I'm writing to alert ACA forum readers that the 2013 Minnesota Bicycling Map is incomplete, inaccurate, and unreliable. I live in Duluth, and after reviewing the information on the map with respect to roads in NE Minnesota, it's clear that MN DOT has done a remarkably bad job in designing the map and checking the accuracy of the map.
While all maps will have some errors, this map has so many errors (and omissions) that it should *not* be relied upon by touring cyclists as a useful route planning tool. The information presented is not only inaccurate and incomplete, but it is poorly presented, and the final product is far behind what other states have done.
Traffic density and shoulder width are perhaps the two most important pieces of information for a touring cyclist. MN DOT has botched the handling of both of these key items.
Traffic Density: First, the map shows only two levels of traffic ("light" and "heavy"), with *no* indication anywhere of what that means in terms of AADT. That's bad enough, but even that limited "information" is wildly inaccurate and inconsistent. For example, between Duluth and the Iron Range, a stretch of US 53 is shown as having "light" traffic, even though that stretch is a busy 4 lane highway with AADTs of between 7,900 and 10,500 vehicles/day! Town Line Road (County Road 16) comes into that stretch of US 53 south of Eveleth, and is shown as having "heavy" traffic with an AADT of 950 vehicles. Hunh? A long stretch of US 169 south of Lake Mille Lacs in Mille Lacs County is shown as having "light" traffic, yet that stretch has an AADT of over 10,000 vehicles! Yet MN 23 in northern Pine County has an AADT of 840 vehicles, and it's shown as having "heavy" traffic. Hunh? And then there are instances where roads which have similar AADTs (and similar pavement and shoulder characteristics) are right next to each other, yet one is shown as having "heavy" traffic and one is shown as having "light" traffic.
I could go on and on, but there are so many similar errors that it's evident that there was a breakdown in the process of gathering the raw traffic information, or proofing the data, or both. The traffic density information is incomplete (due to the failure to delineate what is "light" and "heavy" traffic) and inaccurate. Map users cannot rely on the map to provide any sort of useful information about traffic density.
Shoulder Width: The map also purports to show roads with shoulders that are at least 4 feet wide, but many roads which have such shoulders are not shown as having those shoulders. I am familiar with the roads in the greater Duluth area, and many roads here with wide shoulders are shown as having shoulders of less than 4 feet. So the map is inaccurate in that respect.
Furthermore, the map is incomplete, because a number of major roads are presented without *any* shoulder or traffic density information (including several ones that are key cycling routes out of Duluth).
Unpaved Roads: The map doesn't make any distinctions between paved and gravel roads! This is a nearly unbelievable oversight given that a fair number of county roads in northern Minnesota are gravel roads. In this respect, the standard Minnesota state highway map is more useful than the bike map because it shows which roads are paved and which roads aren't.
Bike Trails: The map shows a number of bike trails that have not been constructed, and which are unlikely to be built in the near future (e.g. the Mesabi Trail between Ely and Embarrass is only completed for a few short segments, but the bike map shows a completed trail all the way to Ely).
Other thoughts: The level of inaccuracy and incompleteness is almost stunning (besides the above problems, there are quite a few roads presented with no identification such as road number or name). The bottom line is that the map is close to useless due to the incompleteness of the information presented, and the inaccuracy of the information that is presented.
The Minnesota State Highway Map is actually a better resource for bicyclists than the state highway map, because it identifies each road on the map by road number, includes pavement information (paved vs unpaved), and doesn't contain inaccurate information about shoulder width and traffic density. I suggest that touring cyclists use the state highway map instead of the bicycle map, and/or county maps, both of which are available on the MN DOT website, along with traffic density maps: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/maps/cadd/html/GIM.html
(city, county, and state maps) and http://www.dot.state.mn.us/traffic/data/maps-county-alpha.html
Last year MN DOT presented a draft map for comment, and the draft map had similar accuracy and incompleteness issues. In my comments to MN DOT, I pointed out the accuracy problems and the incompleteness of the information presented, and was assured that the draft map was only a design mockup, and that the final product would be carefully reviewed for accuracy. Unfortunately, MN DOT plainly put very little time into proofing the accuracy of the map, and the poor design of the draft map was not improved in any substantial way.
When I compare the Nebraska or Iowa bike maps with what MN DOT has done, it's really disappointing to me, because those states have shown that a good bike map can be produced using the state highway map as a base.
I am trying to let potential users of the map of its problems here, and through bikeforums and CGOAB. I'll also be contacting MN DOT about this, but I'm not hopeful there will be any changes -- I pointed out the same design problems and many of the same factual errors earlier during the comment process, with little or no effect.
Here's a link to the Minnesota Bicycle Map in case you want to see the sad, gory details: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/bike/maps.html