Cognitive Mapping: Central Brooklyn Bicycle Map

This is probably one of the hardest posts I have yet to write (well, draw). Cognitive mapping, or drawing what your brain sees, is something we talk about sometimes around our blog table. How do we see the world around us, and how does that differ from other people’s perspectives? How does this translate into geography, space, and time?

I ride around New York City a lot on my bicycle, as many New Yorkers do, and we probably have a very specific viewpoint of transportation and access. This viewpoint is probably different from someone who drives, walks, or takes the subway. For example, my brain tends to calculate preferred routes on a complex set of data that I have gathered from bicycle experiences, rather than the shortest route on a map. I tend to know where good and bad bicycle paths are, places with heavy vehicle traffic, places with lots of potholes, and most importantly, where there are hills. And Brooklyn has a lot of hills, too.

Central Brooklyn Cognitive Bike Map, 2012

I wanted to map what my brain perceived, whether it was accurate or not. So I set up some ground rules prior to making my Central Brooklyn Cognitive Bicycle Map: 1) no checking maps or other reference materials; 2) no erasing (okay, I did, but just a little bit); and 3) complete the map in less than 30 minutes. The map above is what I came up with.

Another confession: I also added color in Photoshop so it wasn’t so boring looking. Very dangerous roadways I colored red, parks and hills in green, and blue as water. You will also notice some annotations, some landmarks, destination neighborhoods, and some (probably inaccurate) road names.

Maps are extremely hard to make without a reference or scale, especially if you don’t know where to begin or how much you will end up drawing. But this also showed me some obvious yet interesting patterns when drawing my cognitive map:

  • I only drew what I am intimately familiar with, and this expressed with greater density of detail;
  • Distances/time seem skewed from certain perspectives, resulting in elongated streets;
  • The BQE pops up in random spots only where I come across it;
  • I am not really sure of street names and if they exist where I placed them;
  • Public housing plays an important role in landmarks;
  • I promise I would make a much better map on my next try!

Cognitive mapping for cyclists is pretty common when it comes to elevation changes. Check out this recent piece in the NY Times online edition about the San Francisco “Wiggle,” a not-so-secret, secret zig-zag path which bisects the central hills of the city. Here is the wikipedia entry for the wiggle, too.

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