Friday, March 19, 2010

Google Maps - Blazing a new trail

Will google maps new feature which gives you bike routes be a good thing in the long run? I ran my route the day they made the announcement and for the most part it was OK. It was not the one I take daily, but would have been good if I had not idea how to get from home to work.

What I am really concerned about will the power of google maps ultimately become a tool, much like models for traffic planners, where we loose the qualitative data and aspect of what we are trying to do. Yes, Google Maps will give you a route, but is it really the best route? Many bike commuters have usually figured out routes, short cuts, fast and slow streets with a trial and error approach. If we simply rely on a mapping tool are we not loosing something in the long run of why and how we bike commute in the first place?

From the Pioneer Press article:

Adam Bezdicek had just moved into a house in Columbia Heights and needed to figure out a bicycling route to work, but Web-mapping services failed him. So he plotted his route the hard way.

"I planned this out by driving and biking around," said Bezdicek, a project manager at a company just north of downtown Minneapolis. "It was a lot of trial and error, looking at which roads weren't loaded with potholes or didn't feel unsafe."

Last week, when Google added a biking-directions option to its popular Google Maps service, he decided to give the Web one more chance. Google nailed it. Bezdicek said the route it gave him was "almost identical" to the one he had created manually.

"It gave me one different turn but then came back onto the same route," he said. "I was surprised. It would have been nice to have this earlier."

The new bike-directions service, available for about 150 cities as of last week, is classic geeky Google. The Silicon Valley company spent months pooling bike-route data from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and other sources, and then put its massive computing power to work.

This is not to say that this bike feature on google maps won't be valuable, but it seems a little to GPS for me at this point and I worry about larger consequences it may pose down the road. I guess I'll just have to wait and see how this will play out.

1 comment:

Erik Ostrom said...

"If we simply rely on a mapping tool are we not losing something in the long run of why and how we bike commute in the first place?"

I don't think everyone bike commutes (or bikes) for the same reason. And I don't think Google Maps (or Cyclopath) is going to eliminate that trial and error. It might provide better starting points, though.

I do wonder whether, if these services take off, we'll see a higher concentration of bikers on the routes Google suggests - especially the casual bikers who haven't taken the time to develop their own routes. Will Google increase congestion on flat streets? Will planners use it as a tool to select bike boulevards?