Categories: Spatial Analysis

Finding Pleasant Routes Using GIS

Most of us are concerned about getting somewhere, usually as fast as possible, so we are accustomed to using Google Maps or similar tools we prefer for navigation to find the quickest route possible. However, we may not always want to find simply the quickest route. There are health, physical, enjoyable and even economic reasons as to why the fastest route is not optimal. Furthermore, along the route, there are other things we may prefer, such as finding places to socialize or even being surrounded by peace and quiet. New tools are beginning to make the task of finding such routes easier for us.


Mapping the Most Pleasant Pedestrian Route

One recent pedestrian tool, using OpenStreetMap (OSM), applies this approach, where it factors street networks for their noise, pollution, sociability, and general pleasantness including shade from trees. The tool aggregates these factors and allows users to customize choices so as to find routes that best fit their needs (e.g., lack of noise, more green space, presence of social places such as cafes, etc.). The tool could be a good way to customize for personal needs or simply to find a route that may have mental health benefits by minimizing noise and having more green space. The tool was tested using a survey of individual pedestrians who used the tool and routes and most of the survey respondents did find the tool was very effective in finding more desirable routes that selected generally pleasant qualities using OSM data.[1]

Proposed interface for designating parameters for a pedestrian routing system. Source: Novack, Wang, & Zipf, 2018.

Such a tool may also motivate urban regions to make streets more accommodating for pedestrians. Studies have shown that cities that spend time landscaping their streets and making them more pleasant to walk in do help increase pedestrian traffic, thereby creating a positive feedback where there is greater pedestrian traffic accrued through more pleasant streets and helping to diminish car use. This also has potential business benefits in that more pedestrians are more likely to shop along a given street and could stop along multiple stores, cafes, and other areas within a street. Streetscaping could, therefore, provide a variety of health and local financial benefits. [2]

Mapping Favorable Routes for Cyclists

While this earlier work was relevant for pedestrians, other forms of transport also can benefit from tools that find alternative routes based on a variety of factors. For instance, cyclists have been found to purposely take many detours, particularly as their journeys become longer. The main reasons are due to automobile travel speeds, where faster roads are often avoided, and sparse services for bicyclists cause them to avoid these areas. Land that also has less diverse use is more favorable, including areas with more green space. The analysis indicates that accumulated GPS, using crowdsourcing or other shared data, can potentially better assist in finding larger patterns of more favorable routes for bicyclists, particularly as many want to avoid high traffic and possibly dangerous roads.[3] In a relatively recent review of applications that help cyclists find optimal routes for safety, it was demonstrated that most tools do not adequately perform very well in finding safety routes that accommodate a variety of users who may have certain safety needs. Furthermore, many routes chosen are often potentially not very pleasant for the cyclist, with not only high traffic but also impediments to cycling and obstacles that impeded rides likely.[4]


Mapping the amount of street greenery (left: aerial imagery in natural color, center: classified land-cover map with green pixels indicating vegetation, right: the amount of vegetation within the 15 m buffer area. Figure: Park & Akar, 2019

The shortest route is often not the best route, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists trying to either find more navigable streets or simply looking for a more pleasant experience. Recent tools for pedestrians have highlighted that it is now easier to navigate using different qualities for travel that can account for a more pleasant experience. On the other hand, for cyclists, more work is likely needed. Recent tools have not been as effective. Given recent trends, using community-based GPS data as well as map tools that look at different qualities regarding routes, such as speed and likely traffic, demonstrate that new and developing tools will increasingly enable a more pleasant experience for cyclists.


[1]    For more on finding pleasant routes using this tool, see:  Novack, Tessio, Zhiyong Wang, and Alexander Zipf. 2018. “A System for Generating Customized Pleasant Pedestrian Routes Based on OpenStreetMap Data.” Sensors 18 (11): 3794.

[2]    For more on streetscaping that may help increase pedestrian traffic, see:  Vich, Guillem, Oriol Marquet, and Carme Miralles-Guasch. 2019. “Green Streetscape and Walking: Exploring Active Mobility Patterns in Dense and Compact Cities.” Journal of Transport & Health 12 (March): 50–59.

[3]    For more on analyses showing why cyclists take given routes and developing ways to facilitate better route navigation, see:  Park, Yujin, and Gulsah Akar. 2019. “Why Do Bicyclists Take Detours? A Multilevel Regression Model Using Smartphone GPS Data.” Journal of Transport Geography 74 (January): 191–200.

[4]    For more on route selection for cyclists based on safety, see:  Loidl, Martin, and Hartwig Hochmair. 2018. “Do Online Bicycle Routing Portals Adequately Address Prevalent Safety Concerns?” Safety 4 (1): 9.



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