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OpenStreetMap is the best map for the Canberra cyclist

Riding in Canberra is great if you know where to go. Roads are not the best option, and paths are much safer. OpenStreetMap shows all the paths. Load an app on your smartphone and the map goes with you. Let me point you in the right direction.

“I recently moved to the northside and I don’t know the area”. We want to start riding but it is hard to know where to ride. The first steps are always the most difficult.

Drivers tend to be familiar with the routes that are best for cars. If you walk your child to school, you will know that route best. But there are other possibilities that you are probably not aware of.

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Thoughtful man using smartphone on street. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Photo by Ann H

The ways we get around are called “modes of travel” in the active travel framework. It could be walking, cycling, driving, or public transport. There are many other possibilities that are less common but very important, such as a wheelchair. Different “modes” need different infrastructure. Change your mode of travel and you have to think differently. It can be confusing at first. The urban plan makes decisions about small things like steps and bollards that can make the route impassable for some.

This is often forgotten. One route does not fit all. 

Moutain path. Photo by Nina
Photo by Nina

Canberra has good bike paths in places but they are patchy and often stopping and starting in odd places. Riding through Canberra is like conquering a maze. It would not be a maze if we had a continual network of infrastructure. Directional signage would make a big difference but often does not exist or is incomplete.

A map can help you get from A to B, and to places you have not ridden to before. If you are driving, the map has to show roads. If you take the bus, then the bus routes are important. Walkers need short-cuts through the suburb. Most cyclists don’t want to ride on roads and are looking for a good and safe path. Those with vision impairment require tactile paving and acoustic traffic signals at crossings. The map needs to fit the mode of travel.

National Arboretum on OpenStreetMap
National Arboretum on OpenStreetMap

For cycling the best maps are OpenStreetMap maps. OpenStreetMap is an open-source street map and particularly good for cycling in Canberra. OpenStreetMap shows all the paths in Canberra including those on the verge, the useful short-cuts through the suburbs, “shared bike paths”, both paved and unpaved paths, mountain bike single trails, and recreational trails.

Please remember that all paths in the ACT are shared and there for everybody to enjoy. This is true for both paved and unpaved paths. The only exception is in nature reserves where cyclists are required to use the formed vehicle trails.

National Arboretum art adjacent to a walking and cycling track

Because the Canberra path network is so patchy and poorly maintained it is best to consider all options. The best route is direct and fast – and safe.

You might like to get an overview of the paths suitable for biking in your area on CyclOSM. This map is unfamiliar at first because it is a bike map. All the information comes from OpenStreetMap, and has been updated in the last few months. The bike paths are shown in blue. The fatter the line, the better the path. The map also shows community paths less suitable for riding in green. This is useful as you can see the streets that have paved paths on the verge and the many that don’t. This website works in any browser, whether that be on your phone, tablet or computer.

CyclOSM is a good place to start - Woden, ACT, Australia
CyclOSM is a good place to start – Woden

Once you get an idea of what is possible, you might like to plan a ride route. A little planning helps you to ride in nice areas and to avoid the less attractive ones. With children, the priority is usually riding on safe paths and avoiding anything unsafe, e.g. crossing main roads.

Many would like to take the map with them, and smartphones make this easy. There are several good apps. OpenStreetMap knows the paths but we need to take it with us, so the app must use OpenStreetMap maps.

Komoot for the area of Belconnen in a browser, ACT, Australia
Komoot for the area of Belconnen in a browser

Probably the best app using OpenStreetMap is Komoot. The app allows you to plan routes and provides turn-by-turn navigation. The automatic route planning allows you to choose the type of riding you like: on the road, community paths, or even mountain biking. Good bike paths are green on a Komoot map and the less useful paths black.

Leave a comment with your questions. 🙂

10 replies on “OpenStreetMap is the best map for the Canberra cyclist”

This site is really handy ! Particularly at the moment, a lot of people will be looking to cycling for exercise (not being able to go to a gym!) Really handy tips, routes and places to visit.

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Thanks, Eloise. The idea is to connect Canberrans, so we all can enjoy cycling in our beautiful city. I hope it will come in handy when teams join the Global Challenge.

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[…] Tharwa is on the Bicentennial National Trail and just a few kilometres north of the Namadgi National Park and visitors centre. The area has retained its traditional character. Expect rural road standards with narrow shoulders and no on-road or off-road bike infrastructure. You can ride on the management trails in the Namadgi National Park and the dirt roads in the Tharwa area (excluding the farms of course). Smiths Road is a tip for the gravel rider. Remember the Bicentennial National Trail is a good guide of where to go as it is publicly accessible and well documented on maps in the ACT including OpenStreetMap. […]

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