's the Don Valley Parkway, from the Ride for Heart, which I've done every year since 2005 (I couldn't in 2004, as I didn't get my bike until the end of June).

Highland Creek

I haven't biked Highland Creek all that often -- I've brightened it here, as on the full map it comes out quite faint -- but it's a really nice ride. The only problem is that it takes a couple of hours just to get there.

On the left, you can see a long, thin rectangle. This is the Lawrence St bridge over Highland Creek. I either come from the west and go along the south side of this rectangle to the traffic lights, where I cross, then backtrack to the trail; or come down the trail and go along the north side to the other traffic lights, where I cross and backtrack to the south road. It makes for an odd feature on the map.

The diagonal that comes down from the top of the curve of the creek is Kingston Road. It only actually connects with the creek trail because a storm washed out part of the bike path earlier this year, forcing me out of the valley.

Last year they opened a bridge over Highland Creek, which means I can now bike further east -- that's the line heading off the right edge of the image.

High Park

High Park is fun to explore by bike. In this image, you can see the curve of the Waterfront Trail as it goes around Humber Bay. Just north of that is the DVP from the Rides for Heart, then High Park itself. I'm currently using the south-east corner of the park as part of my most recent "Long Ride To Work", along the waterfront, up through the park, and back towards downtown along High Park Boulevard.

Ride for Heart Turnaround

I wanted to put up an image showing the full Ride for Heart track, but it spans so much of the city that it tends to get lost among everything else. This is just the north end, where the route turns around at York Mills. It reminds me of a long-stemmed flower of some sort. The faint track cutting across is from a ride loop I did out into Scarborough.

Toronto Island

I haven't been riding on the Islands since we got Cobalt, but they are fun to bike on (if not particularly challenging). They have a nice, pleasing shape to them, too.

So, here's the full map. Last Saturday's 140km ride was the first ride I've done specifically to put something in this image -- namely, the border of Toronto (more or less). Before that, I had some of Steeles and some of Etobicoke Creek, but that was about it.


As for those stats I mentioned... As of August 5, 2009, I've done about 560 hours of riding totalling 8240km. 2920km on the V-Rex, 5180km on the Streetmachine, and the rest on L's trikes. Not all of that total is represented on this map: this doesn't show the rides in Grey County, Haliburton, or down towards Hamilton. But this map should account for very nearly 8000km of cycling, which isn't bad when you consider that Toronto is only about 20km x 40km.

I'm also working on an animated version of this -- that'll come later.


echobunny said...

This is most lovely! Thanks for sharing!

Keith said...

Absolutely brilliant and beautiful. I hope you get to display this somewhere.

James said...

I'm probably going to do up a poster after the end of the cycling season... I'll see where that gets me.

Phix said...

Is this easy enough to do that anybody with GPS and a bike could make a map? (And a video?)

James said...

Is this easy enough to do that anybody with GPS and a bike could make a map? (And a video?)

As far as I know, there's no public software out that does this. I can do the maps with a gpsbabel and a relatively simple Perl script that creates an SVG graphics file, but the videos require a more sophisticated Java program I wrote that only works with the way I archive my GPS tracks.

designedbylizbeth said...

Thanks for posting! I like your descriptions as well. I am doing an architecture/landscape studio project on a suburb development based on bike travel being the pre-dominant form of transport and this data is very valuable for my research I hope you don't mind me showing what a typical rider's routes are around the city. Thanks!!!