Garmin Heat Maps: A Tale of Four Bicycle Friendly Cities

While doing a little digging this morning I discovered that there’s a heat map feature in Garmin Connect that allows users to identify good places to ride based on where other Garmin users ride.  I find this feature intriguing, mostly because I think the truest measure of whether a place is bicycle friendly or not boils down to how many people ride and where they ride.  These are things that heat maps show really well.

So I pulled up heat maps for cities I know best just to see what they look like.   Now I realize that this data is comprised only of Garmin users so it’s not representative of the general biking population, but I think that you’re probably a pretty serious cyclist if you own a Garmin and that, in turn, means you’re more likely to get out on the streets than the general population.  As a result, I think the data has validity even if it’s not 100% representative.   Here are my observations filtered against my knowledge that comes from riding in these cities.

Denver

Denver is one of America’s truly great bicycling cities and it shows.  There aren’t many areas of town that don’t show up as at least warm on the heat map.  The most popular areas are along Cherry Creek from downtown to the Tech Center and Cherry Creek Reservoir, along the Platte River South of its confluence with Cherry Creek and then along the hogback in Lakewood and in the foothills west of town.

Denver has broad coverage and a high concentration of cyclists all over town.  This is as good as it gets.

Denver has broad coverage and a high concentration of cyclists all over town. This is as good as it gets.

Indianapolis

Indianapolis is working hard to become bicycle friendly, but at present most of the cycling in this metro occurs outside the city limits  in the affluent suburbs to the north.  The one exception is the Monon Trail from around 38th Street on the north side to the northern fringe.  There are large swaths of the city where very few people cycle.  That will undoubtedly change as the city continues to build out infrastructure and makes it easier to get around on a bike.

Bicycling in Indy is mostly a Monon Trail/northside thing.

The orange line running north/south is the Monon Trail.  The red dot in the northwest quadrant is Eagle Creek Park.  There’s very little cycling activity on the east, south or west sides of town.

Minneapolis

Like Denver, Minneapolis is one of America’s best bicycling cities.  This is especially impressive in light of less than ideal weather conditions that are so prevalent here.  The Minneapolis heat map shows that people cycle just about everywhere in the City of Lakes.   The most popular areas include the Lakes neighborhood to the west and southwest of downtown and the Mississippi riverfront between downtown and St. Paul.  With the exception of the western suburbs and Eagan/Apple Valley, most of suburbia is cycling Siberia.

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Large swaths of Minneapolis proper are orange or red. Lots of people cycle to lots of places here.  Like Indianapolis, cycling is popular in affluent suburbs like Edina, Eden Prarie, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park and Golden Valley.

Salt Lake City

The Wasatch foothills rule in Salt Lake City and with good reason.  There are some one of a kind rides into the mountains from just about anywhere in town.  That said, like Denver, coverage is very broad here.  The heat map covers most of the area where people live.   This will only improve with time, as the stated vision of UTA (the region’s transit authority) is to make it easy for people to use bikes to access transit.

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With the exception of West Valley City, virtually all of the Salt Lake Valley is at least warm on the heat map.  The canyons heading up to Park City are also popular.

Takeaways

After looking at these maps, I’ve come to realize that there’s a reason I feel safer cycling some places than others.  Wherever there are large numbers of cyclists, there is also (generally) a little more caution on the part of motorists.  Heat maps like these show us where those places are.  That, in turn, allows us to be a little safer.  That’s a good thing.

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