Cycling is not only a popular mode of transportation in the Czech Republic, it’s also one of the most popular leisure activities. Researchers at the Transport Research Centre in the Czech Republic set out to measure the prevalence of cycle tourism in the country, and specifically: what types of terrain were most sought after; whether cyclists preferred to ride solo or in groups; and most importantly, to improve the quality of available services. Working in tandem with the Czech Tourist Club, who have been marking cycling trails since the 1990’s, the authors hoped to gain insight on how trails are used, marked and navigated.
The Czech Tourist Club is a chief builder of cycle trails, though there are often municipal organizations that build trails as well. This can lead to conflict in how trails are built, maintained and marked. An issue that stems from this disparity in builders is that trails often do not end up where they are marked to. This led to the formation of The Unified GIS Database of Cycle Infrastructure in the Czech Republic (UCDI). Its aim is to: create a unified system of cycle trails; improve cycle traffic and tourism safety; and support and promote cycle tourism.
There are 14 regions in the Czech Republic under the UCDI’s jurisdiction, and at the time of the study, 9 had been mapped by the researchers’ methods. For each trail, they documented: its title, length, marking type, course and construction status (i.e. built, planned, under construction). Further consideration is given to road type, surface type, safety of the area the trail resides in and the most suitable type of cycle for the terrain.
Using handheld GPS devices, the researchers marked points of interest along the routes that included bike stands, picnic areas, information boards and obstacles. They also mapped the trails’ sections to create their spatial database. The results from the study indicated for one area, the South Bohemian region (an area comprised of 10,000 square kilometers), that there were a total of 271 cycle trails that added up to 4,500 total kilometers (km). The average length of each trail was just less than 20 km, with the longest being just shy of 300 km. 80% of the trails were suitable for road bikes, and the same percentage of the trails was deemed safe for general public use.
The study also showed that there were 158 dangerous crossings of cycle trails, 148 dangerous crossings of cycle trails with high density roads (2,000+ a day), 127 places with permanent barriers and 29 places with a significantly steep ascent or descent. The researchers found their methodology to be sound, and as they went from region to region, they only had to make minor adjustments to consider different styles of terrain. When the mapper observed sections that were potentially hazardous or in need of repair and/or marking, they stored location information in their handheld GPS to upload to the UCDI database. Their hope was that people with minimal GIS background could take over the cataloging and maintenance of the trails through the system they established, and hopefully extend the trail system into neighboring countries to create a system that would across Europe.